How do reality TV shows choose their cast?

Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson from American Idol
Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini were on the first season of "American Idol." You see how they cast that show, but what about others?

It's 2002, and a long line of hopeful singers crowd into Los Angeles' Westin Bonaventure Hotel to audition for an unknown singing competition. A few months later, that unknown show, "American Idol," will launch the careers and change the lives of nearly all its original cast members. Discovered at that 2002 open audition, first-season winner Kelly Clarkson now enjoys a chart-topping career as a pop vocalist. With the hope of success like Clarkson's, who wouldn't want to be cast on reality television?

When choosing their casts, reality television show producers often cast a wide net, hoping to attract unknowns who will dazzle, delight, infuriate and entertain audiences. Through open auditions and open casting calls advertised in trade magazines, via social media and on websites like Craigslist, producers invite reality TV hopefuls to apply to be cast members. Generally, show producers will list the physical, lifestyle or other characteristics they're seeking. "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," for instance, hold open casting calls for "eligible men and women who are ready to find true love" [source: Warner Brothers]. Casting for MTV's "The Real World" is open to all who wish to apply, provided candidates "appear to be between the ages of 20-24" [source: MTV].


Other reality shows, like History's "Ice Road Truckers" and National Geographic's "Life Below Zero," look through a smaller, more specialized pool of potential cast members in order to create a show around a dangerous industry (such as ice road trucking) or an exotic location (such as the Alaskan backcountry) [sources: History, National Geographic].

In other instances, the producer handpicks the cast. In the case of shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," "19 Kids and Counting" or "Jon & Kate Plus 8," producers build a show around a specific persona or unusual family situation. Sometimes, popular reality stars are handpicked for spinoffs from shows that were originally cast through open casting calls. The show "Honey Boo Boo," for example, was built around spunky child beauty pageant contestant Alana Thompson and her quirky "redneck-ognizable" family, after they first appeared in TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras."

If you'd like to be the next Kelly Clarkson — or even if you're just an average Joe watching "The Amazing Race" and thinking, "I want to do that!" — becoming a cast member on a reality TV show might not be as far-fetched as you think.


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Related Articles

  • The History Channel. "Ice Road Truckers." 2014. (Nov. 15, 2014).
  • Macpherson, Alex. "Kelly Clarkson: I just did it to pay the bills." The Guardian. October 20, 2011. (Nov. 15, 2014).
  • MTV. "Wanna be on Real World?" 2014 (Nov. 15, 2014).
  • National Geographic. "Life Below Zero." 2014. (Nov. 15, 2014).
  • Warner Brothers. "The Bachelor." 2014. (Nov. 15, 2014).