The American dream used to be simple: make a decent living, move to the suburbs, get a dog and raise 2.5 kids. But that dream is no longer just to be happy and healthy — now we want to be famous, too. Today, reality TV and the Internet have made it easy for anyone to become a celebrity — just look at Antoine Dodson, the sensation behind “Bed Intruder Song.” Every year, television and the Internet create rags-to-riches stories about making people America’s next top model, next top chef, next top whatever. Or if you don’t want to go that route, just auto-tune a sort-of-funny news story for instant stardom.

A couple of summers ago, I got starry-eyed. I entertained visions of fame and fortune, or at least something that would make a really good story to tell at parties. I was determined to land a spot in a reality TV show — any reality TV show — and prove that even I can make it to the top.

I spent a weekend in front of my computer, filling out form after form and sending e-mail after e-mail. However, my aspirations of fame were quickly clouded by a harsh truth. I’m still underage. So my dreams of finding love on “The Bachelor” were out the window. I might have actually taken that competition seriously, too. Who doesn’t want a rich, attractive boyfriend?

I’m 5 feet 9 inches, the qualifying height for “America’s Next Top Model,” but I am not skinny enough to make it on that show, still too light to qualify as a “plus-sized model” and about 100 pounds too light for “The Biggest Loser.”

I would not be in Los Angeles, New York City or surrounding areas in the given times for “Family Feud,” “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” or “The Price is Right.” My passport expired a couple months before this reality TV kick, so “Amazing Race” and “Survivor” were out of the question. I know how to use a sewing machine, but it took me a month to make a coat and there was no way I was going to be able to make a portfolio for any of the fashion design shows, let alone actually be good enough to compete in them.

Still, I pressed on. I didn’t know who Ray J was, but in my application for “For the Love of Ray J,” I gushed about how I was in need of finding a “real man.” I told the casting directors of MTV’s “MADE” how I always wanted to be a famous actress and see the world, but my small hometown hindered my dreams. I’ve always made a point of not singing outside my car or shower, but maybe I could be the next “American Idol.” I did everything I could to make myself sound more interesting, touting myself as an adventurous and spirited academic. Though to me, an adventure was a weekend of filling out forms for reality shows, and “academic” was just a nice way of saying “nerd.”

Shockingly, I never heard back from any networks or casting directors. I never even got a rejection e-mail. I’m too reserved for “Real World,” not slutty enough for any VH1 dating shows, too tidy and well dressed for any TLC makeover shows (yet, still not enough for my mother). I’m too well off to make for any inspiring stories, yet not well off enough to make for entertainment in the style of “Laguna Beach.”

I’m too real for reality TV, which is really not surprising. Sometimes I wonder whether the people on reality TV exist in real life. I don’t know anyone close to the types of people I see on these shows, but audiences want to watch people like them. In its earliest years, television was dedicated to a sense of realism and relatability with live variety shows and family sitcoms portraying “regular, everyday life,” and leaving escapism and fantasy to films. Over time, producers found the value in the abnormal, beginning with shows like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” and carrying on into sci-fi and adventure shows.

The rise of reality shows returned to this fascination with reality in the most paradoxical of ways. Rather than watching people who are actually like us, we watch non-actors, unscripted — and that’s supposed to be enough. Obviously it’s not, and it turns out not everyone can be a star by taking the reality TV route — but it’s entertaining stuff. Instead of complaining about how fake reality TV is, we should just view it as a meta combination of the real and unreal.

Though I never ended up on camera, I still get casting e-mails from time to time. Am I a hot young nurse living in the Los Angeles area ready to show the world the thrilling life of nursing? Am I 30 and about to become a grandma? No, and odds are, neither are you, but theoretically these people exist and from them we get our reality — and our absurdity, too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.