The thing about reality shows is that the reality you're watching isn't really real. They're not real because whatever happened already happened a while ago, and who knows what the truth is now?
But what if you could see reality stars in real life while their show is being filmed? I got the rare chance on Friday night, when I went to a ballet production of "The Jungle Book" at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, home of MTV's "Taking the Stage." Three of the show's four stars had roles in the student performance, and watching them interact onstage after "meeting" them on the show over these past two months was fascinating.
As the first season rolls to a close this Thursday, I can't lie: I'm way invested in this show, and not just because it takes place in my hometown. I like to tell people it's like "The Hills," but with wholesome, Midwestern kids ... who happen to be crazy talented to boot. If you've watched the Nick Lachey-produced series, you know that star ballet dancer Jasmine and her hip-hop-dancing boyfriend, Tyler, went through a rough patch due to his flirtations with singer/guitarist Mia, while Jazz's friends, fellow ballet whizzes Shaakira and Malik, were forced to sit by and listen to play-by-plays of the constant drama.
Then there was the rivalry between Tyler and Malik, who were forever trying to one-up each other in dance-offs. Well, watching the opening night of the school's "Jungle Book," I got to see in real time how things are working out.
Playing to a half-full auditorium — the best reminder these kids could get that no matter how hot things may seem, the work required to truly make it big is never-ending — it wasn't masterful contemporary dancer Tyler who was front and center, but lithe, leonine Malik, bounding in high leaps across the stage as Shere Khan.
And though Shaakira often plays second fiddle to Jasmine on the show, her stage time as the playful Bagheera was almost equal to Jazz's spotlight as slithery Kaa. Meanwhile, a sometimes glum-looking Tyler was left to dance in a group as part of the hunting party and a pack of wildebeests. From where I sat, it didn't look like Mia was sitting up front creating her usual drama. The MTV cameras were there, but I didn't get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what went on backstage, so you'll have to keep tuning in to see how things work out.
I will say this, though. The kids in the show were amazing, and you'll probably hear some of their names again. Outside the auditorium is a wall of fame with prominent pictures of such famed SCPA alumni as Lachey, Carmen Electra, Todd Louiso and Sarah Jessica Parker, along with plenty of other talented but less famous folks who've gone on to solid careers in music, film and stage production.
The kids of "Taking the Stage" have been given a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but the harsh reality is that sometimes you're the star and sometimes you're in the chorus. Still, there's nothing wrong with that.