Lights, Camera, Reality

Reality TV aspirants try to build a "unique" persona with "emotional immunity."


July 28, 2008— -- In a large studio space in midtown Manhattan, men and women of all ages actually line up to be individually insulted. In front of a raucous crowd, they are booed and told they are terrible, awful people.

It's one of the key exercises at the New York Reality TV School, and the point is to build emotional endurance to criticism and rejection. The students engage in a variety of wacky drills like this because they all desperately long for a few precious seconds on reality TV.

When -- and if -- they get that chance on "American Idol," "The Bachelorette" or "Flavor of Love," they want to be prepared.

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"Reality television is that dirty addiction that we all get stuck to," explained 24-year-old Reality TV student Christina Powis. "It's booming. I would love to get into it."

"I love reality TV and I think my personality would be great for a reality show," said fellow classmate Ebony Coles.

Of course, for many students, the ultimate dream is that reality TV will catapult them to a higher level of fame. For a lucky few, that has been the case.

Elizabeth Hasselbeck, a 2001 alumnus of "Survivor: The Australian Outback," has become a star on the talk show "The View."

Overnight sensation Jennifer Hudson crooned her way from a losing contestant on "American Idol" to an Oscar-award-winning actress in "Dream Girls."

If you've ever thought you could be the next reality show superstar if only you had some coaching, then the New York Reality TV School was designed specifically for you.

The classes are a forum for extroverts, hams and dreamers to release their media fears and inhibitions.

"I'm a dermatologist, and I came here to learn how to present myself on camera and get more involved in media," said Jessica Krant.

Student Scott Glover, "a firefighter and an improviser," said he "came to check it out."

"It's all about promotion for me, getting it out there," said Hashim Smith a.k.a. "Trendz," a veteran of VH1's reality show "I Love New York." "This is really good for me."

While the students stretch and dance to music, they are filmed by camera crews hired by the school. The idea is to help them become confident and comfortable should they one day land that make-it-or-break-it role.

The school is the brainchild of 43-year-old acting coach Robert Galinsky. His one-night seminars cost $139 a pop and the curriculum is all about "being real." He says he's not teaching his students to be actors. Rather, he's teaching them how not to act.

"I'm coaching them to be themselves, to be clear about what makes them unique, what makes them potentially interesting in the context that they are going to be in on a show," explained Galinsky.

He also teaches endurance and strategy. One of the exercises his students do is called "the perp walk." The students file past one another while lobbing hateful insults, followed by praise and applause.

"We make them walk through that line to build up some emotional immunity to what's going on because it's very much like on a reality show," explained Galinsky.

The frenzied yelling and multitude of cameras were too much for some of the students to handle. Coles broke down in tears at one point during the exercise.

Another man exploded in anger.

"No, it's horses***. I mean, you've got a metrosexual, perfect guy here insulting me as I walk past him. You've got a cheerleader over here," vented Kevin Kolack. "It's all, it's horses***!"

Since emotional people with a flair for the dramatic tend to be cast on reality shows, the class teaches students how to "be themselves."

"To be comfortable with yourself in your most crazy form, is definitely a part of it, definitely a part of it," said Galinsky.

The class also preps the students on how to deal with emotional and inflammatory castmates. After the exercise, Galinsky revealed that Coles and Kolack were actually actors who were hired to make a scene.

Galinksy has even corralled an impressive group of D-list reality celebrities to give the students tips. They're alums from shows such as "Survivor," "Martha Stewart's Apprentice," "Top Chef," "Beauty and the Geek" and "The Bachelor." Among the crowd is Galinsky's star student and inspiration, Jorge Bendersky.

Just months ago, Bendersky, 36, was an average New York City dog groomer. But he felt he had TV potential.

"I'm good at what I do. I'm funny. I think I have what it takes," explained Bendersky.

So when he heard that cable channel Animal Planet was doing a competitive reality show for dog groomers, he knew it was his destiny.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, that is just screaming my name.'"

Then came the tough part.

"I was so excited until I really tried to do the auditioning tape. That was a disaster. I cried I was so frustrated. It was horrible," said Bendersky.

So, he hired Robert Galinsky as a coach and the rest is TV history.

Jorge made it to the final three competitors on Animal Planet's "Groomer Has It." He didn't win the cash prize, but he did win a little bit of fame and a healthy dose of confidence.

"Now, going down the street, people with dogs know who I am," said Bendersky.

Since leaving the show, he's dedicated himself to making guest appearances at pet stores and running his own fan Web site where he sells Jorge-themed T-shirts and mugs.

"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe I do have a future in the entertainment industry. You know, 'Grooming Dogs with Jorge.' Jorge-licious. Let's make the dogs Jorge-licious!"

But for now, he's doling out tips to other wannabes at the Reality TV School.

Students like Donato DeMarinis are eager to learn the tricks of the trade. Once upon a time, he was on the game show "Deal or No Deal." The notoriety he experienced was fantastic, but fleeting.

"Once it all came to a crashing end, inside I did not want it to end," lamented DeMarinis as he recalled his short-lived 15 minutes of fame.

"No," he said, "I needed more."

In hopes of landing another TV gig, he enthusiastically enrolled at the Reality School. The irony of having to take a class to learn how to be real is not lost on DeMarinis.

"It is the most bizarre and sick thing I have ever found, and it is the best thing that I have ever found," he said.

"It is ironic to have a class to be real," admitted Galinsky. "I believe that the culture is such that we've been numbed and layered and people have been jaded. It's not easy for people to let their true selves out and feel comfortable and safe with that."

Casting agent Risa Tanania says the training will absolutely help students get cast. Reality TV, she says, is a serious business.

"People who want to either be in the spotlight, or have a story to tell, or have name to sell, or whatever it is, this is a very serious avenue," said Tanania.

"People should start to take note a little more," she continued. "People are mocking reality TV a little bit, but it's not going anywhere."Hankering for a little fame yourself? Here are the top tips ABC News gleaned from the experts:

"If I wanted an actor, I would hire an actor," said Tanania. "The only person I'm interested in meeting in those five minutes is you, so don't song and dance me."

"As a reality star, you've got to always be ready to be on the surface with your personal issues," said Galinsky, "whatever they are -- your family, your girlfriend, your boyfriend. People are not asked to go on to reality shows to be private and reclusive."

"It's about portraying you and your own story," added Tanania. "Don't come in with brick walls all over you. They need you to come in open."

"I don't like shiny people on TV; I don't like shiny foreheads," said Bendersky. His mantra is, "Shine but don't be shiny." He also advised students to learn how to do their own makeup, to pre-plan their wardrobes, and to know their best angles.

"When you're asked on any interviews, just train yourself to always include the question on your answer," explained Bendersky. "If you want to be on a reality show, you want to be seen. Sound bites are so important because that's what people are going to remember."

"When you help somebody shine, that light is going to shine right back on you," said Bendersky. "Being the mean one, you know, it would work, but remember it's thousands of people watching you outside. And if your future is going to go -- God knows where -- you want to be likeable."

And maybe, if you're likeable enough, a little of that fame will last. Of course, you must be willing to promote yourself.

"Jorge-licious is going global. Now I'm looking for an agent, and, hopefully, I'll get my own show," said Bendersky.

And that's the funny thing about getting bitten by the fame bug. It makes a lot of people yearn for a little bit more.