The curious case of Jen Shah
The "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" cast member is in deep legal trouble, yet still remains a fan favorite.
For this week’s Reality Roundup at theGrio, we’re taking a deep dive into Jen Shah of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, how she’s fairing in the court of public opinion and what we truly want (and have come to expect) from our reality TV stars.
You remember the moment. As theGrio reported almost a year ago, the Bravo world went nuts when new Real Housewife Shah, fresh off her debut season, was arrested (on camera, no less) in a federal telemarketing fraud case. Since then, fans waited with bated breath to see how she’d fare this when the season aired, as we have seen time and again in the Bravo universe with housewives who face criminal charges and have even gone to jail (see: Teresa Giudice).
While a sentencing hearing has been set for March, Shah has maintained her innocence and doesn’t seem to have lost her fanbase. In fact, many are still standing with her…or at least, recognizing her entertainment value on the series.
Let me entertain you
For better or for worse, reality television is all about entertainment at the end of the day, and Shah provides just that. From her zany fashions to her very hot temper, when she’s on screen, there is no denying how captivating she can be. Even her home life scenes are compelling, with her “Shah Squad” and large family providing excellent supporting characters.
Shah is also a lightning rod for the group. Outside of Mary Cosby, who may have given up her Housewife title for good, no one riles the other women of Salt Lake City up more than Shah. While her feud with Meredith Marks is two years strong, even her allies like Heather Gay and Whitney Rose still express their frustration with her often, constantly finding themselves stuck between wanting to be good friends and having to defend her often wild behavior.
Still, it takes a little more than just charisma, drama and friends to look past alleged criminal behavior of this magnitude.
The diversity of RHOSLC was seen as refreshing when the show first debuted. As other established cities continue to pepper in women of color on their casts, RHOSLC started off diverse, with Shah joining as the first Polynesian housewife, and Cosby, a Black woman, joining the cast as well. Still, these casting decisions aren’t cure-alls, and the conversations that follow make for compelling, interesting and sometimes confounding watches.
As many fans pointed out last season, Shah has had an interesting way of identifying herself on the series. While she is a woman of color, is married to a Black man and has Black sons, she often is accused of appropriating Black culture to her benefit.
Take last season’s reunion: She took the other women to task for calling a “colored woman aggressive.” She in fact, continued to refer to herself as “colored.“ While she was not wrong about the implications of using the word “aggressive,” the phrase “colored” in this context has historically been used for Black people.
One wonders…is her choice of words an attempt to help her legal argument? As the country and world continue to face a reckoning regarding our justice systems, the various ways Black bodies are under attack by police and more, the timing of this trial and its portrayal on television is interesting.
When Shah uses words like “colored” and leans into being “wrongfully arrested,” is this truly what she believes, or is this a crafted angle to gain the trust and care of the audience? Is it working?
Only time will tell. On one hand, Shah curiously has more supporters online and via social media than Erika Girardi did on the last season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Girardi was taken to task by her castmates (and fans) when it came to her connection to her now-estranged husband Tom Girardi, who is facing mounting legal trouble amid accusations of embezzlement and questionable legal practices.
Girardi herself has not been charged but faced waves of scrutiny from the fandom in ways we just haven’t seen for Shah, who has been very publicly charged.
Shah faces a maximum sentence of 30 years for wire fraud charges, as well as 20 years for money laundering charges. With rumblings of Bravo resuming production for season 3 in just a few weeks, one thing is for sure: we’ll be tuning in every step of the way, as we always have.
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