Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

By Mark T. Decker; Michael Austin | Go to book overview

8
Reality Corrupts; Reality Television
Corrupts Absolutely

KAREN D. AUSTIN

Though reality, television, and Mormons have never been complete strangers, they have become unusually cozy in recent years. Since 2000, Mormon contestants have appeared on shows such as The Real World, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and America’s Next Top Model in proportions far beyond what seems reasonable from their numbers in the general populace. Not only have Mormons appeared on these programs, but they have done well, often winning the shows formatted as season-long contests. Mormons have won The Biggest Loser (Ryan Benson and Ali Vincent), Survivor (Todd Herzog), Dancing with the Stars (Donny Osmond), and Rebel Billionaire (Shawn Nelson). While competing on these shows, Mormon contestants have garnered large followings among national and international audiences. “Not since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was formed in 1847,” wrote the Sunday Times in 2008, “has America been listening to so many singing Mormons.”1 That same year—when Mormons David Archuleta and Brooke White became two of the final five contestants on Fox’s top-rated reality show American IdolNewsweek magazine captured the irony succinctly: “Considering that earlier in this country’s history Mormons were threatened with extermination and driven from the United States, it’s remarkable that America may now be poised to crown a Mormon as its new ‘Idol.’”2

Throughout its remarkable reign as America’s most popular reality show, American Idol has hosted far more than its fair share of Mormon contestants, including Carmen Rasmussen (season two), Jon Peter Lewis (season three)—and Brooke White and David Archuleta (season four). Apparently Mormons not only can sing; they can dance. Returned missionary Benji Schwimmer won the second season of So You Think You Can

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