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14 Minutes and Counting ... 

Reality TV is giving ordinary people the chance to become superstars ... God help us all

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Shameika Rhymes also has dreams of being a celebrity, which is why she sent in a casting tape to CMT's I Want to Look like a High School Cheerleader Again, a weight-loss show that (as the title implies) takes former cheerleaders and whips them back into shape. At first Rhymes was hesitant about auditioning for the show but after thinking about it and weighing her options (get it?), she decided to go for it. But her decision was not without a price. Once she found out she made it on the show, she had to make a choice between going on the program and quitting her job as a producer at a Charlotte television station.

"I prayed about it ... a sense of calmness came over me, and I knew I was making the right decision," she said. "It actually worked out because my contract at the station was almost up, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay there. So it was a no-brainer."

It was also an easy decision for Rhymes because it was her goal to be infront of the camera someday. "I've always wanted to be on TV," she says. "I said I would be on TV by the time I turned 30, and I turned 30 in September -- just a month before the show aired. This was just the door that opened, and I walked through it."

Rhymes made sure to maximize her air time to ensure that her face and personality would be embedded into viewers' minds. "Every time the camera was in my face I tried to be over the top and say off-the-wall stuff," she said, laughing. "But when I watched the first episode, they didn't show that; they showed me mad a lot. I came across as the 'sista' with an attitude."

Since the show premiered a few weeks ago, Rhymes has been on a few auditions for local plays and is in the process of looking for an agent. But recognition from the public is slow coming. "The thought has crossed my mind, 'What if I'm doing this for nothing,'" she said. "I'll be disappointed, but at the same time I'll know that I tried and that counts for something."

Leslie Nease is a rarity in the realm of reality TV. She didn't audition for Survivor: China to get famous or to get recognized for her personality and talent -- she did it for the experience. "I'm a big fan of the show," said the Charlotte-based Christian radio host. "I used to think, who in their right mind would go through something like that. Then I saw the season-three finale, which was one of the most miserable seasons, and everyone said they'd do it again. And I started applying."

Nease applied for five years in a row and was turned down each time. "It wasn't like I was sitting around waiting for them to call because I have a terrific life," she said. "I was driving when they finally called me and told me I made the show ... I almost drove off the road because I was so excited."

As undesirable as it sounds to be left on a deserted island, for Nease it was a dream come true. "I had this dream for so long, and it was cool seeing it unfold," she said. "It was a fun experience and it really didn't seem like a reality until the hunger set in."

Nease was eliminated from the competition during the third episode -- in her opinion a bit too soon. "I really wanted the experience to last," she said. "It wasn't about the money; it was about the adventure."

Regardless of the reasons that drive people to audition for reality shows -- whether it's to showcase their talents in hopes of being discovered, fame for the sake of fame or to experience something new -- people at home are watching.

"[I think the public is drawn] to reality shows because they're true and they show real people," said Mark Cronin, co-founder of 51 Minds -- the production company responsible for reality hits like VH1's The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love and I Love New York. "Scripted sitcoms were starting to feel stale and reality television was more innovative than normal sitcoms with a couch, a front door and a wacky neighbor. Reality created a new way of making television and people really responded to it."

Adam Vetri, producer of CMT's I Want to Look Like a High School Cheerleader Again, believes another reason people watch reality shows is because they see themselves in the triumphs and struggles of the cast. "When reality shows first started, [critics] said people don't want to watch regular people do regular things, but they do because they get to see themselves," said Vetri. "It's the chance for the everyday person to identify ... they get to see a reflection of themselves."

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