The Real Housewives of Atlanta Star in an Exclusive Photo Shoot for Millennium Magazine.
By Lauren Clarke-Bennett with Photography by Mike Ruiz
Born in Decatur, Alabama, Cynthia Bailey, star of the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) grew up in Tuscumbia, a small town in Alabama that earned its notoriety as the birthplace of Helen Keller. With her sights set on the big prize, she was the first African American to be crowned Homecoming Queen of her High School. At the age of 18, the Bravolebrity signed with Wilhelmina Models in New York City, seeking her fame and fortune.
Her parents worked tirelessly to make ends meet. Her dad worked at the local auto factory and her mother at a sewing factory.
“We had what we needed growing up, but there were no frills or anything extra,” Cynthia recalls. “For Christmas, my younger sister Mal and I would get one big present. For example, we could get a bike or an Easy Bake oven. We are very close in age, so it would always be something that we could share. We never complained, and it was always appreciated. We knew money was tight, so we were happy to get anything!”
Cynthia’s mother Barbara was a smart and beautiful woman. She had big dreams, but at the young age of 18, she met Cynthia’s father Elijah, and became pregnant with Cynthia. They were married and 11 months after Cynthia was born she became pregnant again with her sister Mal. All of her dreams and ambitions took a backseat to motherhood. Like any good mother, raising her children was her priority and her career was put on hold. The RHOA star looked up to her mother and respected her choices, but knew early on that she wanted a brighter future for herself. She chose not to walk down the same path.
“If you are not independently successful and have to depend on someone else for security, you have few options. Sometimes you end up having to settle because of your situation. I never want to settle,” says Cynthia. “The only person I want to depend on is God and myself. Everyone and everything else is a bonus. Instead of learning from my mother’s examples, I learned from her mistakes. She is my biggest inspiration, imperfections and all. I am fearless because of her and failure is not an option. My dreams were once her dreams, and now she is able to live them through me.”
Cynthia reflects on her time spent with her grandmother, Mae Frankie Ford.
“She was the first female black entrepreneur in my life. She also worked at the same sewing factory as my mother everyday and sold hamburgers and hotdogs to co-workers on her lunch break. On the weekends, she cleaned houses, took care of an elderly lady, and went to church on Sunday. Did I mention that she was the mother of 12 children?” Cynthia laughs. “Now she was a real boss! I got my work ethic from my grandmother. She was living proof that if I worked hard enough, I could have anything I wanted. As a young girl, I was so inspired and motivated by her.”
After Cynthia was crowned Homecoming Queen, she was automatically entered into a Homecoming Queen pageant with a multitude of other crown winners, in what became her new hometown, Atlanta. Cynthia did not place in the pageant, but she did catch the attention of a Wilhelmina model scout (serving as judge), and offered a modeling contract on the spot.
“I didn’t win the pageant but I won the prize,” chimes Cynthia.
It took her a year to convince her parents to let her move to New York. She raised money for travel and 3 months’ rent from her part-time job at the mall and family members.
“I promised them that I would pay them all back, and you know what? I did!”
When Cynthia moved to the Big Apple, she was clueless about the industry. She didn’t know what a model was, much less how to be one. Cynthia was a pretty girl compared to her hometown standards, but had to figure out how to stand out amongst all the tall and gorgeous competition from all over the globe.
“I had to learn how to walk, talk and dress all over again. I felt like everything I did was wrong! I knew I had to figure it out and figure it out fast. Otherwise, I would end up back in Alabama…and Alabama was in my past, not my future. Once I took a bite out of the Big Apple, I was hungry to eat the rest.”
From early in her career starting in the late 80’s, Cynthia had graced the cover of Essence Magazine twice and was featured in ELLE, Glamour, Vogue, and New York Magazine. She had a recurring role on the ‘Cosby Show’, and co-starred opposite Sandra Bernhardt in her movie ‘Without You I’m Nothing’.
Cynthia was satisfied with the success of her modeling, TV and acting career until she met her now husband, entrepreneur Peter Thomas. True to her Pisces spirit, she fell in love, moved to Atlanta and partnered with him in a restaurant venture.
“I was excited to learn about a new business. I started my modeling career at 18 and the business of fashion was the only business I knew,” she said. “Managing my modeling career was easy because I had a booker that gave me monthly breakdowns of my of my earnings and an accountant that filed my taxes. I managed myself by making sure I took good care of myself and was always professional. No late night partying and drinking on work days. I took my jobs seriously. I was not only always on time for work, I was 15 minutes early!”
Shortly after Cynthia settled into her new life in Atlanta, she was casted for the Real Housewives of Atlanta. However, initially she wasn’t interested. It was the beginning of the whole reality TV genre and the show was too dramatic for her taste.
“I didn’t join the cast until third season, so I had the opportunity to review previous seasons of the show. It just wasn’t me. I didn’t think I was a good fit,” declared Cynthia.
Bravo thought otherwise.
“I was told that the network wanted to bring more class to the cast, and feature more women that already had successful careers before the show,” she said.
Close to a year after Cynthia’s RHOA debut, she opened up The Bailey Agency School of Fashion.
“Because of my success as a model, I was often approached by other model hopefuls about how to get into the business,” Cynthia said. “Bravo is an incredible business platform, with built-in advertising.”
Because of the popularity of the show, social media, open calls and word of mouth, the school became famous quite quickly. The Bailey Agency just celebrated its fourth anniversary.
Cynthia has also co-authored a relationship book with her husband Peter and has her own Cynthia Bailey doll. Her latest foray is her Cynthia Bailey Eyewear that retails from $120 to $150 dollars, which is the lead-out to the Cynthia Bailey Accessories line she is putting together.
“I love the accessories space. I am all about great personal style and how to put things together. The right accessory can make an outfit and the wrong one can break it,” said Cynthia.
Her bucket list includes watches, hats, scarves, shoes, jewelry and more.
Cynthia also has her sights set on her own makeup line, and skincare line, or a major endorsement deal to represent one of the major brands. She has been dubbed the Hair Queen on RHOA because of her forever changing hairstyles and is currently in negotiations to do her own wigs & extensions line. It doesn’t stop there. The 48-year old Alabama born beauty understands the importance of health and wellness and has joined Exhale Spas and Haven Collective in a collaborative to design and promote yoga & athletic wear.
Cynthia has several business ventures, but none of them take priority over her most important job of being a mother to her 16-year-old daughter Noelle. With the help of Noelle’s dad, actor Leon Robinson, they are committed to raising their daughter together. Because of both parents’ busy schedule, they have decided to home school Noelle in order for her to spend equal time with both parents who are no longer together.
“I know how to be a mother, but I have no idea how to be a father. We are our daughter’s parents and we are also her mentors. We have found a balance that works for our family. By choosing to homeschool Noelle during her teenage years, it allows us both to focus on our careers while giving our daughter the proper education and attention that every child deserves and yet so hardly gets. If we didn’t make the decision as a family to homeschool her, we would never see her. She wants, and needs to be with her parents,” says Cynthia.
Noelle is an aspiring actress, model and a singer. David Tutera Celebrations on the WE network just recently filmed her Super Sweet 16. She will also be featured on Bravo’s ‘Below Deck’.
Cynthia is forever optimistic about her future and can eventually see herself moving back to New York or Los Angeles.
“Who knows? Maybe I will be a New York Housewife or a Beverly Hills Housewife one day,” laughs Cynthia. But for now, she’s still happy being Atlanta’s classiest housewife.
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