Pop Idol to This Morning: The Real ‘Journey’ of a Reality TV Contestant Featured

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It’s Friday morning. You’re drowsily pulling on your work trousers as the TV chatters on in the background. Gradually you notice the two CBBC presenters in suits bouncing around the screen. They look familiar. “What did they used to be on?” The show is called ‘Sam and Mark’s Big Friday Wind-Up’ and the overly-jolly faces of these two Ant and Dec wannabes are flawed by faint disappointment. “Sam and Mark… they were on Pop Idol or some reality thing ages ago.” The sympathy is short-lived because they are so annoying first thing on a morning but you feel for the lads all the same. How the slightly mighty have fallen.

Meanwhile, in Sittingbourne, Kent, Sam and Mark are watched with envy by a man whose name survives solely as a synonym for extremely fat. Through gritted teeth, Pop Idol star of 2002 Rik Waller whispers, “It could have been me.” Contestants on reality shows want to win; to become a pop star, to dance in front of the Queen or to dance for Alan Sugar. This is the premise of the genre without which the whole experience is rendered completely pointless. Not winning isn’t the end of the journey though. For many, participating in these shows is a gateway to a career in the entertainment industry often unrelated to their talent. Kate Walsh, who brimmed with business acumen in series five of the Apprentice, yo-yos on and off our screens in various Channel 5 presenting roles. Likewise, first ever Big Brother winner Craig Phillips boasts that since 2000 he has made “more than 850 programmes.” Something I’m sure we’re all surprised and disheartened to learn.

In the celebrity obsessed culture of the twenty-first century, reality TV provides an ocean of familiar personalities from which entertainment bigwigs can fish. It’s all about who can attract the most viewers or readers. If you’re a chat show producer, who are you going to hire as your new host? A fresh-faced professional trying to further her career or Michelle McManus? One million people voted for the latter on Pop Idol because they wanted to see her on their screens the next week. It’s all about numbers and producers aren’t daft.

The ocean got bigger in 2009 as Jersey Shore ushered in a new wave of shows. TOWIE, Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea bake us up regular batches of ready made TV personalities. Once the shows have died and the stars don’t burn so brightly, these too will fall into place as the presenters and column writers of the industry. So where does this leave the runners and tea-makers with aspirations of working their way through the ranks? Well, reality stars have not completely packed the industry… yet. There is still room for the Fearne Cottons and Richard Madeleys to bag a job. True talent will always find a way and they can take solace in the fact that not everyone makes the transition to an actual career. For every A-lister to emerge from the obscurity of the general public there are a thousand Rik Wallers who are destined to climb no higher than big scores in scrabble. 

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