Washington (CNN)From childhood in Slovenia to the catwalks of Paris and a penthouse in Manhattan, one place Melania Trump never imagined she would end up is the White House. A new CNN documentary premiering Friday night takes a closer look at the first lady, and how she has emerged as one of the most compelling figures of the Trump administration.
Melania Trump settles in as first lady
"I see in some ways the same the same expression on her face at every moment," says Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth About Trump." "And to some degree, I feel great empathy for her because it would be hard to be the one who's the subject of so much attention, and who knows that everyone is trying to figure out what's going on inside of you, when all you really want is to be a private person."
The special explores Trump's early years, and her close ties to her family, whose influence helped shape who she is today and with whom she still spends a great deal of time. Melania herself is fiercely devoted to her own son, choosing to live in New York City so 10-year-old Barron Trump can finish the year at his Manhattan private school without disruption. A full-time move to the White House is anticipated in June.
While unconventional for a first lady, Melania's decision to remain primarily in New York, occasionally commuting to Washington, is indicative of an independent streak. According to first lady historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony, her mystique and her rare public appearances exude a certain degree of strength.
"Melania Trump is, to my imagination, emerging as rather a Mona Lisa of first ladies. Because it is by her appearance and her posture that she seems to signal a strong impression; it's a centered quality. It's an independent quality," he said.
That independence also extends at times to her marriage to President Donald Trump, a polarizing figure with a giant personality, who by many accounts recognizes and respects the opinion of his wife.
The couple wed 12 years ago in a lavish ceremony at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Palm Beach estate. Last October, Melania Trump talked to CNN's Anderson Cooper about her marriage.
"We are very strong, we are two independent people, thinking on their own, and we have a very open conversation. And I think that's very healthy for the relationship," she said.
Author D'Antonio reveals in the documentary he has witnessed private moments between Trump and his wife, and he believes it's the challenge Melania brings to her husband that keeps the spark alive.
"I think he needs someone who can be playful, who can challenge him a little bit, who might not be frightened of him. I don't think Melania is a bit afraid of him," he said.
As for what's ahead for Melania Trump, those who know her best tell CNN not to underestimate the power and possibilities the first lady has before her, and the potential for a surge in popularity.
A recent CNN/ORC poll, showing a sharp uptick in her favorability rating since her husband took office, indicating Americans are starting to feel a connection to Melania the more they get to know her. Fifty-two percent of Americans now have a favorable impression of the first lady; one year ago, that number was a 26%.
"Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady" takes a comprehensive look who she is, what she believes, and what lies ahead. Tune in for the special report, Friday night at 9 p.m. and midnight ET/PT.