Lisa Wu Hartwell, Real Housewives of Atlanta

Virginia Sherwood/BRAVO

The drama on Bravo's new The Real Housewives of Atlanta series began long before the cameras ever started rolling.

Lisa Wu Hartwell, one of the five women showcased in Bravo's latest Real Housewives incarnation, tells me she was hoping to have all three of her children on the show, but her ex-husband, late-'80s R&B hitmaker Keith Sweat, has gotten in the way.

Hartwell and Sweat have two sons together, 13-year-old Jordan and 11-year-old Justin. "He didn't sign a waiver," Hartwell complains. "He's like, 'Lisa, it's nothing personal. I just really don't know how they're going to edit and if they're going to make you look crazy. I just don't want the kids to be, you know, overexposed or anything.' "

Hartwell doesn't buy it. "They asked their dad if could they be involved, and he [said] no," she says. "It could have been a Disney show and I don't think he would have signed it."

An email sent to Sweat through his official website has not been returned.

For now, Hartwell appears on the show as if she only has one child, one-year-old E.J., her son with her current husband, NFL player Ed Hartwell.

So why such a strong desire to have cameras follow her 24/7? Put simply, it's business, baby.

"It was great exposure," Hartwell says.

Not only does she have her own successful real-estate firm, but she also owns children's clothing company Hart 2 Hart Baby and the jewelry line Wu Girls. And that's not all. She's an aspiring actress, painter and writer.

She credits an old friend, Tyler Perry (yes, that Tyler Perry!), with inspiring her to follow her dreams. Years ago, after they collaborated on a couple of projects (Perry directed a play that she wrote), Hartwell says Perry called her one day to say he was giving up on show business because he was done with the struggling.

But after they chatted, Perry decided to keep going. "I use that story often when I'm trying to encourage others," Hartwell said. "You have to stay passionate and just stay focused and not say, It's not going to happen."

Wonder if that determination will change her ex-husband's mind? I have a feeling not.

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