Thirty-two-year-old Lydia McLaughlin of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" looks like an animated Disney princess, which makes sense when you consider her life in Orange County. She counts her blessings, big-time: a great husband of seven years; deep, strong ties to her local church; two adorable kids; her mom living across the street ("She's my best friend ... but we have a lot of conflict"); and a rewarding career at Beverly Hills Lifestyle magazine.
Anyone would ask, and her friends did ask. Why screw it all up with a reality show?
"This is a rare opportunity ... to learn and grow and become a better person," says the earnest beach girl. No wonder Gretchen acted like a jealous eighth-grader at the 47,887th Dinner Party From Hell in a recent episode. And no wonder Lydia says that, even after months of shooting, they're still not friends. Lydia actually seems -- get ready -- nice.
Why did you decide to live in Orange County instead of Beverly Hills?
We put down roots here. It's been 12 years, and we love it. We can zip up to L.A. a couple of times a week, but we're beach people. I love the beach, the laid-back vibe of Orange County.
Check out Lydia's digs:
Does it still feel laid-back now that you're a part of the show?
Yes! My lifestyle is pretty laid-back. I'm still taking my kids to the park and the beach, so the show is fun, but I don't want that to define me or become overpowering in my life.
You're a devout Christian, right?
Actually, my parents were hippies and my dad actually started an ashram in India. So I grew up with a lot of different religions. Spirituality was a very open conversation in my household, and I became a Christian when I was in high school. It was a personal thing I decided to pursue. My husband and I are really involved in our church and try to incorporate that into our everyday life.
Has there been a separation of church and cameras?
I don't think you will see us at church. I'm a big fan of showing your face, and only when necessary, use words. I'm not the type of person that would walk into a room and go, "Hello, I'm a Christian, look at my Bible." I try to let my actions reflect my faith. And in a reality show, that's challenging because the whole thing is based upon he said/she said and drama. It's gonna be interesting to see how it all pans out.
Have you developed a strategy for these dinner parties?
I do need a strategy, as you saw in the episode. I was like a deer in headlights. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I think that strategy would have been a good call. Where were you when I went to that dinner party? (Laughs) So, no, I didn't have a strategy, but note to self: I need one.
Is Gretchen as scary as she seems? Cold?
You think Gretchen is scary? I think that you can see that come through. You'll see a lot of that this season. She and I never really got a chance to be friends, because I walked into the party with Alexis. Like Tamra says, "guilt by association." I think Gretchen really never gave me a chance. And I had a little bit of a conflict with Slade, which we'll see on the show. We just had a lot of obstacles.
Going into this, did you know that your friendship with Alexis would cause friction?
It's a blessing and a curse that I didn't know the history of the ladies. When Alexis warned me that it might get crazy when we walked into that dinner party, I didn't know how crazy it could actually get. I wish that I could have been more mentally prepared. Alexis and I were new friends when we started filming. I had known her for just about a month, which was not related to the show, which was great because I got to know her for her and it had nothing to do with the show. But you know, we're new friends. So when we walk in and these ladies have so many issues with her, it was hard for me to process because everything they're upset about I haven't seen.
NEXT: Lydia reveals her best moment on the show this season...
Did the producers ask you not to watch the show and learn about all the dynamics?
No. I just never have watched the show. The producers actually told me to watch it about halfway through the season, because I was so naïve. I was playing catch-up a lot. They were like, "You should probably watch it so you understand what everyone's talking about."
Do you regret going into this blind?
This whole experience is about being real with who I am and my feelings, so that way if people don't understand me and question me, at least I know that it was for me, at the time what I thought was right. That way I can grow from it and take the criticisms and learn. I think if I watched the show and had preconceived notions about everybody, my reactions wouldn't have been sincere and I wouldn't have developed friendships that are real. The friendships that I have from the show now are mine, and they're because of my experience with the women, not because I watched them on TV.
The other OC wives share their first impressions of Lydia:
Sounds like you feel good about doing the show.
We'll see! If everyone likes you, you're like, "Yay!" And if everyone hates you, you're like, "Oh God!"
The comments on your blog are pretty nice so far.
That's good to hear. I think if people are complimenting you, you get a big head, and if people are bashing you, you can get really down on yourself. Those people are just judging you on how you were presented in the show. I have people in my life who know and support me, and that's really who I care about. I think it's really cool that people are gonna see it, but I don't want this to affect my everyday mood.
Did your friends and family think this was a good idea?
Everyone pretty much said no. I think it's because our life was pretty perfect before and the show would change everything, and they were like, "Why?" And it's true. My friends and family are supportive of me, but they definitely didn't think I should do it. It's only been two episodes. You can ask me how they feel about it at the end of the season.
This season, what is your best moment and when will you hide from the TV?
It was intense. You're gonna meet my mother, which I'm really excited about. She lives across the street from me. She's my best friend, the greatest mom, but we have a lot of conflict. It will be interesting to see how America relates to that. We are polar opposites. I'm also excited, I get to take all the ladies to Canada. … There's drama. It's an up-and-down season. Tamra's getting married. We go through all those motions with her, the bridal tea party and the dress fitting. And I have a big theme party to show my personality. I get to meet Brooks. I like him. Why do people not like him?
We think everybody was picking up on Vicky's own ambivalence about him.
Well, this season, I think she's sure that she loves him. She's just unsure about how he's gonna fit into her life and her family. It's hard. It's a huge thing that a lot of people go through. She's a really good friend. She's a riot. She'll be in the midst of yelling at somebody, and then she just looks at me and we both kind of giggle.
Vicky has been around since the beginning. Did she have advice for you?
She said get the hell out while you can!
Maybe she knew how people would get enraged over the ring thing.
I don't understand! I felt like I was being a good friend to Alexis. Instead of asking Heather questions and being gossipy, I went straight to the source and asked Alexis. I don't understand why people have a problem with me doing that.
People think you were stirring the pot.
Stirring the pot would have been continuing to ask Heather about it! I'm a direct person. You'll see that this season. If someone says something I don't agree with, I directly ask the person about it. I'm very sweet and up, and I like to be positive.
Lydia and Alexis gush about each other and gossip about Heather:
Who are you surprised to get along with now?
I consider Heather a genuine friend. I went to her little girl's birthday party, and we weren't filming. I've gone to her house for movie night. The first time I met her, she was so proper and elegant with this beautiful home. I just felt like this little … person. I wouldn't think we have a lot in common, and we really do. She's really been there for me. I call her if I'm stressed out about things, and we can talk about things rather than get on Twitter and start a huge Twitter war. I like that.
Do you watch any other "Housewives" shows?
We watch "Beverly Hills" because Lisa and Kyle are both involved with our magazine. And last season we did photo shoots for the magazine with Yolanda and Brandi. So it's almost like, businesswise, we watch it. We know the characters in real life and on TV.
Is that what got you thinking you wanted to do the show?
No. I got a call asking if I was interested in being on the show, and I was like, "No!" My husband … was like, "Well, maybe we should do it. At least take the meeting and express your concerns and see if it's a good thing." And then suddenly we were filming! My kids like it. The producer comes over, and they run up and give him a big hug. They're very social, too young to understand, which is one reason I decided to do it. I don't have the pressure of a 13-year-old hearing about it in school.
That makes sense. We hope you're still hugging and giggling.
Yes, I really hope that this process doesn't kind of quench my zest for life. I'm still a hugger, and I still like to laugh and I still like to be positive. Hopefully I don't get too jaded and my feet stay on the ground.
Are we gonna see you scream at all?
I do scream. My husband says at one party I'm screaming and he hears me from across the room and goes, "Oh no."
"The Real Housewives of Orange County" airs Mondays at 8 PM on Bravo.