In August 2005, a dream came true for Paula Goodspeed. Having made it to the third round of American Idol's Season 5 auditions, she stood across a table from Paula Abdul, of whom she was a longtime fan. Minutes later, Goodspeed was subject to the frank sort of criticism the Idol panel is known to dish out. (Randy Jackson, for one, summed up her skills as "terrible.") Three years later, Goodspeed would take her own life outside Abdul's Los Angeles home.
The Goodspeed tragedy has prompted many to ask anew: Do the demands of reality television make it difficult for some people to face their "moment like this," or the dark moments that can follow?
Psychological screening processes often are involved at the early stages, yet they aren't always enough. Nor are they necessarily intended to be. As a doctor and the host of VH1's Celebrity Rehab (in which famous faces face their addictions), Dr. Drew Pinsky has a doubly informed take on situation, saying, "I've seen the screening [reality shows] do, and believe me, they are not screening for your ability to tolerate rough handling. They are screening for your ability to be dramatic, but not so much that you'll go out and hurt yourself or someone else [after being cast off]."
Weathering wavering reviews actually is a non-issue for many who gravitate to reality-TV casting calls, since the narcissistic individuals who by and large populate reality TV's ranks "have no ability to reflect on what reality is telling them," Pinsky notes. "It's a problem if they let [criticism] in — but they don't."
Rather, Pinsky worries that those who brave reality TV are not ready for what happens when the rollercoaster ride ends. "What concerns me the most," he says, "is not the mishandling [by judges/juries] during the show but the letdown afterwards. These people are sent into the national spotlight... and then they are just dropped. The next day you are shipped back to Shreveport or wherever you came from, and that's that."
On Celebrity Rehab, Pinsky this season tended to Nikki McKibbin, a Season 1 Idol finalist whose saw preexisting addictions dialed up by the disses delivered by Simon et al. "Having to hear it for so many weeks... killed me inside. It drove me deeper into my depression," she told Us Weekly. "That's when her drinking really kicked in," says Pinsky, who got McKibbin sober via Rehab. "It escalated when she was back in Texas. [The spotlight] evaporates."
Pinsky is penning The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America, a book which among other things examines how hard the stars of reality TV can fall when the cameras turn away. "A lot of people are like, 'Hey, I'm a star, let's go!'" he says. "And that is gratified as [their reality run] keeps going. But then it ends, abruptly, and that creates a deep abandonment." (Spokespeople for several of television's biggest reality shows did not respond to TVGuide.com's request for comment.)
Perhaps the tube could benefit from yet another reality program in which former finalists are walked through their return to "ordinary" life? "I've pitched that idea many times," Pinsky nods, "to show what happens to people as a result of being on a reality show."
What's your take? Has reality television become overtly harsh simply for the sake of being harsh? Or do those who seek that spotlight know full well what they are getting into?