Benzino, Claudia Jordan on TV One's 'The Next 15" starting Feb. 10

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting dropped from a reality show can be a big blow to anybody's ego when being a reality star is part of your being.

It happened to both Benzino and Claudia Jordan. VH1's "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta" dropped him and his fiance Althea Hart in 2014 after a stormy season three reunion show. Jordan lasted just one season on "Real Housewives of Atlanta" and was let go last year.

But Carlos King, the man behind "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," still wanted to be in business with Jordan. And he nabbed Benzino as well.

Called "The Next 15," the reality show plays off the Andy Warhol "15 minutes of fame" line. It debuts on TV One at 9 p.m. Wednesday night.

Jordan has since moved back to Los Angeles. Benzino was planning to open an office for "Hip Hop Weekly" in L.A. anyway so he joined the show as well.

The first episode is a bit of a meta show because it shows the "casting" process or whatever King chooses to show as the casting process. Jordan tells King she wants to create a talk show featuring former reality stars.

The others who sign up include an openly gay "Real World" vet Karamo Brown, two former "Basketball wives" Laura Govan and Jennifer Williams and the biggest name (and ego) in Tiffany "New York" Pollard from VH1's early ratchet shows "Flavor of Love" and "I Love New York."

Every reality star on the show feels "misunderstood" to a degree. They want people to know the real person behind the reality star. Pollard is clearly angling to be Queen Bee.

The most amusing part is when King sets up a focus group and has the reality stars listen to regular folks discuss them. Then in a twist, the reality stars confront the focus group.

ExploreThe first episode is already available online here:

I spoke with Benzino today about the show, in which his wife is very pregnant. (Althea has since had her baby.) Here's some excerpts from our conversation:

Q: Are you now splitting time now between L.A. and Atlanta?

Benzino: I go back and forth. Althea and the baby are in Atlanta. She still owns properties out there. We definitely plan on moving here [as in L.A.] at some point.

Q: You and Althea had a tough time when you were taping [WE-TV reality show] "Marriage Boot Camp." Was it worthwhile? And do you even watch?

Benzino: It was definitely a godsend. You know what? I don't watch it. I don't want to revisit those dark moments at that time. It did teach me that you never know how much help you need until you get it. We take a lot of granted growing up in the hood with all the drugs and negative stuff. I didn't realize until I was on the show how much stuff I kept in. The directors Elizabeth and Jim [Carroll] made me realize that bottling all this up was affecting all my relationships.

Q: I'm sure folks in the Marriage Boot Camp house at the time would have bet you and Althea were doomed.

Benzino: One thing about love, it's easy to fall in love. The hard part is staying in it. If you give up too easily, it wasn't love in the first place.

Q: How different is doing "The Next 15" vs. "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta"?

Benzino: Carlos lets us be us and what goes on in our lives and displays it. I'm very thankful.

Q: Are you saying "Love and Hip Hip" didn't really do that?

Benzino: They ran a tight ship over there. It was the format of the show. That was their vision. When you're a reality person, you have to follow the direction of that show.

Q: So was Carlos less directive?

Benzino: Not so much less direction. 'The Next 15' is about six individuals, what's going on in our lives. 'Love and Hip Hop' was more an ensemble cast. It was more about the women. When Stevie J and I came into bloom, they showed more the guys and how we interacted. I'm happy to helped spawn that. [The year after he was booted, Stevie J was upped to a "regular" on "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta," the only male ever to get that designation.]

Q: How's your friendship with Stevie J now? [They had a bitter falling out after the reunion show two years ago.]

Benzino: We just hung out last night. He's my brother. We've been friends for 15 years. We've been through a lot.

Q: Have you seen his spinoff show ["Stevie J & Joseline Go To Hollywood']?

Benzino: I've seen the first one. I haven't been able to see more after that. Stevie's my man. His other half is a different story. I don't want to go down that path.

Q: So you can stay friends with him and avoid Joseline?

Benzino: Of course! We have to separate.

Q: What do you like about 'The Next 15'?

Benzino: Our show gives us a chance to show everything about us, not just the controversy. Laura is raising five kids. Jennifer has businesses and is going through a divorce. Karamo is a model and he is trying to work on his hosting career. New York just came from 'Big Brother UK.' People love New York!

Q: I get a sense she is going to be the Queen Bee.

Benzino: That's just her personality. She's an alpha female. She has an outgoing personality. She's done it on TV at a high level. She's one of the first. People can't wait to see her on the show.

Q: The most amusing part of the first episode is you guys watching a focus group talk about you guys without knowing you're watching.

Benzino: We got to face them. That was dope.

Q: Were the critiques what you expected?

Benzino: It's pretty much what I expected, the same people who troll on Instagram and criticize. It's pretty much the same thing. I've been through it for so long. Sometimes when I got in a bad mood, I'd react. I promised in 2016 I wouldn't bite back and respond to the negativity. So far, I've been doing okay with it.

Q: What really upsets you?

Benzino: If someone goes after someone I love. Althea is off limits. Or if someone goes after my baby or family. But I have to learn it's just words.

Q: You and Althea sometimes get into it on social media yourself.

Benzino: It's really Althea. She tends to let her emotions run wild on social media like a lot of women. Again, I don't even pay attention anymore. I know she will eventually calm down.

Q: What can you say about the next few episodes?

Benzino: I can't say much. All I can say is everything you see is real. All of us agree about what we disagree. There will be talk about the talk show. Me and Jennifer work a lot together on her music career. Me and Karamo hung out together. We're all real friends. Hopefully if there's a season two, we'll become closer.

Q: So how many episodes?

Benzino: Eight hour-long episodes. We're also talking about a couple of reunion episodes.

Q: Will you be able to stay out of the drama?

Benzino: It's hard to stay out of drama with four big personalities. I'm the only straight man on the show. It's a different dynamic for me. I'm trying to keep everybody at bay. I'm the oldest. I try to be the voice of reason. It can be hard.

Q: Are you still bitter about getting cut from "Love and Hip Hop"?

Benzino: I've moved on. I have no hard feelings against anybody. Mona [Scott-Young, the creator] definitely gave me an opportunity with 'Love and Hip Hop.' It was a great ride. Time heals everything. That was a period of time. It's over now. I'm just moving forward.

Q: How's Benzino's Crab Trap in Marietta going? [He opened it last year.]

Benzino: It's doing amazing. We turned a profit the moment we opened. I'd like to open one in L.A. and a second one in Atlanta. My son manages the place. All the sauces are my recipes. I just pass it on to the employees. So far, they're doing a great job.

TV PREVIEW

"The Next 15," 9 p.m. Wednesdays, starting Feb. 10, 2016, TV One