Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth doesn't mind being one of the all-time great reality-show villains. "I've capitalized on that, and that's okay," she says. "That's a television persona." But Omarosa, 31, hopes viewers will see her kinder, gentler side on The Surreal Life 5, which finds her shacked up with such oversize characters as America's Next Top Model vixen Janice Dickinson and baseball bad-boy Jose Canseco.
The former political consultant (who briefly worked for Vice President Al Gore) splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and is juggling a host of projects: She runs a Democratic lobbying firm, has a syndicated talk show set to launch in spring 2006, and she's developing a clothing line. Omarosa, who's separated from her husband Aaron Stallworth, spoke to PEOPLE about her White House ambitions and why she and Dickinson will never be best friends.
Why do another reality show?
The Surreal Life runs upwards of 15 times a week. You can't even pay for that type of access on primetime television. And they pay you very well. Plus, it's only 12 days, so I thought it would be fun.
What about the idea of moving in with strangers?
I was very intrigued by the idea of being around six other celebrities. I'm a researcher by nature. As a doctoral candidate I spent so much time studying media and its influences. When the time comes for me to return to the classroom, I can use it as even a teaching aide. No matter what, once cameras enter the room, people modify their behavior. Whether you're at your family reunion and somebody pulls out a camcorder or you're on a reality show, the camera changes everything.
Did it bring out the worst in you?
When I was on The Apprentice, I became ultra-conservative, to the point where people labeled me as an ice queen or mean. (Being on the show) just made me tense beyond my own comprehension. I was just really guarded, very short with people. I had a very bad reaction to being scrutinized in such a way.
Weren't you scared to go under the microscope again?
After The Apprentice, I knew what to expect. I was very comfortable with going back into the situation because I now knew what this genre was all about. I thought it was actually a wonderful opportunity for people to see the real Omarosa – the Omarosa who has a great sense of humor, who's smart, who's witty, who's easy to get along with. Very compassionate and a very caring person.
You and Janice Dickinson certainly didn't hit it off.
She's just flawed. She tries to fix her flaws with plastic surgery, drugs, alcohol and reckless sex, and it's just not a solution.
In the first episode, you said you were happy to have someone in the house who could "out-diva" you.
It was truly like watching Janice Dickinson as a circus performer. It was great to sit back and watch her go. I was quite entertained. She is a big drama queen.
What about Jose Canseco?
Jose was an amazing roommate. He was like an older brother. He let us do a makeover on him. He let us pick out his clothes. We got to polish his nails. We put makeup on him. We dressed him up in girls' clothing. He was like our little teddy bear.
You and your husband, Aaron, have been separated for several months.
We decided we would separate only because of how my life has changed. I didn't feel like I was being the best wife to my husband. I've got a talk show coming out in the spring, I'm writing a book, doing a clothing line and all those things. I know that I was neglecting my husband. He's the love of my life. No, we're not together but we still are best friends.
Would you still like to run for office one day?
I will definitely run for office. How could I not? Politics pumps in my veins. There is no limit. I could be president. I could be a senator. I could be a congresswoman. I could be mayor. Hell, I could serve on the PTA.