What to say about The Shahs of Sunset? The Ryan Seacrest–produced show offers a look into the flamboyant lives of six Persian-Americans as they navigate life, love and the streets of L.A.'s "Tehrangeles" neighborhood. It has shown American audiences another side of an ethnic group often vilified as nuclear weapon–wielding terrorists — yet its focus on its characters' over-the-top lifestyles has irked critics to the point that the City of West Hollywood passed an official resolution condemning it.
If viewers can't quite figure out what to make of the show, well, they're really divided on The Shahs' breakout star: self-proclaimed Persian pop priestess Asa Soltan Rahmati. She's both loved and resented — a successful businesswoman who remains close to her Muslim family, a lover of over-the-top luxury who nevertheless seems down to earth.
Fiercely independent, she refuses to be boxed in. But she has raised eyebrows for bluntly speaking her mind — and supposedly having $30,000 in gold embedded into the foundation of her home for good luck.
Rahmati lets the criticism roll off her shoulders. "They hated it, but they watched it every week, they knew every detail," she says of her Iranian-American compatriots. "I think, secretly, they loved it."
She's probably right.
As a child, Rahmati escaped the upheaval of revolutionary Iran for Germany, subsequently moving to L.A. in the early '90s, when she was 15, as a refugee. After years of living in a constant state of flux, she felt empowered by the warmth of Southern California. "I immediately knew this was home, and I've never felt like that before anywhere else," Rahmati says as her gold bangles glide down her wrists, providing the soundtrack to her conversation. "This is more home to me than Iran could ever be at this point."
Now 36, the teenager who learned English by listening to Public Enemy and N.W.A and lived in "the slums of Beverly Hills" is attempting to bridge the gap between older and younger generations of Iranians. In self-produced YouTube music videos, she explores her identity and her roots. An artist and aspiring pop singer, she's generated buzz for "No Other Plans," a song she co-wrote with friend Sunny Levine, which appears in the Rashida Jones film Celeste & Jesse Forever.
Her reality TV self is part lover of gold and fast cars, part grounded soul who reads Nietzsche in German and studied psychology and philosophy at UCLA.
She also famously loves big noses. If you've got a particularly intense one, she might send a compliment your way, and as viewers saw in Season 2, get a lot of heat for it.
"It is controversial that I said it? OK, sure," she says matter-of-factly. "I'd still say it. That's how I feel. I like big noses."
As Rahmati deals with her growing fame, and releases a line of diamond-infused bottled water, the once-rootless world traveler is firmly grounded in the city from which she draws her inspiration.
"My favorite thing in the world is to bump my music, put the top down and roll through the streets of L.A.," she says. "I live for that shit."