In Louisiana, aka “Hollywood South,” production companies have turned everyone from a former governor to a bearded, camouflage-clad family into reality TV stars.
Apparently not yet tired of the state’s colorful personalities, the reality TV world has come knocking again, this time holding a casting call in Baton Rouge for “The Real World” — an MTV show that follows a group of 20-somethings who live together for three months, often getting into some trouble but also tackling issues that young Americans face.
About 50 people turned out Saturday at The Station Sports Bar and Grill on Bennington Avenue, filling out paperwork with hopes of becoming one of the seven new cast members. Those who make the cut will move into a house this fall, said Themi Chahales, a casting director for the show.
“The Real World” has been on air for 30 seasons, starting in 1992. Chahales calls the show a pioneer in reality TV because it was one of the first with a cast of regular people, not professional actors.
“Sometimes these reality shows are looking for something really specific, whether it might be a preacher’s daughter or a former something-or-other,” Chahales said. “The Real World is really just about interesting characters, and they get to come to us with their stories.”
There’s no guarantee anyone from Baton Rouge will be on the show, the air date and filming location for which have not yet been determined. But Baton Rouge, the 14th and final stop on a cross-country tour of casting calls, could “bring some Southern flair,” Chahales said.
Some of the people who put in applications on Saturday want to shake things up on the show.
“Everybody’s story is kind of the same from other seasons,” said Alex Vargas, 21, who grew up in Denham Springs and now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “They always have the jock and the pretty, perfect blond, and you have your rebel who drinks too much. We’ve seen it over and over.”
Jordan Shephard, a 22-year-old sports management student at Texas A&M, said he wants to be part of the next cast because he knows how to have fun but in a way different from how people on the show typically go about it.
“I don’t drink, smoke or curse,” he said. “Me not cursing just makes me more funny.”
Shephard’s friends, who were texting with well wishes Saturday morning, know him for his sayings like “I’ll split your noodle bowl,” referring to one’s brain.
A longtime viewer of “The Real World,” Shephard said he hopes it will be an inroad to his dream of being an actor. He left College Station, Texas, at 3 a.m. Saturday to come to the casting call, saying he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Applicants had to provide biographical information and answer questions about topics like relationships, embarrassing moments and challenges in life. Chahales said casting directors look for characters who sell themselves well.
“Your hair and makeup have to be done, and you have to mentally prepare yourself to be yourself,” said Gabriel Smith, 23, who has been acting in plays since elementary school and did some short films as a teenager. “A lot of people aren’t used to opening up and being who you are.”
But “The Real World” thrives on openness, said Tori Evans, a 19-year-old aspiring actress. It “isn’t too scripted,” she said, and entertains viewers by allowing personalities to clash.
“I think it will be a great experience, a great way to see if I can handle myself in a house with seven strangers,” said Justina Darby, 21, who works in marketing in Houston. “It takes you out of your element and causes you to open up and show the real side of who you are.”
Darby and her older sister, Jasmine Darby, flew into Baton Rouge for the casting call. Trying out for the show was Justina Darby’s idea, but Jasmine Darby has been encouraging her sister — a self-described “real-life drama queen” — to take up acting for a while.
“I think she’s hilarious. She’s very entertaining,” Jasmine Darby said. “Her and seven strangers, I’d just love to see that. I’d love to see that chemistry and who ticks her off the fastest. She’s a very nice person ... but low tolerance.”
Reality TV is a guilty pleasure for Justina Darby. “I kind of live through other people on reality TV shows because I know I’m not them,” she said.
Although reality TV often seems shallow and silly, it can help people find someone they can relate to, said Morgan Cole, 22, of Baton Rouge. Cole struggled with bullying, depression and drug abuse when she was younger.
“I feel like if you’re at a place like that, you want to see someone who’s come out on top and turned it all around,” Cole said.
She and her girlfriend, Staci Sercovich, both tried out for the show on Saturday. They’re planning to begin real-estate school soon, but that will “definitely be postponed” if either is cast, Sercovich said.
“This could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and real estate will be there when I get back,” Sercovich said.