At the New York Reality TV School, fame is the name of the game.
On a cool, bright day in New York City, Allison McCrudden has been charged with wowing two dozen of her classmates and professors. Tentatively, even delicately, the mousy 20-something makeup artist approaches the center of the room, where two cameramen stand poised to capture her every twitch and whisper. She takes a deep breath, nods to herself and begins.
“Hi, um, my name is Allison, and the reality show I want to be on is, uh, The Real World on MTV. I’m a real people person, and … ”
She gets no further. “NEXT!” screams an instructor clad in an apron, gripping a ketchup bottle in one hand and a spatula in the other. “I AM ALREADY BORED!” Dazed, McCrudden slinks back into the circle of her peers, replaced in front of the cameras by a sunny redhead who wants to appear on Keeping Up with the Kardashians because she “love[s] older men and want[s] to date Bruce Jenner.”
Welcome to the New York Reality TV School, where would-be American Idols and Amazing Racers hone the skills that will earn them a second cursory glance from a jaded casting director. Operating from a studio space on the third floor of a building on Manhattan’s West Side, the school offers instruction in the delicate art of the reality-TV audition and how to succeed if cast on a show. For a low tuition ($275 for a 2.5-hour master class; $75 for today’s one-hour refresher course and a separate coaching session by phone), aspirants are run through a series of exercises and simulations designed to infuse them with the comfort and confidence they need to shine during a reality-TV cattle call.
Lording over it all is Robert Galinsky, the school’s fortyish headmaster and a lifelong professional hyphenate. He bills himself as an actor-director-producer and is currently cowriting a script for a play that he hopes will someday be performed off-Broadway. In addition to his work at the school, he coaches executives and corporate groups, which taps his training in conflict resolution and prevention.
In his role as the NY Reality TV School principal, he alternately prods and soothes his eager charges, attempting both to educate them and to activate something within. “No ‘ums,’ no ‘ahs.’ It’s all gotta be strong and clean,” he says when one student meanders his way through a weak Amazing Race pitch. “Don’t tell me that your car sucks — tell me why it sucks. Give me specifics. Tell me about the engine and the fender,” he offers when another attempts to position himself as a Pimp My Ride makeover candidate.
Galinsky’s reality-TV bona fides feel legit. He has coached, reassured, emboldened or otherwise molded Jonathan Fable (winner of Fox Reality Channel’s Hole in the Wall) and Jorge Bendersky (the third-place finisher on the first season of Animal Planet’s Groomer Has It), among others. “This is an accessible dream. You don’t have to train 10 years to be noticed,” he says.
That said, Galinsky seems as interested in generating media coverage of his professional ventures as he does in conveying his particular expertise to students. He has other motives for working with reality-TV wannabes instead of overwrought thespians: “Nonactors have money. Actors don’t.”
While much of what Galinsky preaches is Struggling Performer 101 — don’t make the producer or casting director work too hard, always have a business card, don’t fidget — clearly his students see value in his coaching. Some, like Maria de Jesus Castellon (a 24-year-old aspiring performer described by Galinsky via e-mail as “a very pretty, fun woman who is taking her fourth class with us!”), have been circling in his professional orbit for more than a year.
“I was getting really nervous during auditions. Now I know the right things to say, the right way to present myself,” she says. Her goal? To be “the next Latin ‘It’ girl. Penelope Cruz is old. J-Lo is old. There’s not enough of us.”
Then there’s the nerdishly inclined David Carlos, the owner of an information-technology firm. With Galinsky’s help, Carlos has attempted to transform himself into “The Sexy Technologist,” a persona that he believes will ultimately net him a gig hosting a science-forward Discovery Channel show of some sort. Carlos looks the part: He has the well-manicured wisp of a beard, the pin-striped suit, the dark-striped shirt and the jackhammer-loud purple tie. He also has ego in abundance, which is as much a job prerequisite as the Elvis Costello glasses.
“I’ve come to realize I look good on TV, which might be the best place to pursue my desire to share my love of science and technology with the world,” he says dreamily. “Robert and I developed the ‘sexy technologist’ as my unique hook: the combination of intense intellectual capability and high-end nerdspeak-language ability mixed with a suave, sophisticated approach.” Asked about his long-term professional goals, Carlos responds, “The endgame is to be a multi-multi-multi-multimillionaire lounging on a beach somewhere with gorgeous women. Before that, I want to be well known as a technology and science personality with several TV shows.”
Today, however, both Carlos and Castellon are mere students in a small, stuffy room. They’re joined by 15 or so classmates of all sizes, shapes, styles and ethnicities, aged between 21 and 54. To invest the session with a faint tinge of celebrity, Galinsky has imported three former reality-TV contestants to serve as unpaid, informal mentors. “They come in to extend their brand. They can extend their postreality afterlife by making contact with the general public,” he explains.