Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey joined the cast over a decade ago, filming her first season in 2010 with young daughter Noelle Robinson, soon-to-be fiancé Peter Thomas, and new bestie NeNe Leakes — so really, we don’t need to tell you how much has changed for the Bravo star. Come season 13, Cynthia is walking down the aisle as Mrs. Mike Hill, a happy ending she’s long dreamed of and was proud to pull off despite backlash for hosting the wedding amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a new interview with SheKnows, Cynthia reflected on the decade she’s spent sharing her life with fans — falling in and out of love, finding her footing as a businesswoman, and watching daughter Noelle grow up into the 21-year-old woman she is today. She shared with us her one regret from all those years of filming, and it wasn’t what we expected at all.
In 2018, Cynthia dropped daughter Noelle, who she shares with ex Leon Robinson, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. to start her freshman year — and she brought the cameras with her. Noelle had been filming for the past eight years anyway, she reasoned, and she wanted to share this huge moment with the people who had followed their family for so long. What fans saw was a touching and emotional goodbye that resonated with empty nesters everywhere. But what Noelle then experienced behind the scenes was something Cynthia hadn’t seen coming.
“I have to be honest, I do have one [regret],” she tells SheKnows of her years on RHOA. “And my one regret is following Noelle to college. I was so excited to share the fact that — I just wanted to show people one of my kids actually taking that journey and just filming it, just actually being able to show what that looks like on television. And what ended up happening was this was really her real college experience. It was in real time. So when Noelle turned up to Howard University for her orientation, she had a whole camera crew.”
“It ended up…being somewhat of a spectacle,” she admits. “It just ended up being uncomfortable for her because after we packed up and left and she had to stay there, it just made her get all this unwanted attention. People were kind of befriending her and gravitating toward her because she was on TV, as opposed to them genuinely just wanting to be friends with her. So we kind of messed it up for her.”
In 2020, Noelle revealed that she had decided to step away from college for the time being to focus full-time on her modeling and influencing career. Cynthia is careful to say that she doesn’t believe filming the drop-off was the deciding factor in Noelle’s college experience — but as a mom, she can’t help feeling a pang of regret for having made things any more difficult than they needed to be.
“I, as a parent, always want Noelle to have great experiences. And I never want to be the cause of anything that’s going to give her stress,” she tells us. “We just really brought a lot of attention to the fact that she was there and it was not good for her. I’m not saying that’s the reason she left or anything like that, but it definitely affected her experience…I’m not saying if we hadn’t gone with the cameras, she would still be there. I don’t really know. I know that I take full accountability for pretty much making her experience going into that situation one that it didn’t have to be.”
Luckily, Noelle’s influencing career has quickly paid off, with her nearly half a million Instagram followers eagerly tuning in to the 21-year-old star’s recommendations. Cynthia notes that Noelle even recently took her on an all-expenses-paid trip to Jamaica for her 54th birthday — a little thank-you to mom, and a sign of her swift success. That was a wake-up call for Cynthia to be excited about the path her daughter was on now, not holding on to ideas she’d had for her in the past.
“As a parent you have to be very careful with your children in terms of trying to steer them in a direction that you want them to go,” she says. “Like she’s not me. She’s not her dad. Noelle wants her own identity. We always raised her to be an independent thinker and that has worked out for her. And now she has found herself.”
“I’ve been very proud to kind of watch her come into who she is,” she adds. “She’s 21 years old now. She was 8 years old when she came on the show. And you guys actually got to see the evolution of Noelle and really follow her ups and downs, because college doesn’t work out for everyone. It just wasn’t for her.”
Cynthia and Noelle’s journey has been one of the most compelling parts of Real Housewives of Atlanta, and we’ve loved seeing this mother-daughter dynamic evolve as they each enter new phases of life. Though Cynthia knows she can trust her daughter to run her own life, she’ll never stop wanting to be the best mom she can be. The fact that she’s thinking hard about her own role in Noelle’s rocky college experience while trusting the path her daughter’s on now tells us everything we need to know about the loving and respectful mom she always has been.
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Before you go, click here to see kids who are following in their supermodel moms’ footsteps.