suc­cess­ful ca­reer?

HOW DO YOU TURN AN AP­PEAR­ANCE ON A RE­AL­ITY TV SHOW INTO A... Judges, agents and con­tes­tants re­veal if the re­al­ity TV cir­cus works for – or against – the pur­suit of a dream job...

NW - - Special Report -

Rob Mills was singing with a cov­ers band in Mel­bourne when a friend told him about a brand-new TV show called Aus­tralian Idol. He turned up for the au­di­tions af­ter a night when he’d done two gru­elling pub gigs.

“I didn’t sleep – I went straight to Mcdon­ald’s, then straight there and stood in line for about six or seven hours,” he re­calls.

It was worth it. Rob, now 36, came fifth in the mega-hit first sea­son of Aus­tralian Idol in 2003 and scored a record deal with BMG.

“I spent the next 12 months putting to­gether an al­bum, writ­ing with some in­cred­i­ble writ­ers,” he says. “Stephen Tate from Net­work Ten of­fered me the job of host­ing Video Hits. I turned it down. I didn’t want to be the guy who says, ‘Com­ing up next, my new sin­gle.’ I said, ‘You know who’s good? Axle White­head.’” Axle fin­ished in the top 20 of Idol’s de­but sea­son and got the Video Hits gig.

Sure enough, the fol­low­ing year, Ms Van­ity – the first sin­gle from Rob’s al­bum Up All Night – achieved gold sta­tus.

A lit­tle more than a decade later, Lau­ren Finelli, 34, was at her home in Ade­laide with her hus­band Carmine. She re­ally hated her job and was look­ing for a new one. “I was ac­tu­ally on [job web­site] Seek and then I thought, ‘F**k it – I might look for cast­ing calls,’” she re­veals. “When My Kitchen Rules came up, I thought, ‘Yeah, might give this a crack.’ I conned Carmine into it, ‘This will change our lives if we get through.’”

Lau­ren and Carmine did get through. The cou­ple were “hon­est” with their opin­ions of other teams’ food, which Lau­ren in­sists was “not very good”. With her sights set on a me­dia ca­reer, or at least a prod­uct line, Lau­ren felt be­ing truth­ful was the way to go. “I wanted air­time,” she makes clear. “And I was go­ing to get it.”

Af­ter fin­ish­ing the 2016 sea­son as run­ners-up and undis­puted vil­lains, the cou­ple were ap­proached by tal­ent agents. Although Lau­ren says she paid a lot to one agent who did her brand­ing (“which is a load of crap”), no me­dia op­por­tu­ni­ties came her way.

She then strug­gled to find any work in ad­min. “I wouldn’t even get to the in­ter­view stage,” she says. “You know what it’s like. Go to Google, ‘Let’s suss her out. Oh, sh*t – that’s who it is.’”

These two sto­ries read like the post-re­al­ity TV dream and the post-re­al­ity TV night­mare. Rob had job op­por­tu­ni­ties thrust at him, while Lau­ren had work snatched away from her. Yet Aus­tralians en­thu­si­as­ti­cally an­swer cast­ing calls for more than 20 re­al­ity shows each year.

Idol thoughts

Look­ing at the con­tenders from that first sea­son of Aus­tralian Idol, it’s hard not to be im­pressed. Guy Se­bas­tian, Shan­non Noll and Paulini Cu­ru­e­navuli be­came house­hold names, and Rob is con­sid­ered one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing mu­si­cal the­atre stars. But there was also Axle, who’s gone from Video Hits to US

se­ries Shame­less and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Court­ney Act, who has her own TV pro­gram in the UK.

Com­pare that with the Nine Net­work’s The Voice Aus­tralia. The show, which kicked off in 2012, has had mas­sive rat­ings, but they haven’t gen­er­ally trans­lated into huge al­bum sales for the win­ners.

Aussie mu­sic le­gend Mark Holden was one of the Idol judges who recog­nised the tal­ents of Guy and the oth­ers. So why does he think those early sea­sons launched so many last­ing ca­reers?

“Idol had the ad­van­tage of be­ing first and tap­ping into a huge pool of tal­ent the ma­jor la­bels hadn’t ex­pressed any in­ter­est in,” Mark, 64, says. “The gate­keep­ers of the record in­dus­try signed white males and some white women.”

Still, that doesn’t quite ex­plain The Voice “curse”. In fact, when we con­tacted sev­eral pre­vi­ous win­ners about this is­sue, none were will­ing to talk. One said she wanted to “look for­ward, not back”.

Rob thinks that it could be a mat­ter of tim­ing, but it could also be a mat­ter of for­mat.

“The Voice is an en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram,” he says. “From what I’ve wit­nessed, it’s equally to do with the judges they’ve brought in from around the world as with the peo­ple ac­tu­ally singing.”

He’s quick to point out the per­form­ers who have done well, in­clud­ing Sea­son Two’s Har­ri­son Craig and Luke Kennedy. Mark also men­tions Vera Blue, pre­vi­ously known as Celia Pavey.

The truth is that even back in the Idol era, it took a lot of com­mit­ment to sus­tain a ca­reer in mu­sic fol­low­ing a re­al­ity show. Rob’s dream run didn’t last long. Af­ter re­leas­ing a se­cond sin­gle from his de­but al­bum, the record com­pany dropped him.

“I was a lit­tle dis­il­lu­sioned,” he says. “I was look­ing for­ward to some­one re­ally tak­ing care of ev­ery­thing for me. That’s not how the world works. I went back to labour­ing and did the oc­ca­sional pub gig. Night­club ap­pear­ances had dried up. There was a new se­ries of Idol out. It was pretty sad.”

Then came a role in Grease – The Arena Spec­tac­u­lar along­side Magda Szuban­ski and Natalie Bass­ingth­waighte. It was a turn­ing point for Rob, who says, “That was a real mo­ment for me to go, ‘I need to work harder, and I need to be bet­ter.’”

Three years later, when the mu­si­cal Wicked opened in 2008, he was ready.

“I’d been work­ing with an act­ing coach and a singing coach and tak­ing dance les­sons,” he says. “Af­ter four au­di­tions, I got the role. It was the best day of my life.”

Cook­ing up a ca­reer...

If Lau­ren had her time on re­al­ity TV again, she would do things very dif­fer­ently. For starters, she’d prob­a­bly ap­ply for a dif­fer­ent show.

“Who from MKR has done any­thing?” she asks. “If I wanted to be a fame wh**e, I would have gone on The Bach­e­lor. If I wanted to do some­thing like have my own cook­ing show, I would have gone on Masterchef.”

Net­work Ten’s Masterchef Aus­tralia has been the gold stan­dard for pro­duc­ing TV main­stays, in­clud­ing Sea­son One’s Julie Good­win, Poh Ling Yeow and Jus­tine Schofield, Sea­son Two’s Adam Liaw, and Sea­son Three’s Hay­den Quinn.

More re­cent con­tes­tants have been less likely to score their own star ve­hi­cles. But plenty of them have still forged new ca­reers in the food in­dus­try.

Syd­ney teacher Elena Dug­gan won Masterchef Aus­tralia in 2016. She had ap­plied for the show fol­low­ing the death of a stu­dent and a school fire, look­ing for some­thing that would “bring me joy”.

Elena is now work­ing with Kitchen Chal­lenge, a food-based pro­gram that pairs CEOS with vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, such as

refugees. She’s also work­ing with school stu­dents with be­havioural prob­lems, train­ing them as baris­tas.

Re­al­ity TV fame has helped, in some ways.

“I find that a lot of peo­ple want to work with me,” she says. “It’s great to have kids want­ing to come along.”

As for hav­ing her own show, Elena cer­tainly wouldn’t knock back an of­fer. But she can see that there’s a “greater pool” of peo­ple to choose from now. She has some ad­vice for any­one go­ing on Masterchef Aus­tralia with that goal.

“I think that if it’s all self­ind­ul­gent, it may not work for you,” she says. “I would en­cour­age you to have big­ger­pic­ture think­ing.”

Shat­tered dreams

Ben Grand is a tal­ent agent with Stage Ad­dic­tion. Among his clients are for­mer stars of Mar­ried At First Sight and The Bach­e­lor Aus­tralia. He hears ex­actly the same thing from so many peo­ple com­ing out of re­al­ity shows.

“A lot of them have very warped ideas of what is pos­si­ble,” he con­cedes. “Some of them will come to me and say, ‘Oh, I’d re­ally love to be the next Grant Denyer,’ or, ‘I’d love to host Sun­rise.’ Any­one who’s in the in­dus­try knows that tak­ing on such a mas­sive role im­me­di­ately af­ter be­ing on a re­al­ity show isn’t re­al­is­tic.”

Sam Frost, who went from The Bach­e­lor/bach­e­lorette Aus­tralia to Syd­ney ra­dio to Home And Away, is the rare ex­cep­tion rather than the rule.

As Lau­ren dis­cov­ered, peo­ple who get lots of air­time on re­al­ity shows are likely to be ap­proached by tal­ent agents who make big prom­ises. But there are pit­falls.

“They might be signed to some­body who gets them a deal, but might rip them off,” Ben says. “Or they sell out and part­ner on a bunch of so­cial me­dia posts and then lose their cred­i­bil­ity.”

Re­al­ity stars don’t need to come across as squeaky clean on TV to get of­fered work af­ter­wards. In fact, Ben says plenty of peo­ple are keen to work with the “bad guys”.

“If they were the cheater, they can get op­por­tu­ni­ties around ‘doesn’t play by the rules’ sort of stuff,” he ex­plains. “We’ve had clients who have been por­trayed as the ‘sl**ty’ ones and have had a huge amount of of­fers to do stuff. Night­clubs are go­ing to love that, or on­line poker or adult brands.”

But any­one who wants long-term suc­cess af­ter re­al­ity TV has to get a lot of things right. Ben says they need to com­mu­ni­cate with fans on so­cial me­dia and pro­duce good con­tent. They need some other

way to stay in the spot­light, such as an­other TV show. They also need to know what they’re work­ing to­wards and put in time and ef­fort.

“There are clients who have made mil­lions,” he says. “But for ev­ery one of those, there are hun­dreds of peo­ple who’ve re­ally strug­gled.”

Ben says he thinks Aus­tralians “pun­ish” peo­ple who be­come fa­mous through re­al­ity shows.

“We love to build up new stars,” he says. “And then we love to tear them down... and say, ‘Where are they now?’ The num­ber of clients I’ve had call me and be re­ally upset be­cause they’ve seen an ar­ti­cle say­ing they’ve been spot­ted work­ing at a call cen­tre. What are they meant to do?”

Per­fect match

Sam Wood had to be pushed into ap­ply­ing for The Bach­e­lor Aus­tralia. He was at the gym he owned in Mel­bourne when one of the women who trained there de­cided he’d be per­fect for the show.

“She lit­er­ally came around be­hind re­cep­tion, grabbed the com­puter and said, ‘Come on, let’s look up ap­pli­ca­tions,’” Sam, 38, re­mem­bers.

When he was cho­sen as the Bach­e­lor, Sam says he con­sid­ered it a “once-in-al­ife­time” op­por­tu­nity that he couldn’t turn down.

“I also thought it would be great pub­lic­ity for my kids’ fit­ness com­pany and my gym,” he says mat­ter-of-factly. “But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would give me the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate the ca­reer I have.”

By the time The Bach­e­lor fi­nale aired in 2015, Sam had a new part­ner, Snezana Markoski, and 150,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram.

“I started get­ting all these emails and so­cial me­dia mes­sages,” he says. “Most of the ques­tions were, ‘Sam, can you help me with a pro­gram for adults?’ So I put my 17 years of per­sonal-train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether in a pro­gram.

“Two-and-a-half years later, we’ve had 130,000 peo­ple go through the pro­gram, we have 20 full-time staff and this is what I do now. It’s ab­so­lutely blown me away.”

So what’s the se­cret to ca­reer suc­cess af­ter a re­al­ity show? Sam says it’s about peo­ple be­ing “authen­tic” and keep­ing am­bi­tions in line with who they are and what they do.

“I think some peo­ple go on a re­al­ity TV show be­cause they’re lost, from a ca­reer per­spec­tive,” he says. “They’re hop­ing that that’s go­ing to be the an­swer. And it can of­ten dis­si­pate as quickly as it got some trac­tion.”

But even if you make a few re­gret­table de­ci­sions along the way, be­ing a con­tes­tant on a re­al­ity show can pay off in the end.

Lau­ren is now work­ing for a food dis­trib­u­tor, a job she says she got be­cause she was on Chan­nel Seven’s MKR. And her new em­ployer is help­ing her launch her own prod­uct line. “We’ve re­leased one prod­uct and we’ve got more to come,” she says. “We’re man­u­fac­tur­ing sin­gle-serve and fam­ily packs of lasagne.”

As for the me­dia ca­reer, she re­mains hope­ful that it could still hap­pen.

“Who knows?” she asks. “Who knows what’s in store for Lau­ren?” n

An ex­cep­tion to the rule? Sam Frost went from The Bach­e­lor Aus­traliaand The Bach­e­lorette Aus­tralia Home to And Away

Stars in their eyes: Carmine and Lau­ren Finelli ( MKR), Keira Maguire ( The Bach­e­lor), Har­ri­son Craig ( The Voice), Elena Dug­gan ( Masterchef Aus­tralia), Big T ( The X Fac­tor), Jes­sica Mauboy ( Aus­tralian Idol), Tim Ro­bards The Bach­e­lor) and Julie Good­win Masterchef Aus­tralia)

The Gina Liano ( Real Housewives Of Mel­bourne), Adam Masterchef Liaw ( Aus­tralia), Saman­tha The X Fac­tor) Jade ( The and Sam Wood ( Bach­e­lor Aus­tralia) Chrissie Swan fin­ished run­ner-up on Big Brother in 2003 and went on to a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a ra­dio and TV host. She won a TV Week Lo­gie Award in 2011 for Most Pop­u­lar New Fe­male Tal­ent

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