Melissa Gorga and Kathy Wakile spend a good deal of time this recent evening on a tiny swatch of red carpet near the entrance to Erez, a posh Englewood boutique. This event, a fashion show, is a fund-raiser for the non-profit Keeping Babies Safe, and its founder is among the many people having pictures taken with the two "celebrity" models, who’ve already mastered paparazzi-friendly poses and smiles.
When the ladies later appear on the runway in short, tight dresses — Gorga in bright turquoise, Wakile in electric blue — and the audience wildly cheers, it’s a further sign of things to come.
On Monday night, the two women officially debut as new cast members of Bravo’s "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," and if history repeats itself, Gorga and Wakile — "RHONJ" star Teresa Giudice’s sister-in-law and first cousin, respectively — will quickly become household names.
"When I was approached [about doing the show], I thought it would be a great experience, and it has been, so I’m very pleased with the way things have been going so far," Wakile says on the phone the day of the fashion show.
In a separate phone chat, Gorga concedes that she initially had reservations. "I wasn’t sure at first if it was something that I wanted to subject my family to, kind of putting ourselves out there, but I’m not a shy person. I’m great with people. I’ve always been, and I just felt like it would be a great steppingstone for me," she says. "I have a hidden talent. I do sing. I currently have a couple of singles coming out. … I figured, you only get one life and one chance to do something big like this, so I’ll go for it."
Much of the 90-minute third-season premiere episode unfolds during a christening party for Gorga’s third child at The Manor in West Orange, where, as widely reported, her husband, Joe Gorga, got into an argument with his sister. After Teresa’s husband, Joe Giudice, joined in, a brawl ensued.
"It was my last child’s christening, and I always kind of go over the top for the christening days. So I threw a great party, [which] did start off wonderful, and things did get a little shaky at the end," says Gorga, who had not yet seen the episode. "It happened and … we’re all just moving on."At the fashion show, however, her husband expressed concerns about how he would come off in that sequence.
"Sometimes you forget the cameras are even there when they’re around so much and you just kind of start saying it like it is," his wife says. "And you’re gonna see a great evolution between how it starts and how it ends.
"We’re family, so no matter what happens, our kids are cousins. It’s real life."
She and Wakile bring the number of Jersey "housewives" back up to five. Last year, Dina Manzo left midseason, saying she no longer wanted to deal with Danielle Staub — whose contract was not renewed at season’s end.
"I don’t think that anyone’s really replacing anyone on this show. … We’re nothing like Dina or Danielle," says Gorga.
The former Melissa Marco, 32, grew up in a "100 percent Italian" family in Toms River and married Joe Gorga, a real-estate developer, almost seven years ago. They live with their three children — Antonia, 5, Gino, 3, and Joey, 11 months — in an ornate manse that Joe built in Montville (the town where the Giudices also live). On screen, the pair are playful.
"My husband’s a ham. He’s not shy at all," says Gorga. "Joe and I are also a young couple. We kind of live an over-the-top life. We’re very blessed … to have the life we live."
Their paths first crossed during a spring break in Cancún. "He saw me … and he looked at his best friend and said, ‘That’s gonna be my wife,’ " says Gorga, who adds that when they ran into each other back in Jersey, "he came over to me and said, ‘I saw you in your leopard bikini in Cancún.’ I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you talk to me?’ He said, ‘Well, you didn’t look like you wanted to talk.’ And it went from there."
They got engaged the same week she graduated from New Jersey City University with a degree in elementary education. Her fiancé asked her to work in his office and help him build his promising business. "So, I decided to go that route," she says.
Wakile, 45, who lives in Wayne, grew up in Paterson and Totowa, the daughter of Italian immigrants whose five children were born here.
Husband Rich Wakile — who memorably says in the season opener, "Am I hot for Kathy? Sizzling. Sizzling." — is also from North Jersey. They met on a Florida-bound plane, have been married nearly 20 years, "love to entertain," and have two children, Victoria, 17, and Joseph, 15.
"Each lady on the show has children in different stages of growing, and so it will be very interesting," says Wakile, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is in the gasoline retail business as well as real estate.
Anything else the newcomers would like to tell "RHONJ" fans?
"I hope that you are going to be watching, because we are going to be bringing Jersey like you’ve never seen it before," Wakile says.
Says Gorga: "I cannot stress enough how real and emotional this season is. You are going to see some incredibly funny moments — especially from my husband and I, [who] I think are comic relief on the show. And then you’re gonna see some really deep, deep emotional moments. … I think it’s gonna be a huge season, bigger than all the other seasons."
The Real Housewives of New Jersey - Season 3
9 p.m. Monday
Where are they now?
Is there life after "Housewives"? Apparently so. Here’s what the former cast members have been up to.
Manzo, who left "RHONJ" during Season Two, is working on a new HGTV show called "Dina’s Party," which is in production around North Jersey and slated to debut this fall. Each episode will focus on a different job her events company, Designer Affair, is orchestrating.
Manzo’s Project Ladybug, which benefits children with cancer, has also been expanding. Ladybug opened a fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering in November and Children’s Hospital in Chicago in December. Last year, Ladybug’s Ladies Night Out fund-raiser raised more than $175,000 for St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson.
This year’s Ladies Night Out is scheduled for May 23 at The Brownstone in Paterson. The theme: "Wine, Women and Shoes."
Manzo’s nemesis has her own series, "Social," on WealthTV. She has compared it to the late "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," telling tvguide.com, "I’m the new Robin Leach." The down side: WealthTV is not exactly Bravo. Not all cable systems even carry the channel.
The gang’s all here
As Season 3 dawns on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," what else is happening?
In the first episode, Caroline Manzo is suffering from empty-nest syndrome as sons Albie and Christopher prepare to move out of the family’s Franklin Lakes home and into an apartment in Hoboken. Christopher is taking a break from The Brownstone, the family business in Paterson, where he has been working with his dad, Albert Manzo.
Caroline’s sister-in-law, Jacqueline Laurita, continues to clash with her daughter Ashley Holmes, who has an internship at Lizzie Grubman Public Relations in Manhattan. But Ashley is having trouble getting herself into the office on time, or at all.
As for Laurita’s Franklin Lakes neighbor, the publicity-loving Kim Granatell ("Kim G."), she’ll apparently still pops up from time to time.
"Yes, you will be seeing Kim G.," Melissa Gorga says. "She’s a little feisty one, and you will see a little bit of her on the show."