"These aren't programs presenting role models; they're un-emulatable characters that we like to mock," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleir Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "I don't believe we are what we watch when it comes to big decisions, or else we'd better stop assigning 'Romeo and Juliet.'
"I know a lot of teens who watch 'Jersey Shore,' and while they'd all love their own shows, they don't want to be Snooki. They make fun of Snooki," Thomspon said.
Thompson pointed out that MTV has succeeded in some socially conscientious programming and campaigns, such as Rock the Vote, which encourages young people to cast their ballots. He also said that while MTV found the formula for successful reality TV with "Real World," it's a formula that networks have glommed on to with shows like ABC's "The Bachelor," CBS's "Survivor" and Bravo's "The Real Housewives" series.
Gary Hoppenstand, the editor of the Journal of Popular Culture and a professor at Michigan State University, sees it differently.
"It's really ... a thinly veiled cover for something that's really exploitation TV," Hoppenstand said. "It's the wrong attention for the wrong kind of fame. It's rewarding unfortunate behavior, no matter what's being said to spin it otherwise."
Hoppenstand said that even though he is a professor of pop culture, he struggles to see the benefits of these shows. "With programming like this, it becomes difficult to understand what positive qualities could come of it."
Either way, 18-year-old Maria Alvarez is waiting eagerly for Friday's casting call and resource fair.
"I'm really hoping to make the casting. I know there are other people like me out there," Alvarez said. "Where I'm from, everyone has had a brother, mom or father in jail, and that really affects you."
Whether it's MTV stardom or a start in the right direction, Alvarez is determined: "I'm not going home the way I got there. Something's going to work."