Why Bret Michaels & Other Music Stars Turn to Reality TV for Fame, Fortune
Why Bret Michaels & Other Music Stars Turn to Reality TV for Fame, Fortune

Bret Michaels, veteran of six-count 'em, six-reality shows, has two bits of advice for artists looking to break into the genre:

"Never wear white on TV unless you're at your fighting weight," he says. "And never drink too much in Cabo if you're going to be on TV."

A decade after Fox debuted "American Idol" and eight years after MTV's "The Osbournes" showed the world that, yes, even the dogs of rock icons pee on carpets, this fall's music reality programming slate offers the most robust selection yet-from home improvement to first-person show and tell-proving that there's no shortage of artists willing to grace the small screen in new, potentially humiliating ways.

"It's become the shortcut to fame," Sharon Osbourne says. "There's no more struggling and banging on people's doors and begging to be heard and taking your demo around pleading for an appointment with an A&R guy. Those days are gone. It's the world now of TV and the Internet."

Artists with shows premiering this fall include a hodgepodge of format veterans: On Oct. 18, Michaels will be launching his seventh reality show, this time alongside his family in "Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It," on VH1. On Style on Sept. 5, "Mel B: It's a Scary World" debuts, following up the former Spice Girl's "Dancing With the Stars" appearance. Another veteran of the genre returning to the fold is Vanilla Ice, whose "The Vanilla Ice Project," debuts on the DIY Network Oct. 14. The show documents Vanilla Ice masterminding a home renovation based on his self-taught home improvement experience.

"A big concern for us as a network that prides itself on offering people expert advice was that he really know his stuff," DIY Network VP of programming Andy Singer says. "And he really does-in the opening scene he's driving through Palm Beach looking at people's landscapes . . . and he's quoting the Latin names of trees and bushes."

Other fall season debuts seek to bring those on the fringes of music success into the mainstream. VH1 will launch "La La & Carmelo" about the courtship of MTV VJ La La Vazquez and Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, while Oxygen looks at the assistants of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons on "Running Russell Simmons" on Nov. 2. BET will launch "Being Terry Kennedy" Oct. 12, with pro skateboarder "TK" Kennedy, who's also a member of rap group Fly Society. "Skateboarding is a situation where you got to love pain," Kennedy says. "Music, for me, is a way to release pain."

But it's not all flash and quick edits: On Sept. 7, IFC launches "360 Sessions," where David Gray, La Roux, Stereophonics and Snoop Dogg will be profiled in their own words and perform on the half-hour show. "To be given an opportunity to tell your story in the way you want to tell it is rare in television these days," IFC senior VP of original programming Debbie DeMontreux says. "It's organic and intimate access."

These new shows join the legion of artists across genres, ages, genders and career stages who have participated in reality TV: from witty piano-banger Ben Folds as a judge on NBC's short-lived a cappella show "The Sing Off" to Fantasia Barrino, discovered on "American Idol," returning to VH1 on Sept. 19-a month after a suicide attempt-with the second season of "Fantasia for Real," to the roll call of fame-seekers both young and not-so-much: Jessica Simpson, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Nick Cannon, J.C. Chasez, Nicole Scherzinger, Aubrey O'Day, Dee Snider, Monica, Chilli, Gene Simmons, Brandy, Brooke Hogan, Nick Lachey, Trey Songz and Keyshia Cole, to name just some.

"It's now part of the marketing plan," says Stephen Hill, executive VP of entertainment and music programming at BET, which airs shows starring Songz, Cole and Monica. "Twenty years ago, it was videos that were rotating up to a hundred times a day."

Since music videos have been largely exiled to the Internet, music reality TV programming provides a viable outlet for promotion-especially now that the stigma surrounding the shows has faded. In an era when indie darling Arcade Fire doesn't view teaming with American Express as a one-way ticket to cool jail, following in the footsteps of "Joe Millionaire" is just one more way to help replace missing CD revenue.

Choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson, veteran of "Making the Band" and "Starmaker," is teaming with Ryan Seacrest Productions on a show about artist development. "Access is what it's all about for these artists," she says. "You can say you want real music back again, but it's a different time, kids. You've got to be 360 as soon as you hit, and TV shows have given you that platform."

And for those who still deride the genre as an outlet for has-beens, wannabes and never-weres making a last gasp bid for the big time, know this: A look at the deals involved reveal that appearing on a music reality show is quite lucrative, and it often leads to fame in unanticipated ways.


There are three broad categories for musicians to participate on reality TV shows: as a host, as a judge or as a star.

From there, the contracts get complicated. Payouts depend on where the TV show airs-networks, with their bigger audiences, provide a larger base for advertisers and can shell out more money for talent than cable outlets. The stature of the musician also comes into play.

"With reality TV, it's incredibly important to attach a celebrity, but it doesn't have to be A-list-it can be B- or C-list," says Glenn Litwak, an entertainment attorney with Litwak & Havkin in Los Angeles who has negotiated deals for the shows "Real World," "Real World/Road Rules Challenge," "Dancelife" and "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll." "You just need some kind of name and some kind of interesting personality. Very often, it's not A-list celebrities because the budgets wouldn't be able to afford those kinds of people."

On the lowest end of the pay scale would be an unknown participant on a dating reality show on an obscure cable channel, Litwak says. In that scenario, the person could expect to earn about $1,000 an episode. The outlier of the other side of the spectrum is "American Idol," where Litwak says that the judges-whoever they may eventually be-can earn seven figures per season.

That leaves a lot of territory in the middle for artists and their representatives to wheel and deal, Litwak says. "For hosting, a midsize recording artist could get $25,000-$35,000 an episode," he says. "But if that person is the creator/executive producer, they're going to get fees each episode that could be in the range of $15,000-$20,000, and that could have escalations for subsequent seasons of the show." Litwak defines a midsize artist as someone like Maxwell or Ginuwine -- neither of whom he represents -- "someone who is known, but is not huge; is famous, has made a lot of money, but not Lady Gaga or Madonna."

The results for midsize artists is striking. "Without a doubt, you massively broaden your audience," Michaels says. "I've gone from two generations of Poison fans to having four generations of fans."