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Rehearsing to act ‘natural’ on reality TV

A prep school for ‘American Idol’ wannabes coaches them for auditions.

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Dermatologists, bus drivers, street sweepers, firefighters, and hedge-fund managers are all among those who have attended. They’re counting on Mr. Galinsky to help unleash their inner reality-show superstar in three hours.

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Enthusiastic and curly-haired, Galinsky figured he knew from his work as an acting coach what it would take to make it onto a reality show. Last June, he started offering his one-day intensive workouts and a $299, five-week workshop, including training on how to act on a reality TV show set. He claims that his school, complete with live video cameras, is the first of its kind. Perhaps that’s why people have flown in from as far away as Iowa and Oklahoma to attend.

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The idea of a school began with Manhattan dog groomer Jorge Bendersky, who hired Galinksy to prepare him to audition for a show that pits groomers against one another. Galinsky helped Mr. Bendersky not only secure a spot on Animal Planet’s “Groomer Has It” but make its finals. Galinsky, he says, taught him how to be himself. “You do need to learn how to focus and know where your confidence is,” says Bendersky.

According to Mark Andrejevic, a University of Iowa professor and the author of “Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched,” reality TV “has been around as long as mass media has been around. It’s a genre that’s been able to reinvent itself quite reasonably and quite successfully.”

He says people are drawn to it because of their fascination with peeking in at the lives of others. Even in the late 1940s, “Candid Camera” drew audiences with its hidden camera vignettes.

The current reality TV craze has grown from a bunch of teens tuning into MTV’s “Real World” in the 1990s into a vast web of programming that today encompasses almost every network. Mr. Andrejevic says viewers tune in because they find reality TV “less formulaic than fictional formats they were accustomed to.”

What’s harder to understand is why so many people compete to get onto shows where they are often asked to humiliate themselves, where they get no salaries, and where only a few find fame.