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Hey YOU, want to be a STAR? Feeling stuck and depressed because you aren’t? Want to know how to move forward and reach your DREAMS? Are you frustrated, sad and tired of not being seen for the talent you are? Sick of WASTING YOUR TIME in a dead-end job? Here is your chance!! Call in to the THREE MINUTES OF FAME and win instant success!
I have been in New York just a few weeks so I should be grateful to land this unpaid internship. I spend Mondays posting these ads and calling up people who respond, assuring them that appearing on our radio show is somehow going to launch their long and prosperous careers on reality television.
“So what do you do for a living, Destiny?” I ask.
A sigh extends across the telephone line, husky from cigarettes and overuse. “Well,” it drawls, “I don’t really have a job right now, ya know. I mean apart from looking aftah my babies n’all.”
She has three babies and is living in a shelter after her ma kicked her out and her last job at Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t really work out because they didn’t recognise her potential. Her true calling is to be an entertainer.
“An entertainer!” I say. “Do you sing? Act? Dance?”
“No,” she replies, “But I have a great personality. I mean, everyone says to me, ‘Girl, you have a great personality.’ I should be on TV like Snooki. Or maybe I could be like a life coach, ya know? Same as Oprah.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am an intern on the set of a celebrity gossip show that is devoid of actual celebrities. The set is the rooftop bar of a fancy five-star hotel. Wendy strides into the guest dressing room, clutching a copy of The New York Post. “Oh my gaaaaad. Have you seen this?”
It is the day after the Japanese tsunami. She waves her newspaper wildly with its images of disaster flooding the front page.
“Sean and Scarlett are just all over each other, can you believe it?” The makeup girls flee their positions and twitter around her, pulling the Entertainment pages back and forth. Above us, Charlie Sheen’s face flickers across a television screen on mute and a PA sits mesmerised on a chair staring up at it. The air girl is straightening the fringe of a reality star. Wendy finally tears her gaze from the STAR section of the paper and flings an arm out towards him.
“David! Darling! Loved, loved, loved your work on The Bachelorette.”
Her kisses leave lipstick marks on his cheek and one of the makeup girls jumps to attention and runs for the Kleenex. “Such a shame you were voted off, you were so fabulous!” She breathes out her words in rapid succession the same way she covertly puffs cigarette smoke on the hotel balcony when she thinks no one is looking.
Upstairs on set, the host is sipping from a $400 bottle of wine poured by the busty actress playing the “bartender”, a girl desperately trying to prolong the three minutes of fame she enjoyed as a YouTube sensation when a song she sang in a bikini went viral. Her function in the show is merely to serve as the butt of an endless string of the host’s breast jokes.
“I want to be taken seriously as an actress,” she confides tearfully, not to me but to a camera and a film crew. They are using her as the subject for a new reality show they are pitching. Their latest pilot TV Divas, focusing on a group of women who have fights and try to get on television, has not been picked up. This is an entirely new concept, featuring just one woman who is trying to get on television while her boyfriend Crazy Johnny gets into fights.
“The YouTube thing totally upset me, like I just couldn’t deal. Suddenly I was just the Bikini Girl and I want to be way more than that.” The camera zooms in on her cleavage.
“Perfect!” shouts Steve the executive producer. “I’ve got it! Let’s call it The Adventures of Bikini Girl!”
Crazy Johnny picks himself up off the floor from where he was entangled with the cameraman in a fabricated brawl.
Steve turns to me. “You can write the pitch,” he says. “Think Jersey Housewives meets Jerseylicious, no wait, make that Jersey Shore.”
I write the pitch between fielding phone calls from drug addicts and alcoholics who all want their THREE MINUTES OF FAME on this week’s special addiction-themed radio show.
Heather and Johnny are passionately in love but is that enough to keep them together while everything else is tearing them apart? Is Johnny holding Heather back from being a star? Is she driving him away or just driving him nuts?
On Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to my unpaid internship at a reality TV company that has figured out the best way to get ratings is by perpetuating negative stereotypes about minority groups in America. Unfortunately for them, the Gypsies are shaping up to be a bit more of a handful than the Amish. Not only because they take off without notice and for indefinite periods of time on holidays in Florida but because they have a tendency to turn up at the production office unannounced, usually when a big meeting is going down with visiting executives.
The Gypsy matriarch leads the fray, roaring at the top of her voice. Producer AJ leaps to his feet and snaps the Gypsy Wranglers into action, two young female interns whose job it is to herd the cast of the show into the conference rooms to minimise disruption to the office workings. One of the teenage Gypsy girls retaliates by putting a curse on the unborn children of an intern, causing her to burst promptly into tears.
A 16-year-old boy lands in the chair beside me, waiting for me to pull my headphones off. “How you doing,” he smiles, running a hand through his gelled quiff and rubbing his not-yet-existent moustache. “I’m one of the Gypsies. You know, off of TV.”
Meanwhile, his father is in intense discussion with AJ: “What do you mean I run a junkyard? I don’t know nothing about cars.”
The producer slows his speech as if explaining to an infant. “We’ve hired the junkyard. You need to have a job on the show, we can’t have a TV show about people on a TV show, now can we?”
On evenings and weekends, I head off to my only paying job. $7-an hour for flipping burgers and while doing it, I am required to wear a blue jumpsuit with an elasticised waist and a red cap.
A customer saunters in, his ample belly cascading over his belt. “I’ll get the large burger with extra cheese, large fries and a Coke. Oh wait, better make that a Diet Coke, sir.”
“Sir?” I blink at him. My short hair is hidden under the red cap so I make a mental note to wear earrings to avoid being mistaken for a teenage boy. Then, I remove the cap.
My boss hisses behind me. He is dressed in designer jeans and a tight t-shirt – no jumpsuit for him. “Can I see you for a minute?” I follow him down to the dank basement where the Mexican cleaner is bent over a mop. The office is the only room where the roof is high enough to stand up. Upstairs, more Mexicans all dressed in identical jumpsuits are chopping and shovelling beef patties.
“I don’t think you take burgers seriously,” the boss says. “In fact, why don’t you just go home. And make sure you return your uniform!” he calls after me, as if I might want to take it with me as a keepsake of New York.
“Hey,” I say to the kitchen crew as I head out. “I need some callers for my radio show tomorrow, does anyone here want to be a star?”
The Mexicans don’t even look up. They just keep on flipping burgers.
Claire Harris holds a master's degree in writing. Her short stories and articles have appeared in publications in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. In 2010, she won the Australian Red Cross Essay Contest. She has been traveling the world since 2003, visiting the Middle East, West Africa and South America.