Monday, April 14, 2008

What is reality, after all?

In today's Tennessean celebrity column, Beverly Keel posed a question:

This is interesting: I was forwarded an e-mail from a casting agency that's holding an urgent casting call for an unsigned male country singer between 16 and 23 with teen heartthrob good looks. 'Think a country music Zac Ephron or young Brad Pitt.'

The e-mail says it's for immediate inclusion in the cast of NBC's Nashville Star. Didn't they find enough talent in their national search that attracted more than 25,000? Is it fair to bring in a "ringer"?

I thought it worth a response, reprinted here for your reading pleasure (or whatever):

In the contestant's application, it says:
"Contestants will be selected by Producer from the events, videotape submissions and other ways as Producer may determine in its sole discretion."

That means "Nashville Star" producers can pick contestants any way they want to, and can ignore any or all of the people discovered in the audition process. Not saying they will, just that they could.

But for what it's worth, at least one reality show does not draw its talent from the undiscovered masses as one would assume. Those who audition for "Last Comic Standing" watch comics being ushered past the line into the clubs, while they compete for attention with overworked production assistants. Most or all the contestants who make the show are professionals and many or all have pre-existing management deals with the producers. The other comics in the audition clips--all those wannabes who are not funny or downright delusional (my favorite part of any of these shows)--never have a chance. This is all within the rules of the show. Some may remember when Drew Carey stalked out after the guest judges' decision was overruled by the producers' because he had thought his vote mattered.

"American Idol" has been accused of doing the same thing, based on the previous industry experience (incl. record deals, common songwriters for past material, etc.) of many of the recent contestants, but I've never seen proof that they didn't have to pass the open-call auditions. As far as I know, the only advantage they have is the talent and knowledge an inexperienced amateur wouldn't have. As far as I know.

"Gone Country" would be an example of even the final results being at the total discretion of the producers. John Rich ticked off a lot of viewers by choosing Julio Iglesias, Jr. over Diana DeGarmo, because the assumption was that he was looking for someone who would be likely to be successful in the current U.S. country music market. Our mistake. Oh well.

Bottom line: The "reality" in reality TV contest shows is that they're entertainment, not the electoral process. The resemblance to real life is coincidental. Whether it's many things, I guess it depends on which side of the velvet rope you find yourself.

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