Around ten years ago when reality TV first became the omnipresent subgenre it is today, appearing on a reality show was almost as disastrous for an aspiring actor's careers as appearing in a porn film. Participation in a reality show tended to relegate its participants into a kind of ghetto of uncastability. In retrospect, this probably had less to do with their possibly poor behavior in a national spotlight and more to do with casting directors' (and our!) inherent snobbiness in not wanting to mix reality show guilty pleasures with actual, respectable television. But since then we've either softened our opinions of reality shows OR there have just been so many of them that it's a statistical guarantee that working actors may have once appeared on one. Either way, it's never been more apparent that reality shows are no longer the scarlet letter on actors' resumes they used to be!
Here are at least seven actors working in TV today with surprising (and not-so-surprising) origins on reality TV shows:
When NBC's Grimm first premiered last year, I found its lead character immediately likable. Not only was Detective Nick Burkhardt a compelling (and handsome!) leading man, there was just something SO familiar about him. It would be months before I'd put my finger on it: David Giuntoli used to be DAVE from Road Rules: South Pacific! Because I was a child of the '90s, man did I LOVE Road Rules. One could be forgiven for overlooking good ol' Dave's legacy, however, since that particular season was the one in which Donnell and Abram's slap-fights took center stage. But still: I do remember Dave seemed like a good guy, and it appears that reputation certainly didn't hurt his future aspirations which would come to include bit parts on Veronica Mars, Nip/Tuck, and Privileged.
This one's much less surprising, mostly because of how recently NeNe Leakes appeared on The Real Housewives of Atlanta (and then Celebrity Apprentice). But NeNe's conversion from reality star to likable sitcom presence (in Ryan Murphy's Glee and The New Normal) is most significant in how modern it is. Unlike Giuntoli, she didn't have to go away for ten years only to re-emerge as a serious actress. People liked NeNe so much that her immediate conversion to actress was basically applauded. While it's still not 100 percent clear that NeNe will ever be as funny in a scripted setting as she was on reality TV, she definitely brings something new to the mix that the scripted world needed. We approve.
She may not be a household name just yet, but Jamie Chung is definitely on the cusp of stardom in the scripted TV world, mostly owing to her gig as Mulan in Once Upon a Time. But ever since appearing on MTV's booze-and-drama-soaked first San Diego season of The Real World, Chung's been quietly making a career for herself with bit parts in movies (Sucker Punch, Sorority Row, The Hangover Part II) and TV (Greek, Days of Our Lives, Castle). Congratulations, Jamie Chung! (The conversation about whether it was appropriate for ABC to cast a Korean woman as one of China's most legendary heroines is one that we can have another day.)
Terra Nova was one of the more divisive shows Fox has ever aired, but if there's one thing I hope we can all agree upon, it's that Dean Geyer was A LOOKER on it. I think I know why: He was secretly AUSTRALIAN the whole time! That explains it. He first came to people's attention on Australian Idol, where—get this—he got even more attention when it was revealed he'd posed for a beefcake calendar of some kind prior to the competition. (Those are the best kinds of scandals, obviously.) Anyway, yeah. He won third place on Australian Idol, released an album, appeared on Neighbours (as all Australian actors are legally obligated to do), and now he's walking around in towels and flirting with Rachel on Glee.
So in love was the world with the short-lived watercooler reality hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that many of its titular Fab Five consultants made as-themselves appearances in tons of movies, ads, and TV shows. But while being Jai Rodriguez on reality shows and red carpets is still a major part of what Rodriguez does, he's been quietly amassing a resume of scripted work as well, including gigs on Nip/Tuck, Harry's Law, How I Met Your Mother, and Bones. But it's his supporting role in the upcoming Reba McEntire sitcom Malibu Country that would seem to cement his status as Jai Rodriguez, ACTOR. Who knows if the show is even good (J/K I know it isn't), but still, it's an impressive career arc for sure.
If you can believe it, there was a time when Bravo was even GAYER than it is today. In those days the network not only made a cottage industry out of gay-fronted makeover shows, it once tried to compete with America's Next Top Model by airing a male-model-centered version called Manhunt: The Search for America's Most Gorgeous Male Model. Hosted by Carmen Electra, the show did not exactly set the world on fire, but it did introduce us to a sweet-faced kid named Matt who'd quickly put the series behind him and go on to score a series of big-deal roles in scripted dramas, first as the president's son in Commander in Chief (or the name I will always remember it by, Lady President), then in Heroes and Shark. After playing a bunch of lead roles in direct-to-video movies, Lanter finally scored the bad-boy role of Liam on the then-bad-boy-deficient 90210. As it turned out, if you are attractive enough to appear on a reality show about male models, then you are probably also attractive enough to be a hunky teen actor! Hollywood is funny that way.
PREVIOUSLY: MTV VJ / CURRENTLY: White Collar
All right, she may not have been in a reality cast per se, but Hilarie Burton spent more than enough time in front of cameras as an MTV VJ that it's basically the same deal. Generally people who interview Real World cast members and scream MTV Spring Breakers into and out of commercials don't go on to do anything, let alone appear on a respected USA series like White Collar. Yet here we are! In between MTV and USA, Burton appeared (as herself!) on Dawson's Creek, and later was an integral part of One Tree Hill. See, dreams come true! (Note: It helps to be as talented/attractive as Hilarie Burton for dreams to come true.)
Which reality stars would YOU like to see on a scripted series?