In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with TV personality Luann de Lesseps. The “Real Housewives” star has her own cabaret show touring nationally and a recently launched nonalcoholic wine brand, Fosé Rosé. The “Countess” shares how she goes out in New York City, why you don’t need to drink and still have fun, and how to be the perfect host. Tune in to learn more.
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Jake Cornell: Hi, it’s Jake. If you’re listening to this, I know you’ve seen the title of the episode, and that means you know who our guest is this week. When she agreed to do the podcast, my jaw hit the floor. She was so kind. This was such a fun conversation. You know her from “Real Housewives of New York.” You know her from “Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip.” You may have drank her Fosé. You may have seen her cabaret show. She is a New York icon. Please enjoy me going out with Luann de Lesseps. This show is all about going out, bars, nightlife, restaurants, really anything that falls under that umbrella. I just wanted to start off by asking you, what does going out mean to you?
Luann de Lesseps: To me, going out means socializing, being with friends, and having a great experience with food and people and meeting people. And I’m very social. I grew up with six brothers and sisters, so I love going out and I love being social. That means an opportunity to meet new people, to have a good time, to socialize to, to get dressed to impress, to wear fabulous clothes. There are just so many reasons why I love going out.
J: I come from a big family as well, I think it really sets you up to thrive and be comfortable. Being out in a group where everyone knows each other and has relationships. There’s a bunch of dynamics going on. It just sets you up to thrive in a situation like that, where there’s a bunch of people and you’re out, you’re having fun and you’re kind of navigating that.
L: 100 percent. It teaches you how to socialize. I always say, my family prepared me for “The Real Housewives” because you have to learn how to deal with a lot of different personalities. It was a great preparation for, not only the “Housewives,” but for life. In order to deal with people, to know how to be charming and get your way.
J: So you’ve lived in New York for a very long time. Looking at when you first moved here compared to now and all the time in between, how has going out changed for you?
L: During the pandemic, obviously, it was not the time to step out. But you know, I didn’t let that stop me. I invited friends over that were either vaccinated or that were safe from the very beginning. We were washing hands, we were using sanitizer, we were washing groceries. For a long time, I was laying low with my daughter. Of course, I think it affected our social lives tremendously and our connection to people. And I think everybody’s got PTSD from these last couple of years. But I lived all over the world. I lived in Milan and I lived in Switzerland, and then I lived in the Hamptons and New York City. There’s so many different levels of going out, but it all means the same thing. It’s really about connecting and sharing with friends. Whether it’s New York or Paris or what have you, the experience is different because people entertain differently, people invite differently. New York is about going to restaurants. New York is not really about entertaining at home. It’s more about eating out. So those are two different scenarios in my mind.
J: Absolutely. You mentioned you’ve lived all over the world. What is your favorite city to go out in?
L: Gosh, probably, Paris. I love the south of France, Monaco is amazing. Right now it’s at the top of my list. This past summer I went from Paris to Switzerland to St. Tropez to Mont Pico to Positano to Capri and then Mykonos. So I traveled quite a bit this summer because it was so crowded in the Hamptons. I don’t like to be in crowded places. There’s too many people around, I’m not a club kind of girl. I prefer an intimate setting, and I guess that’s why I do my cabarets. It’s a very intimate experience. I like dinner parties that are organized. I like cozy restaurants or French bistros. And a good beach party.
J: It makes total sense, even going out with a big family when you were younger and then into now, it’s all about having those connective, intimate experiences. Cabaret is the most magical version of that. Was cabaret part of your life when you were younger? Or did it come in later? When were you drawn to cabaret?
L: In Paris, I’ve been to all these kinds of cabaret shows. I love jazz. I love lounge acts. I didn’t really know that I was going to do cabaret. I just know I love to sing. I love to entertain. And I love to tell stories to my friends. I tell jokes. A really old friend of mine said to me, “Luann, you love to sing for your friends, you love to tell jokes, and you love to host people. You’re a cabaret star.” I was like, “Really?” And then I got introduced to a director and he was a “Housewives” fan, so he knew about my life, so we put together a show. I didn’t realize at the time there was a void for cabaret, because nobody’s really doing cabaret shows anymore. Liza, Chita Rivera, Bette Midler, all of those women that were doing shows like that are no longer doing them. I just somehow made a show that I wanted to do, and it kind of somehow filled a void in that industry.
J: I remember when you announced that you were doing cabaret. There wasn’t a space yet for someone who people know from television to go see. What I love about cabaret nights is that it really feels like you get to see how someone would host you in their home, with the stories and the show. Obviously, you’re not in their home, you’re in a venue. But the venues also have this intimacy to them that sort of exists in this liminal space. For that hour or hour and a half, everyone is connected to the same thing and it’s usually the host.
L: Right, it’s a very personal experience. Luckily, I have a television show that kind of supports that because people just want to be in the same room with me, which is great. But then I deliver. When you come to my show, I’ve got my director is Richard J. Alexander. He’s Kristin Chenoweth’s director. He’s Barbra Streisand’s director. This is not just something that’s thrown together. My musical director is Billy Stritch, who’s been with Liza for 25 years. This is a professional show that I work very hard on. In the end, the proof is in the pudding. I’ve been on tour since 2018. When I started, I did 90 shows in two years. I just started back for the holidays, calling it a holiday show, because I had my new Christmas song that came out written by Billy Stritch and Bruce Roberts.
J: Congrats on that.
L: I got a lot of shows in and I felt very fortunate, because a lot of people did not. And now I’m gearing up for shows starting April in New York City.
J: That’s so exciting. I will be there, first of all. When you’re out with friends or family, do you naturally often fall into that host role? Or do you think that’s something you step into when you’re doing the cabaret?
L: I know a lot of great hostesses all over and I love to take the back seat and be entertained as well. I work hard at my cabaret, and sure, that’s that’s a place where I’m the host. But I love being a houseguest.
J: Same. That’s the thing, if you know how to host and if you’re good at it, it makes it so much more special when you are being hosted. Because you have an appreciation for it and if you can trust that person to really do it, you’re like, “Wow, this is a night for me. I’m feeling really taken care of.” If someone was like, “How do I be a good host,” what are some tips or things you would say you got to do?
L: To be a good host, you have to be prepared. Everything has to be organized so that you’re relaxed and you’re not rushing and running. So it’s all about the preparation, things that are easy to prepare and that you can serve on a dime. Of course, being able to relax so that you can therefore be a good hostess with people. Connecting people like, “Oh, did you know Luann knows so-and-so?” A good hostess is really on top of the situation in terms of connecting people or making everybody feel comfortable. Music is very important. When you walk into somebody’s house and there’s no music playing. You got to set the atmosphere, you got to really set the tone. Preparation is all about that being organized and having a glass of Fosé in hand and looking relaxed and like you’re in control of the situation, because that makes everybody at ease. Do you know what I mean? It’s like getting on stage for me and I forgot the lyrics to the song. I’m ready to have a good time.
J: It’s so true. It translates through hosting in your home, hosting a party, working in a restaurant, being a performer. It’s that confidence that makes the guest feel safe, and it’s always so powerful. I would love to hear, what are some of your favorite spots for a dinner or a night out in New York?
L: I tend to go to a lot of the same places because, when I find something good, I tend to just go there.
J: I’m the same.
L: Not that I don’t love new restaurants and stuff. I love really good Italian food. I used to live in Italy, so I can’t eat the Italian-American situation. Bella Blu is one of my favorites on 70th and Lex., which is great Italian food. I love Avra for the connection. I love Le Bilbouqet because it’s fun and it’s French and everybody speaks French. So I get to speak French. Those are some of go-tos in New York. Let’s see, what else?
J: It sort of sounds like you use New York restaurants to kind of check in on the places you love around the world in the meantime while you’re not able to go visit them. It’s like, if you’re craving a little bit Italy, you’re going to a very authentic place.
J: Absolutely. Over the years of doing the show, did you get you good at making it fun, even though there was a full crew there and you have all these dynamics going on? Was it a learning curve to be like, “How do I still go out and enjoy these nights out with a full TV show happening around me?”
L: For me, I just forget the cameras are there. You don’t pay attention to the cameras anymore after the first couple of minutes. But sometimes it’s difficult because, especially during COVID, because there’s no other people around to get that energy that we’re actually out in the restaurant, because there was nobody there. A lot of the restaurants were giving us a place to film and work. They were thrilled because they got to serve some people some food.Of course, all the restrictions had to be in place. But that was difficult because there’s no energy and people to bounce off of. There’s no flirting with a guy at the bar or, the sex appeal just goes away. In those situations, of course, it’s much more difficult. And in general, we have to keep people away from the table because people want to come and we have a storyline to get to and we can’t talk about it because somebody wants to come and say hello. It just depends on the situation. But you kind of forget that the cameras are there and you just go on with your conversation and your business.
J: I love what you just said about the fact that the room gives like, sex appeal. Every person that you don’t know in a room is sort of like a variable to bring in fun for the night. Obviously there’s a certain allure to a private room or a VIP section. But it’s like no, throw me in with everyone else. Especially at a restaurant, I don’t want to be in the private room, I want to be in the dining room and I want to see what’s going on. I want to be part of that energy and that communal space.
L: Exactly. I love to sit at the bar with friends. Also, it’s a great way to meet new people. If you’re sitting at a table, you’re not going to meet people.
J: I really love a drink at the bar before, and you meet a friend, and then maybe you go have your own dinner with a group, and then you go back. And now you can go back to that friend or maybe meet them out later. A drink at the bar before a table is a move that people need to celebrate more in restaurants. The move of having a drink at the bar before you sit at the table so that you can meet a new friend, have a conversation and then maybe you revisit that after the dinner, I think it’s a move that doesn’t get celebrated enough.
L: Yes, agreed.
J: Absolutely. I would love to hear more about Fosé. The bottle is absolutely gorgeous.
L: Thank you. That was really born out of my own desire to have something to drink that was not full of sugar. Because you’re really at the mercy of a mocktail artist and they’re not always good. For the most part, they’re not good. I was tired of that kind of stigma surrounded by not drinking. And I was like, “Why isn’t there a market that just comes ready to drink, that looks beautiful, and you can feel like you’re drinking rosé along with everybody else?” So that’s where the idea was really born out of, the necessity of not finding something. My daughter and I weren’t drinking, so we reached out to a couple of companies. I started working with Kim, who makes the juice. What’s great about this is, it’s low calorie. It’s filled with beautiful ingredients that are healthy for you, like grape, rosemary, oak, and vanilla. So we didn’t take the alcohol out of wine. I wanted to build it from the ground up, I wanted to build something that could mimic wine, kind of tastes like wine, but isn’t alcoholic. So, it has no alcohol, it has low sugar, it’s in a gorgeous bottle. You could sit this in a vat of different rosés and you could be at a party and you could pour yourself a glass and no one knows you’re not drinking. It was really about the stigma around drinking and the fact that there wasn’t anything good that I liked on the market, because none of the nonalcoholic wines are very good, in my opinion. So I wanted to make something that tasted good and looks gorgeous. It’s elevated and it makes you feel like you’re joining the party.
J: It’s so smart, and you really hit the nail on the head with. Sometimes the thing about it is, you want this sort of ritual around having a cocktail and having a glass of wine, and ordering a Perrier is just not going to do that. If you want to order Perrier, God bless. But if you want that sort of ritual, “We’re all sitting around and we have glasses of wine. We’re all doing the same thing like,” you want to be part of that. So creating something where the focus is about having that energy around it and that theater around it, that’s something that’s easy to sort of write off as not important. That is actually hugely important. And I think it’s really special to bring that in.
L: It’s huge and it’s not just for for people that don’t drink, either. You could have a glass of rosé and have a glass of Fosé. I’ve given it to friends of mine who drink. After three drinks, they didn’t even realize they weren’t drinking rosé. It’s really about having a glass in your hand at the end of the day. Like I said, it’s for the women that are expecting, for spas, for people who don’t drink for one day or for Dry January. It’s a great alternative.
J: Yeah, it’s an alternative substitute.
L: A substitute to drinking. And again, like I said, you can be a drinker and you can have a glass of Fosé and just not drink as much. I say, “Fosé all day,” because you can drink it all day.
J: I mean, that’s the joy of it. That’s also so great, because of this idea that nonalcoholic beverages are not just for people who don’t drink. As someone who does drink and, I love the idea of being out and feeling like, “Oh, here’s an option that will feel like it’s not a change from what I was doing.” It’s going to feel like I’m still drinking wine. But I just didn’t want to get more drunk or I don’t want to be drunk at all that night.
L: I made sure that the color is perfection, and it’s delicious. It is so good, Jake, you’re going to love it. And it’s low calorie and it’s filled with all these beautiful ingredients that make you feel good. I gave it to my daughter the first time to try when we got the first sample. She’s like, “Mom, are you sure there’s no alcohol in here?” It really does a good job in mimicking wine.
J: I’m curious about the actual beverage itself. Was that a long process of figuring it out?
L: We went back and forth on the taste. There’s actually natural tannins in it, because I wanted it to have the grit, like a glass of wine. Now it’s perfect and we’re so happy with it. I’m in Miami with Lee Schrager — he runs the Food and Wine Festival — and he loves it. I was just with Rosanna Scotto in New York and we were at the restaurant and I brought it. That’s another restaurant that I love, Scotto. That’s a lot of fun. Do you know Scottos?
J: Yes, yes, it’s so gorgeous.
L: They made it beautiful outside. She’s the “Good Day New York” host, and she’s a good friend of mine. She’s like, “Luann, this is so good.” Right now you can get it at drinkfosé.com, but I’m working on distribution with some big companies. It’s exciting because rosé season is upon us. But again, this is not just for rosé season, you can drink this all year round.
J: I’ve always been a proponent of year-round rosé. There’s nothing wrong with drinking a glass of rosé in the dead of winter. Sometimes I want a little taste of summer, and I think Fosé is no different. I’m truly very, very, very excited to try it. I’ve tasted a lot of nonalcoholic wines and I’m so excited.
L: I can’t wait to hear from you about what do you think.
J: You’ll be getting an email, absolutely.
L: I’m sending you a bottle. I think it’s coming to you.
J: Oh, is it? Amazing. Please do, I will absolutely try it.
L: Check in with Claire, because I think that we’re sending you a bottle and if we are not then we will.
J: OK, amazing. I’m so excited. I’m truly very excited to try it. What has you excited now? Obviously, Fosé is very exciting. But when you’re going out now in 2022, when you’re planning a night out, what is exciting to you?
L: When planning a night out, sometimes spontaneity is that always the better night.
J: Yeah, I feel the same.
L: Sometimes when you plan too much, things go awry. I’ve been planning away down here because I have so many friends in Miami. The other day I went to pick up Joe’s Stone Crab. My girlfriend has bought the apartment of some designer, what’s his name? Anyway, I went to buy Joe’s Stone Crab. I ordered the stone crabs, I ordered some lobster rolls, and I brought it to their place. They had everything set up. They invited some friends. Just fun things like that. You don’t have to worry, hostess, I’ve got you covered on the food. I’m going to be the food hostess. She did everything else and I brought all the food and when it came time to eat, I set it all up for her so she didn’t have to do anything. And the husband did the dishes.
J: Yeah, I love that. That’s such a good move. I’m covering a hole for the night, I got food and then like really splashing out on it. If someone told me, “Oh, Luann’s got food and then you showed up with lobster rolls,” I’d be like, “That’s a good move.” She really did a good job.
L: Lobster rolls, stone crabs, and all the dipping sauces. Being a great hostess too, is having good friends. You need a wingman. When I invite people, I got that girl who’s sitting at the center of the table or that guy who’s the life of the party, and he’s got to go in the middle and then you work people around him. It’s about knowing your friends, putting new people together with old friends, and having beautiful food. And, of course, a little Fosé.
J: Never not without the Fosé. You’re the most jetsetted guest I’ve had on the show so far. It sounds like you’ve really been all over the world and gone out all over the world. In light of having that sort of knowledge, what would you say is the distinctive characteristic of going out in New York? What is the special thing about New York versus Milan or France or Miami?
L: In New York, there’s so many interesting people that are doing so many interesting things. In Europe, people tend to be more about the traveling and what island we live on, those types of conversations. As opposed to in New York where it’s like, “I’m making a movie, I’m in a cabaret show, I’m an artist, I have a painting on Times Square.” It’ such a melting pot of the most incredible people who are doing incredible, interesting things. Not to say Europeans are not interesting, but you know what I mean. When I lived in Switzerland, I would go to a dinner party and if somebody asked me how my ski day was one more time I was going to jump into a snow bank. What else do you have going on? I don’t want to talk about what you had for dinner. I don’t want to talk about where you’re going next week or how many homes you have. What interests you? What makes you interesting? And that’s what New York has that the rest of the world really doesn’t.
J: There’s no homogony to fall back on and be part of the masses. If you want to keep up, you have to have your own thing. What interests you? What are you doing? This city is hard to live in, so what is driving you to be here? I think that’s so special. If you don’t have a reason to be here, get out. It’s too hard.
L: People are on a mission in New York and people are doing things. When I go to New York, it energizes me. Now I got to get moving. I’ve got to keep up. That’s what makes it really different from the rest of the world in terms of the great cities. It’s the vibration of the move and the bustle. Sure, it gets tiring and you need to go on vacation. But there’s no place like New York.
J: Absolutely. When touring the cabaret, do you feel like you have to adjust at all or read the energy differently in the different places you’re bringing it? Or were people kind of showing up to it and hopping on board with what you’re giving?
L: Well, people are there to see me. They bought tickets to come to my shows. When I first started my shows, my agent was like, “Oh, I’m going to take you to big theaters.” I was playing 54 below in rooms like The Carlyle. For me, it was small and intimate. I said, “Oh no, I can’t do this show with 1,000 or 2,000 people. He said, “Oh no, you’re wrong.” And you know, he was right. Because for me, whether it’s 150 people or 1,000 people, it’s the same. I get more nervous because there’s 1,000 people than there are 150 people. When I show up, my show is my show and you’re in for the ride. My director goes, “Luann, the world could explode and you’re standing here on stage and you say, ‘Follow me, come with me, everybody’s going to be all right.'” We’re going to follow the countess, you know? So it’s interesting because my fans are devoted. I always say, I can trip and fall and they would say, “Oh my God, that was so elegant, Countess.” I swear to God, they’re so supportive. I have so much love from them that it also takes away my fear. When a room full of people love you that much, you know you can’t do anything wrong.
J: As a comedian, I totally get it. With me, it’s a little bit different because it’s more about winning the room over. Once you feel like they’re on your side and they’re supporting you, it’s the most magical feeling in the world. So to have that with your fan base already, to be giving them a space to come and give you that, is amazing.
L: When you say that “winning the room over,” I have to do the same thing. My songs have to grab them, you know?
J: Yeah, you have to. That’s nice to hear as someone who already has the following. They know you and they love you when they got there, you still have to show them, in those first couple or minutes or songs that this is worthwhile. This is going to be good.You still have to win them over.
L: Listen, if it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t be going back out on tour. I’ve done so many shows all over the country and people talk. Everybody’s like, “That was so amazing.” That’s so great to hear and that’s the point. It’s a passion. It’s something creative that I love to do that gives me joy. So what can I say?
J: That’s amazing. I find it so impressive how much you do. You have the show, you have your show, you have the Fosé. Are you just bopping around life and then when you get an idea? You’re like, “I got to make a call and make it happen”? Are you just feeling excited and passionate about different things at different times?
L: You know, it depends. When I did my show and I had my first director in 2018, his mentor was Richard J. Alexander, who is the director of Barbara and Kristin Chenoweth, among many, many others that he’s directed over the years. They call him “the diva whisperer.” It comes to my show in New York and he goes, “Countess, I was not expecting very much from you, but you blew my mind.” He goes, “You wear a dress like nobody I’ve ever seen. You’re funny and you can sing, you’re going to be a big star. Give me two weeks.” And he found me my agent. That opportunity was huge for me because I just was doing my thing, this small show in New York. He was like, “No, no, no, no, you don’t understand. This is a big deal.” That opportunity came to me. He changed my life, of course, and made the show Live Nation. Now I tour with Live Nation. I just think that timing in life is everything, to be in the right place at the right time, to do what makes you happy, to be passionate. That draws energy with people around you. I think it’s just knowing what gives you passion? What you like to do is the battle.
J: It goes back to what you were kind of saying about a night out. With life, too, you can’t plan it too much. You have to sort of follow the thread of what’s exciting you, what’s fun, what’s feeling good. That is what’s going to lead you to the best night out, or the best life, or career or whatever.
L: I was just with someone that I know from Madrid, and she has a table for eight people at her house. And then she found out I was in town, but I’m staying with a girlfriend, so I’m not going to leave my girlfriend behind. She says, “I only have eight seats at the table.” Well, big deal, because my girlfriend is so much fun. And you know what? That’s where you see the difference in people. For me, it’s the more the merrier. So we didn’t go to a dinner party and she missed us.
J: Yeah, I feel that. You have a chair, pull up a chair. What sign are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
L: I’m a Taurus.
J: Oh, that tracks?
L: Yeah, I’m the leader. Even when I was a kid, I had a girlfriend who had glasses and she was a nerd, and she read books all day long. And the kids used to pick on her. So I’m like, “Don’t even go near her.” So I was always kind of the leader of the squad. Everybody was coming to my house with seven kids, so all the action was at my house. I lived in the neighborhood of girlfriends that were kind of the same age going to school together. So all the activities were at my house, you know? It was kind of follow the leader. I guess it’s a Taurus thing.
J: No, I love it. Well, this has been so, so fun. I cannot thank you enough for doing this show. I have two questions to quickly finish on.
L: You know that our show is airing right now, the “Ultimate Girls Trip.” Have you seen it?
J: I have seen the first episode.
L: It’s a great show. It’s on Tuesdays on Bravo, where they take all different women from all the different franchises and sends us to the Turks and Caicos. They’re like, “Do you want to go for a week on vacation and get paid?” I’m like, done! So that’s airing Tuesdays on Bravo. I’m happy, “New York Housewives” is coming back. We’re regrouping and we’ll be back filming soon. So I got a lot of exciting things going on between the cabaret coming up in April and the Fosé. Life is good.
J: I’m so happy to hear it, and I’m so happy for you and I’m so excited to watch all these things. I’m going to come to your show. I’m going to drink to Fosé and I’ll be watching “Girls Trip.”
L: Where do we see you, Jake? Where do you do stand up?
J: I do stand up all over Brooklyn, New York. And I do a little bit of touring here and there, but hopefully more.
L: Life has been difficult with the touring thing, but we’re coming back. I think spring in New York is going to be like the Roaring ’20s.
J: Yes, absolutely. And I will have lots of Fosé in hand.
L: Awesome. Do you have another question?
J: I think we got it. I was going to ask you what you’re excited for next and then you kind of said it all. So that was perfect.
L: It was so nice to meet you.
J: It was so nice to meet you, too. Have fun in Miami.
L: Thank you. I’ll be back next weekend. Until then, we’ll see hopefully at one of my shows in April.
L: All right, thanks Jake.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shoutout to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.