“My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” attracted millions of viewers when it premiered in April 2012 on the TLC network, as it gave a look into the world of American Gypsies. Many were surprised, even shocked, at the extravagant weddings and family dramas that took place. Much of what was revealed about their lives and cultural traditions seemed extreme or exaggerated, but truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, and that’s what makes reality television such a hit, including this series.
- 1 About the show
- 2 Most interesting couples in the show
- 3 Couples that stayed together
About the show
How did it come about?
The British documentary series, “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings,” became one of the most-watched on Channel 4, with an average of over nine million people tuning in since it premiered in 2010. Its producers, Firecracker Films, then created an American spin-off for TLC. It was said that about a million gypsies established several communities throughout the country, but very little was known about them by the general public. The London-based executive producer, David Herman, said that the American version had been the ‘most extensive preproduction and production period’ he had been on. Meeting people and gaining access to their world had been difficult, as they were a secretive lot, or just wary of those not part of their community. It was the popular dressmaker, Sondra Chelli, who made things possible by earning the trust of the gypsies in sharing part of their lives – their family celebrations, but mostly weddings.
Starting the year off with a new headshot! 🙂
“My Big Fat American Gypsy Weddings” easily captured the attention of the viewing public, as gypsy culture was found to be quite unique, with teen marriages, over-the-top dresses, wild parties, larger-than-life characters, and so much family drama. The show had a five-season run, with its final episode aired on 4 September 2016. Due to its popularity, a spin-off series called “Gypsy Sisters” was launched in 2013, featuring the ‘Stanley Sisters,’ who were the break-out stars of the original series, making a spectacle of themselves for being wild, loud, aggressive, and for flying off the handle at the slightest thing; they developed a cult following, as viewers found them quite entertaining to watch.
A successful but highly controversial TV series
The way the Romani-Americans and Irish Travelers were depicted in “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” was said to be misleading, and that the show was designed for ‘cheap laughs’ and to shock its viewers. Most of the criticisms came from those within their community, such as Oksana Marafioti, author of “American Gypsy: A Memoir.” She was beyond excited when she first heard that TLC was planning the American version of “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings,” not that she was a fan of it, but she saw this as a chance to change the perception that most people had about gypsies, in that ‘we all live in trailers and marry off our teen daughters, that Romani women prefer cleaning baseboards to getting an education, that our men drink more than they work.’ She contacted its producers to be part of it, and as they talked about where the show was headed, she came to the sad realization that they were more interested in producing something that was entertaining – old-fashioned gypsy weddings, celebrations, and such. ‘It’s one thing to present a willing group of people in a negative light, but quite another to represent an entire race of people as a niche stereotype,’ she said.
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Virgin teen brides, ‘slutty’ clothes
Another thing that bugged some viewers, was how their teen daughters were dressed provocatively, bordering on slutty as pointed out by some, but they were expected to remain virgins until they were married to a suitable gypsy bachelor. People shouldn’t get the wrong idea about how gypsy girls were dressed. Although they were meant to capture a boy’s interest, it wasn’t an indication that they could kiss, talk, or flirt with them. 17-year-old virgin bride Shyanne said, ‘Romany girls aren’t supposed to know anything about that [sex] until after they’re married.’ Her soon-to-be groom, 18-year-old Michael, revealed his thoughts on girls who engaged in pre-marital sex and said, ‘I want something new. I don’t want something used.’ A gypsy girl was even home-schooled, as she once saw kids making out in middle school, and her family didn’t want her exposed to that kind of behavior.
Some, if not most of the parents in the show, dressed their young girls in clothes that were considered a bit risqué during occasions, and it became controversial, as it appeared that the parents were oversexualizing their children. However, they argued that these girls were just having fun, and that those who think otherwise were the ones who were sexualizing them. Suffice to say that the image of the gypsies who appeared on the show was contradictory to the strict moral code they supposedly adhered to.
Fake weddings, scripted show
The authenticity of the TV series was questioned, as there were rumors that the participants were directed to say something or act a certain way to fit the narrative that the producers or writers wanted. Most viewers of reality shows have come to accept that some storylines were exaggerated, or scenes were edited in such a way to create tension or drama. However, in “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding,” some said that the weddings were totally fake or scripted.
Priscilla Kelly was featured in season one’s “14 and Looking for Mr. Right” episode (2012), and was depicted as someone fully trained to become a proper gypsy wife. She wore an expensive Sondra Celli creation, a queen of hearts dress with over 50 yards of ruffles and thousands of Swarovski crystals, for a Halloween party that her family threw for her in hopes of finding her a gypsy husband. Before that, she and her father went to a party, and talked about the way the gorger (non-gypsy) guests were dancing. Her father said that in bringing gorgers into the community, ‘You’re gonna get that filth and that smut’, while she said that gypsy girls might dance with their hips and they might show skin and cleavage, but ‘you won’t see anything if we bend-over, and you won’t see us all over the boys — unless you’re a dirty girl.’
In 2014, Priscilla shared on her Facebook page what some viewers were suspecting – that it was scripted. She wrote, ‘Basically [producers] told me if I would just get married, it didn’t matter who it was, it didn’t have to be legal, just so they had something to put on TV.’ That she was trying to find a husband or was being married off at the age of 14 was a lie. Furthermore, she claimed that they were not paid to be on the show, and that all they gained from it was nothing but disrespect from people who didn’t understand their way of life.
— Karnage (@Karnage312) June 15, 2022
Priscilla had since become an American professional wrestler, with the ring name, “Gigi Dolin,” signed with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Her nickname was “Hell’s Favorite Harlot” as she developed a Goth succubus character that licked and bit at her opponents to psyche them out. In 2018, she married Samuel Ratsch, also known as Darby Allin, former longest-reigning All Elite Wrestling (AEW) TNT Champion, but they announced their divorce in 2020.
Extravagant, over-the-top wedding dresses
One of the major attractions of the series was the wedding dresses or party gowns. Those who contracted the services of Sondra Celli mostly wanted something big, elaborate, and blinged-out. She had creative freedom in design, keeping in mind what her clients wanted, no matter how outrageous or ridiculous it might have seemed. A couple of dresses that caught the attention of the viewers: Maquayla’s floral dress, with the entire dress made of fresh flowers, it was definitely Instagram-worthy; however, Sondra had to rebuild it in 24 hours as the flowers had wilted while in transport. Tatiana’s wedding dress made history in the show, as it was the ‘biggest, blingiest dress ever.’ Made of 1,200 feet of fabric, 500 feet of tubing, and 50,000 hand-sewn crystals; it weighed 110 pounds, 50kgs. It was so big and heavy that she had to ride a flatbed semi-truck on the way to the wedding venue. The dress was priced at $40,000, so many said that stereotyping gypsies as hard-up and living in trailers was wrong, as it seemed that most of them could afford pricey gowns, not to mention lavish parties.
Most interesting couples in the show
Alyssa and Heath
The couple had been living with Heath’s family, and his mother Nettie threw them out of her home as she heard that Alyssa had been talking behind her back about how many men Nettie has had in her life. Nettie’s sister Mellie hated Alyssa, and planned to hit her in the face on her wedding day; Heath asked her not to do anything to ruin his wedding, so Mellie controlled her anger, at least until the ceremony was over. A violent catfight ensued, with the bride’s maid of honor confronting Mellie right outside the courthouse, and the two ended down on the ground – there was hair pulling and punches were thrown before anyone could separate them. The marriage, by the way, lasted only a month.
Annie and Josh
They both have the same grandfather. Annie said, ‘If you love somebody, you cannot help the way you feel.’ She didn’t mind that there were people who think they were disgusting because of their family relationship. Josh said, ‘It didn’t matter to her, it didn’t matter to me. I can’t help the fact that I love her.’ They just clicked and there was never a dull moment when they were together. Most people frown upon marriages between first or second cousins, but in gypsy culture it’s quite normal and acceptable. What their families found upsetting was that the two were already living together before they tied the knot; they called it living in sin.
Amber and Dustin
There was a commotion at the wedding of Amber and Dustin, as her ex-husband Jamie showed up uninvited. Amber told him to leave, and that should have been the end of it, but someone approached Dustin, saying she had no intention of ruining anything for him, but then proceeded to tell him that Amber had cheated on him with Jamie since the start of their relationship. He confronted his wife, and didn’t believe her when she denied it. He then smashed their wedding cake in her face and then walked away, saying he was done with her. All this happened mere hours after the couple said their ‘I Do’s.”
Nuckie and Pookie
Pookie openly flirted with another girl at a party with Nuckie present, but didn’t make a scene. It was especially hard for her as she left home to be with him. ‘He was my first kiss, my first everything and it just hurts,’ she said. Being faithful was hard for him, and his sister wasn’t surprised as she said that they were simply too young – she was 14 and he was 16. Nuckie returned to her family, and that was supposed to be the end of their love story, but they tied the knot two years later and had three kids. However, they then went their separate ways, and she married another guy in 2020.
Karen and Maison
Maison realized two weeks into his marriage with Melissa that he preferred her younger sister Karen instead; he believed the latter when she said that his wife was seeing other men behind his back. He didn’t like that Melissa was never home, as it was not how a proper Romanichal wife should behave and said, ‘She was just dirty in every way.’ After two years, it was revealed that Maison was marrying Karen whom he said was the ‘love of his life, his angel.’ Later on, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to grand theft, as he scammed an 82-year-old woman in Ohio, but he only began his serving his sentence in 2019, as he was still in jail on a previous charge.
Couples that stayed together
With all the controversies surrounding the show, and the American gypsies being portrayed in a negative light, many chose to steer clear of the limelight after the series ended. Not much was known about the couples who stayed strong and stood the test of time, except for a few: two sisters, Kayla and Kandace, had a double wedding, but only Kayla remained married. Nettie and JR are still together, after they renewed their wedding vows in 2014.
As most of the couples featured were young, the relationships reportedly ended in divorce, as they weren’t yet ready for a lifelong commitment. Some said that it was the reality of life, while others wondered if there was some truth to the rumor that the so-called wedding ceremonies were not real at all; that they were not legally binding, as they were just doing it for the show, thus they were hush-hush about it.
However, loyal fans believed in the show, and were still rooting for the couples. Make up your own mind!