Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How Reality TV Can Make You a Better Person

Today, I was at rehearsal for the show I'm working on this summer (a collection of Christopher Durang one acts). The director was telling an actor that he wanted him to do a "model walk" like on a catwalk. I instantly began giving all my best advice from America's Next Top Model -- not too make shake, confidence, and make sure you give a couple poses at the end of the runway. That immediately got me to thinking about how, before I started watching ANTM, I never would have been able to give any kind of advice as to how to walk like a model. I don't know if I'd ever really ever SEEN a catwalk before ANTM with the exception of the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie ends up as fashion roadkill. * Anyway, it got me to thinking about what other life lessons have I learned from my guilty pleasure -- reality television.

1. Project Runway: Never underestimate what you can do with limited (or unusual) resources. On Runway, we've seen designers create amazing garments out of flowers, recycled products, and items purchased in a grocery store or candy store. The designers of Runway are constantly being forced to think outside the box and move outside of their comfort zones, and that's something we all need to do every once in a while.
2. Design Star : This is my newest reality tv addiction, but in just the short amount of time I've been watching it, I've learned that creativity is not safe. You need to take chances and push yourself. Things don't have to be perfect and "matchy matchy" to be incredible. When you play it safe, you become boring and that's when it's time to go home. That's a lesson that Michael Stribling learned the hard way.
3. Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods : Sometimes, it's NOT who you know. When I first started watching this show, I was positive that the winner would be Emma . It wasn't that Emma screamed Elle Woods to me or that she stood out as the best singer (although she was quite good) or the best actress (again, she wasn't bad). It was the fact that I happened to find out that Emma was Emma Zaks . . . as in Jerry Zaks . . . as in multiple-Tony-winning director Jerry Zaks. When I looked Emma up on the Internet Broadway Database, I found out that her limited Broadway credits included appearing in the revival of La Cage aux Folles which was directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (now the director and choreographer of Legally Blonde: The Musical). Not only that, but another member of the La Cage ensemble included actor Paul Canaan who not only is currently a member of the Legally Blonde ensemble but is also one of the three judges on The Search for Elle Woods. Emma didn't scream Elle Woods; she screamed ringer! I watched with a cynical eye as Emma struggled with her recent decision to quit smoking and the ensuing havoc it wreaked on her vocal stamina. I watched with a cynical eye as Emma battled bronchitis the week of the big dancing audition. I snorted as Emma informed the judges that, with her bronchitis, she would have called for an understudy that day. I felt no concern when Emma was in the bottom two. I just felt sorry for the clearly more talented but also struggling Autumn. I hoped Autumn had her bags packed. And then, the unthinkable happened. Head judge Bernie Telsey informed Emma that he just didn't see her as Elle Woods. SHE WAS CUT! Gone was the Broadway legacy, leaving behind six genuine unknowns to continue battling for the role in the show that's sure to close as soon as she takes over the part.
4. American Idol : Idol and I have had a rocky relationship over the past eight seasons. It's the Tommy Lee to my Pamela Anderson -- we can't live with each other and we can't live without each other. It began as a relationship of derision. I watched the first episode to mock it out of boredom and promptly fell in love. I spent that first summer glued to the screen (and my phone) cheering for the person I was sure would win -- Tamyra Grey -- only to see Tamyra's chances fade when America somehow thought that a punk rock wannabe karaoke singing single mom named Nikki McKibben was somehow more worthy of the crown than Tamyra. I sobbed that night and vowed to see the show through to the end if only to make sure that Nikki's evil reign was stopped and that the next deserving winner, Kelly Clarkson, was crowned. Over the years, the heartbreak and joy continued -- whether it was the disappointment to see Clay Aiken's Cinderella story not quite come true (although I'd argue he is more of an American Idol than Ruben Studdard), the shock of Chris Daughtry's elimination, or the embarrassment of Taylor Hicks winning and Sanjaya Malakar lasting as long as he did. I even walked out on Idol for awhile. I missed most of the most recent season in protest of Melinda Doolittle's elimination in season 6. (I still seethe when I think about it -- that and the fact that a year later, Melinda STILL has no record contract!) What brought me back was Paula's infamous "oops" moment from season 7 when she critiqued Jason Castro's performance BEFORE he gave it. Oh, Paula, what you won't do to win my heart back! I knew that no matter what, Idol was going to give great tv, and I didn't want to miss out on those water cooler moments even if those water cooler moments broke my heart. So what is the lesson of American Idol other than the American public has often questionable taste in music (which, honestly, isn't most of pop music a lesson in that?)? The lesson is that love conquers all -- heartbreak, disappointment, disgust . . . none of it compares to the love I still feel when Ryan says, "THIS . . . is American Idol." Oh, Ryan. You had me at "THIS."
5. Dancing with the Stars : Anyone can dance. It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Natural athletic ability helps (Kristi Yamaguchi!), but even someone like Marlee Matlin can do it. She can't even hear the music, people! Besides that, I've also found that I can appreciate the technical aspect of dancing much more now that I've become a fan of DWTS. As someone who directs a musical every spring, I've gained a little more confidence to help my students find their own grace on stage. Plus, Cristian de la Fuente should never EVER wear a shirt.
6. America's Got Talent : America may have talent (and based on the couple of episodes I've watched of this show, a couple of us out there do), but isn't it kind of sad that it takes two Brits and a washed-up 80s icon to determine that talent? The lesson here clearly is that the British are smarter than we are and that washed-up 80s icons are sad and freaky. Wait -- I guess American Idol taught me that last lesson first. My bad, Paula!

* For some reason I could only find this clip dubbed in Spanish. The brilliance transcends language, though.


Danielle Mari said...

OK. That first clip had me laughing so hard that tears were running down my cheeks. And La Fashion Roadkill? Even better en espanol.

Don't forget:
Fear Factor- Even if you eat the bug guts stewed in pureed roach pee or whatever, you can still get kicked off.
Survivor- Actually, Survivor tells you the same thing. AND it teaches you to stab people in the back for your own betterment, but to always always be nice while you do it-- until, of course you get to the point where nobody can mess with you anyway.
Flipping Out- OCD is hilarious. Unless you work for the guy. So, don't work for guys with OCD.
Top Chef- Shows about eating suck when you can't actually eat it? It also teaches that you should add a little spice, but not too much.

Hilarious post, Mel.

Mel said...

That clip of Michael's post-elimination breakdown is what made me watch Design Star. I happened across it on bestweekever.tv and was laughing so hard that I realized I was missing a true gem. There was a marathon this weekend, so I'm all caught up and enthralled with this show. (And for the record, Michael totally got screwed. This guy had been in the top two every week until this one and his room was nowhere near as hideous as Tracee's. It just was "safe.")

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