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The reality is, 'burbs are well represented on reality TV
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff

"American Idol" finalist Gina Glocksen of Naperville says she had to shoot five takes of her reaction to winning a golden ticket to Hollywood.


Associated Press file

Leslie Hunt, a native of St. Charles, made it to the Top 24 on "American Idol" season 6.


Daily Herald file photo

Jesse DeSoto


Associated Press file

Julio Gomez, of Algonquin, weighs in during the finale of last season's "Biggest Loser."


Daily Herald file photo

Carrie Dockendorff


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Jesse DeSoto, left, was a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."


Courtesy of Parkwest Photography

Brittany Knott


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Published: 4/5/2010 12:00 AM

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Maybe it's our Midwestern charm, our showbiz naiveté or our dashing good looks. Whatever the reason, reality TV producers have a fondness for contestants from Chicago's suburbs.

Over the years, dozens of suburbanites have been plucked from obscurity and made into national TV celebrities.

This season alone, there's Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze on "American Idol;" Bartlett's Michael Ventrella on "The Biggest Loser;" Naperville's Evan Lysacek on "Dancing with the Stars;" and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on "Celebrity Apprentice."

As we watch our local contestants compete, we asked some reality TV alumni to clue us in on what's going on behind the scenes. Things that we, the viewers, never see. And, well, ... so much for reality.

"Everything that you see happened, it just didn't happen the way you see it. That's the absolute truth about reality television," says Julio Gomez, of Algonquin, a contestant on last season's "The Biggest Loser."

Gina Glocksen, 25, of Naperville, "American Idol" season 6

"When I made it, and I got my golden ticket, I ran out (of the auditioning room) and I guess I wasn't excited enough. So I literally did that take five times," she said. "There was one where they had me running down the hallway. They were like, 'Gina, you could do better!' I said, 'I have to be an actress now?'"

Glocksen said she was typecast as a "rocker chick," while her fellow contestant, Haley Scarnato, was known for her nice legs.

"They would not let her wear pants on the show," said Glocksen.

The contestants always sang in front of the show's executive producers first, before performing in front of the judges and the audience, said Glocksen, who's doing an April 15 show at Joe's Bar in Chicago with Idol finalist Danny Gokey.

Julio Gomez, 40, of Algonquin, "The Biggest Loser" season 8

The scale they stand on for their weekly weigh-ins? It's fake, Gomez said. Instead, the contestants are weighed on a real scale off-camera but not told what it says.

"Our reaction up on that scale is completely legitimate," he said. "And our workouts are harder than what you see."

They do several takes of their walks up to the gym and on to the scale.

"The average weigh-in that you see on TV in five minutes? It takes three hours to film," said Gomez, who still works out two hours a day and lives "a strong, healthy lifestyle."

Dale Levitski, 36, of Arlington Heights, "Top Chef" season 3

"In the audition process, you never cook," said Levitski, who now is the executive chef at Sprout in Chicago. "They did severe, severe background checks. They do their research on whether you're the real deal. I had six professional references and they talked to each one of them for an hour."

Levitski doesn't believe his cooking ability had anything to do with him being cast on the show.

"I think half the reason I got on the show is because I was gay. They needed a gay chef, so I was perfect," he said, laughing. "They definitely decide beforehand, you'll be the funny one, you'll be the fat one, you'll be the (obnoxious) girl..."

Levitski understands that, to tell a story efficiently and logically, it's necessary to script parts of the show.

"We'd have to do entrances and exits all the time. They'd refilm the whole group going in or out. But the cooking is real. It's not scripted. We are not coached. It's talent-based," he said.

Jesse DeSoto, 30, of Lake Zurich, "Dancing with the Stars" season 3

During the practice, the teachers often get help from outside choreographers, says DeSoto, who owns and manages the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Buffalo Grove.

"You never see them on the camera because they want to make it seem like the teacher does it all," he said.

During the casting process, the producers line up a lot of dancing pros, but don't decide until the last minute whether they'll be on the show or not.

"They put in a lot of time into deciding who's matched up with who," he said.

Brittany Knott, 26, of Elgin, "Beauty and the Geek" season 2

The St. Edward Central Catholic High School alumnus says they cast her as the "innocent one" of the beauties, and made sure she dressed the part. In one shot, the producers gave some of the girls skimpy, tightfitting clothes to wear, and she got a full-length sundress.

"They dressed us in certain ways to help America decide our personalities," she said.

Knott now works at Equinox gym in New York City, and just auditioned for the next season of "The Bachelor."

Leslie Hunt, 28, of St. Charles, "American Idol" season 6

"There are a lot more auditions than you realize," says Hunt, who said she sang in front of three other judges at her audition before she got to sing for Simon, Randy and Paula.

The producers attend the rehearsals, take notes, and give them to the judges. That allows the judges to pretend they know if a singer has struggled with something.

"We got to talk with Paula a decent amount, but the judges don't know you at all," said Hunt, who now lives in Chicago with her 7-month-old daughter and just released the CD "Your Hair is on Fire."

Carrie Dockendorff, 40, of Buffalo Grove, "How Do I Look?"

After her makeover, the camera showed Dockendorff being greeted by her family. In reality? She only knew two of the 50 people standing there.

"It was a completely fake family, and I had to run and hug them," said Dockendorff, a Daily Herald employee. "They were just extras. They get free food, and, like, $20 or $50 to be there. They weren't going to pay to fly in my real family."

Dockendorff also said there were probably 15 camera, sound and lighting guys standing around her for every shot.

"When you watch TV, it looks like there's no one else in the room," she said.