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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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True, in some cases, shows offer people a chance to showcase talents that they otherwise might only do in their shower or basement. Think singing on “American Idol” or doing the rumba on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

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Some of the shows, too, provide a way for people to break into a hard-to-crack business: Several “American Idol” alums, in particular, have found success as recording artists, from Kelly Clarkson to Jennifer Hudson to Carrie Underwood.
Money is a factor. Let’s not forget that the winner of “Survivor” gets $1 million.

But much of the allure is Americans’ obsession with a chance at fame, no matter how far-fetched or fleeting. Why else would people subject themselves to getting buried in a tank of cockroaches, such as on “Fear Factor” (though they do get cash prizes, too), or suffer the verbal abuse from chef Gordon Ramsay on “Hell’s Kitchen?”

Andrejevic, in fact, has found many contestants are trying to launch Hollywood careers. In interviews with people vying to get on “Real World,” he said some were there because it was a “fun experience,” others just wanted to “express” themselves. “But,” he adds, “reality TV is also understood among those who want to get into show biz as one possible way in.”

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Model Loydeen Pulsifer insists she’s just looking for a “new experience.” She adds, “I think I have the right personality for it.” And with that, she flashes a set of perfect white teeth with the practiced poise Galinsky has taught.

Ms. Pulsifer, and the rest of the class, have little time to talk. They swivel their hips to a Latin beat pulsating from a stereo in the corner of the room. “Find a groove!” Galinsky shouts over the loud music. He switches to a bumping techno song, and then a rap song.

“Remember, this has to look like the very first take,” he says, exhorting his students to look natural, relaxed, and excited, even as multiple starts and stops leave them weary.

On reality TV, directors may ask contestants to reshoot scenes multiple times, Galinksy explains, trying to unravel what goes on behind the scenes for his students.

The lesson isn’t always pleasant. Midway through the class, two students pack up and leave. Asked why, Galinksy says they may have revealed too much about themselves. During one exercise, students had to introduce themselves in 20 seconds and tell one secret about their life.

On reality TV, contestants might have to answer that kind of question in front of a national audience. Today, Galinsky keeps their secret.

Most who have made it through the course seem more confident. “I really think that I kind of knew what [casting directors] were looking for,” says Scarda, the ex-cop. “And I think this class confirmed that for me.”

But even if she and the others don’t make it past their next audition, perhaps, they can star in an episode of an upcoming reality show – the one about the New York Reality TV School. Yes, you read that right. Galinsky has signed a deal with Merv Griffin Entertainment to turn his school into a reality series. Why not?

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