What is “Gypsy Sisters”?
Premiering in February 2013, “Gypsy Sisters” is a spin-off from the show “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”, and aired for four seasons with eight episodes each. Documenting the daily lives of the bold and brash family matriarch Nettie Stanley, her vast brood, and their associates, the show offered viewers a tantalizing glimpse into the secretive lifestyles of Romanichal women.
Dwindling ratings, increasingly bad publicity, and a horrifying animal cruelty case led to the show being cancelled in July 2015. Although Romanichal and Romanichal-adjacent people criticized how “Gypsy Sisters” displayed the Stanleys and co. in a negative light, others enjoyed it as light-hearted viewing.
Meet The Cast
A proud mother hen with nine children and over a dozen grandchildren, as well as three younger sisters, Nettie Stanley was the star of the show. With her signature bleach-blonde locks, heavy make-up, and tanned skin, the West Virginia native was born in July 1974, and had all the makings of a successful reality TV star, until tragedy struck when her stepson Rocky died after being stabbed at a basketball game, causing her to step back from a life in the spotlight.
Nettie’s younger sisters were Dovie, Mellie and JoAnn; in the show’s third-season finale, Nettie and her husband Huey Stanley renewed their vows, to commemorate over a decade of blissful union. Despite her wild streak, Nettie helped her mother, Lottie Mae, raise her younger siblings, and was always present to lend her family a helping hand.
Lottie Mae didn’t provide her daughters with the best example, as she has many prior arrests on her record, and has spent almost a decade in total behind bars. After being convicted of bank fraud in the early 2000s, she was arrested in a Madison Heights motel with her husband and accused of removing her young son and grandson from foster care; this second offence led to a nine-year sentence.
Some of Nettie’s children’s names are Heath, Albert, Huey, Destiny, Chasitie, Sheila, Kat, Nukie and Dallas. The youngest two are the fruit of her marriage to Huey, whereas the other seven were born from her first two husbands. There’s not much public information regarding Nettie’s life in 2022, but several sources claim that she’s enjoying a private life, helping to raise her grandchildren.
Next up is Mellie Stanley. The black sheep and the youngest of four sisters, Mellie didn’t earn herself many fans after admitting that her firstborn son was a drunken mistake. The dark-eyed brunette has four children: Richard Joel, Brandy’Wyne Leveniya, Divinity Rose and Serenity Faye, all with different fathers, and born between 2013 and 2020. At the time of the controversial interview, Mellie had divorced Richard’s father after just six days of marriage – almost breaking Britney Spears’ record of less than three.
With the birth of Richard Joel, former nightclub stripper, Mellie vowed to turn over a new leaf and stop being such a wild child. Sadly, she remained known for drinking, cursing, and fighting on the floor, much like the rest of the colorful Stanley clan. In 2017, she and one of her many husbands, George Lee, were arrested for a creative Toys R’ Us coupon fraud scam. Two years later, she was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pass her General Education Development Test (G.E.D), effectively on-line matricualtion.
JoAnn Wells is another Stanley sister who was arrested for fraudulent coupon scams; in 2014, she was hit with two years of supervised probation and had to repay Target almost $15,000. The middle sister appeared in seasons two to four of the show, and was a main character in season three for her dramatic divorce from Belcher, with whom she has since reconciliated… and broken up again.
When “Gypsy Sisters” was filmed, JoAnn was an aspiring nurse with a love for bad boys and drama, despite her quiet and gentle nature. Luckily, the toned brunette is in what appears to be a more stable relationship these days, and has managed to stay out of the news. Her and Belcher’s two children are also being raised away from cameras and public scrutiny.
Dovie Carter was the fourth Stanley sister, and was lumbered with the role of family peacemaker, similarly to JoAnn. The dark-haired beauty is a social media recluse, who only appeared a few times in season four: nothing is known about her relationships, children, or criminal record, so presumably she’s rather more stable than her aforementioned sisters.
Next we have Annie and Kayla, two scandalous sisters who were linked to the Stanleys by marriage. Annie Malone was known for being the clown of the show, and for her “Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” episode in which she made her TV debut when marrying her cousin Josh at the same time – talk about multitasking. James Malone already had children with Annie’s cousin Dallas (yes, Nettie’s daughter), making family reunions all the more interesting.
As for Kayla Williams, she was with her husband Richard for almost two decades before their divorce, and decided to make up for lost time by marrying and divorcing two more times. Some of Richard’s children were with Kayla, and he also shared two sons with James’s sister, Danielle Malone. Kayla’s children – Danielle, Sissy, Richard, Lexi, and George – are starting to form their own families, while Kayla has started a YouTube channel, and shares beauty, cooking, and lifestyle tips with her loyal followers.
Kayla and Annie’s brother, Gus, married Laura Johnston, with whom he had daughters Savannah, Hailey and Bailey. Laura rarely appeared in the show and is believed to still be with Gus. The state of her relationship with Kayla and Annie is unknown.
The Stanley sisters’ first cousin, Sheena Small, had four daughters with Mellie and Nettie’s brother Henry: Shakira, Shania, Shirley and Frankie. Sheena was another minor character and was never invited to be a show regular after her season two cameos.
Nettie’s oldest daughter, Dallas Nichole Williams, is the mother of six herself. Her children Demi, Richard, London, Aaron, Archie and Huey are fruit of different unsuccessful marriages. James Malone was the father of two of her children and married Dallas’s cousin Annie – but that didn’t stop Dallas from taking him back in Christmas 2016. The star-crossed lovers soon broke up again though, and James is believed to be with a new lady now.
Perhaps the most controversial of all, Nettie “Nuckie” Williams left Pookie and Prince Henry, her partner and young son, to see the world with her heroin addict boyfriend. Pookie and his girlfriend Samantha tracked her down in December 2016 and she returned to the family fold: a decision that Samantha perhaps regrets, given that two months later, divorce papers were signed and Pookie decided to get back with Nettie. The couple now have two additional children, daughters Ivory and Delilah Lee, and Nettie is thought to be on her best behavior.
Animal Cruelty Case
For years, fans and haters have speculated why “Gypsy Sisters” was cancelled. The official reason was that ratings had gone down drastically, but the truth is far more sinister: a sickening case of animal cruelty saw Mellie Stanley and her husband at the time, Randall Scott Vuncannon, mired in scandal. Allegedly, advertisers threatened to stop sponsoring the show, and the network realized that “Gypsy Sisters” just wasn’t worth the hassle after so much negative publicity.
TMZ reported in July 2015 that Mellie and Randall had gotten into a heated fight in which he killed her dog. Apparently, Randall lost his temper, picked the small dog up and threw her across the kitchen as hard as possible, killing her instantly. He also viciously beat Mellie, who was found injured in the street.
The fight over rent payments would lead to Randall being arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty. Mellie’s parenting was once again called into question, as people wondered how she could have such unsavory characters around her young children, let alone marry them. It was, overall, an unsavory situation that was impossible to sweep under the carpet, and speculated to be one of the reasons why Mellie refused to return to TV.
Although documentaries about gypsies began broadcasting in the 1960s, TV shows following the daily lives of the marginalized people have sprung up like weeds in the last decade or so – from Spain’s “Palabra de Gitano” to the household name “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”. Their fascinating depictions of extravagant celebrations, brutal verbal and physical spats, and unconventional lifestyles horrified and bedazzled viewers in equal measure.
However, what the general public may see as light-hearted viewing to enjoy, chuckle about, and promptly forget, others take as a serious offense. A Guardian article written in 2019 slammed the depiction of gypsies in films – “…a grab-bag of weirdness and weirdos. Ahistorical and disconnected, they camp on the fringes of storylines, with whatever clothes, accents or nonsensical talents the production feels like giving them”. Other media – “Poorly researched and stripped of context, they can create the impression that social problems spring up out of nowhere… That everyone from a certain background, or a certain gender, is the same.”
The article, written to promote an episode of “A Very British History” that attempted to shine a light on the gritty but far less dysfunctional reality of gypsy life, came and went, much like the well-meaning episode of the same show. Instead, viewers are left with flamboyant baptisms, eye-wateringly expensive birthday parties, and wild weddings, with the occasional arrest sprinkled in whenever things seem to be going too well.
With that said, many of these shows come with disclaimers that certain scenes have been dramatized or even scripted. So, instead of dwelling on the morality of seemingly exploitative gypsy shows when gypsies themselves gladly participate in them, let us take a look at the stars of said shows, and see where they are now.
“My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” aired from 2012 to 2018 and followed the marriage customs of Romani-American gypsies, either those of Romanichal descent or those with Irish Traveler blood. For six seasons and 48 episodes, viewers were regaled with stunning dresses, tense wedding preparations, and the stories of these shockingly young brides and their quiet, stoic grooms.
The show got off to a promising start with the first episode, in which 17-year-old Shyanne was set to marry, despite never having a first kiss, and the follow-up, in which 14-year-old Priscilla Kelly’s family doled out an exorbitant sum of money on a Sondra Celli dress, to find their teenaged daughter a suitable bachelor. The elaborate dress was almost as controversial as the fact that Priscilla had no intentions of furthering her studies, but rather, dreamed of marrying young and putting her household skills to good use.
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Priscilla broke away from her strict upbringing and her family’s expectations, and underwent a drastic image change. These days, the former wannabe gypsy bride is a gothic boxer, who wears revealing costumes and bites or licks her opponents. As for Shyanne, she, like many other of her contemporaries, is a mother to one or more young children and rather inactive on social media after settling into the tranquil lifestyle of a housewife.
After years of accusations – from the misrepresentation of gypsies to alleged racist adverts – and scandals, the plug was pulled on “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”. A whole catalogue of new and shiny shows came along to take its spot, although they have so far proved more popular in Spain than in the US or UK.
For example, “Los Gipsy Kings” aired on Spanish channel Cuatro in February 2015 and has been going strong for years, with over seven seasons. Season one followed some of the great Spanish gypsy dynasties such as musical artists Los Chunguitos, who have sold millions of records, and the Maya clan, who are considered one of the best flamenco-dancing families in the world.
Although the show’s quality has taken a nosedive and the new families featured in it are parodies of former “Gipsy King” alum, it has spawned some unlikely stars, such as the Palencia native Rebe Jimenez. Rebe and her family – made up of her shopaholic and slightly delusional mother, her long-suffering father, and her two precocious younger sisters – have appeared in all seven seasons and were even given their own spin-off show focusing on Rebe’s wedding, which allegedly cost hundreds of thousands of euros.
As it stands, there is still an audience for gypsy media, but trends point to viewers turning their back on Romanichal and traveler shows over the last few years. Time will tell if these shows will die a slow and painful death, or be miraculously revived, but we can probably all agree on one thing – they were entertaining while they lasted.