Salahi ready for her close-up

NEW YORK (AP) - July 27, 2010

"To be honest, I don't know where it's at," she told The Associated Press Monday of the criminal investigation by a federal grand jury, which still could lead to prison time for the party-going, polo-loving couple from Virginia wine country. "But our attorneys have said to go on with our lives."

"And if the president and vice president are joking about it," she added, "I think they're ready to move forward, too."

Certainly the Salahis are taking their attorneys' advice.

Far from staying quietly out of the spotlight, they are happily promoting the Aug. 5 debut of Bravo's "Real Housewives of D.C.," in which, judging from the first episode, Michaele takes center stage - along with the incident that got her into trouble. (A teaser for a later episode shows Salahi in a limo in her famous red sari, speaking excitedly into a cell phone, apparently about the state dinner she is about to, well, crash.)

"I can't wait!" Salahi said in a telephone interview Monday. "This is full circle for me. I think the world will see that we're not just about that one night. We're not just two people who went to a dinner."

In fact, all these months later, Salahi professes still not to understand why so much attention was paid to that one incident last November. "It must have been a slow news week," she said.

And she promised plenty of other drama to come, where the Salahis are concerned.

Wow, more than an incident that led to embarrassing revelations about holes in presidential security? To a congressional hearing? The rolling of heads at the Secret Service? The departure of the White House social secretary?

Well, yes. "We share our family pain," Salahi said, "our trials and tribulations." (Tareq Salahi has been enmeshed in a family feud over his Virginia winery.) "Maybe we can help other people."

But Salahi shies away from saying she's the star of the new series - while thanking her interviewer for saying something so "loving" - allowing that she hasn't even seen the first episode, a copy of which was provided last month to the AP.

"Maybe I'm highlighted because that event got world attention, but the important thing for me is highlighting D.C.," she said. "That part was so much fun for me. People are going to see the great diversity of our nation's capital, how D.C. really works. And you're going to hear the women discussing politics!"

Well, not exactly on a high level. The new "housewives," like Salahi, are hardly movers and shakers in politics, but rather the owner of a modeling agency, a real estate broker, a suburban mother of five, and a British interior designer new to Washington. A typical political argument in the first episode is about whether it was rude of President Obama not to respond to the interior designer's wedding invitation. Or whether black and white women should go to the same hair salons.

Another potential point of conflict: Housewife Lynda Erkiletian calls the willowy Salahi, 44, anorexic at one point - something that causes Salahi to break out, momentarily, from the "we-all-love-each-other" theme.

"Sometimes people are just naturally skinny," she said defensively in the interview. "You might hate me for that, Lynda." She adds: "I might have other things going on. I don't know what kid of high you get for saying that about someone." So there.

Ask Salahi about the couple's finances, and the picture is murky. Bravo is paying her for the show, but generally, the "housewives" don't make a fortune unless their fame leads to other opportunities. The couple is also collaborating on a book with investigative reporter Diane Dimond, but it's not clear if they will share in the proceeds.

"My husband knows all the financial stuff," Salahi said breezily. "Me, I'm just a party Barbie girl! I like to have fun, and do some good on the way. As long as I have enough for Starbucks, a few Hershey's kisses during the day, and a cute outfit - maybe hair and makeup - I'm good to go!"

In any case, she said, "It's really not about the money. It's really about the platform the show gives us. It's such an honor to be added to such an incredible franchise."

Given all that has happened - what she calls the "bad attention," the hounding after the state dinner, and now the "happy attention" she's getting with the show - would Salahi have done everything the same? Would she have gotten in that limo to the White House with her intensely coifed blonde hair and her red sari, Bravo's production company in tow?

"People have asked me that," she said. "And yes, I would. Because in my heart I know I went in, gave my ID, and if at any time they told us we weren't wanted, we'd have left. The last eight months were awful. But I learned a lot. Who matters, what matters. Yes, I would do it again."

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