The Next Food Network Star

There’s a subgenre of reality shows built on the premise that there are
talented people in America who could, and should, become stars if just given the
chance: American Idol, Project Runway, and Star Search, for example. The Next Food Network Star is proof that the subgenre’s premise is wrong.

Landing
your own TV show, record deal, etc. typically involves years spent
perfecting your craft, jumping through hoops set up by the companies in
power, and making sure you meet the right people at the right time.

This
reality subgenre bypasses the traditional method. Presumably, everyone
cast on these shows has some credentials, but they haven’t done the
jumping-through-hoops, meeting-the-right-people parts of the process.

But
those parts are an integral part of making someone a success.
Undertaking the bureaucratic tasks allows time for candidates to find
out how to fit into the system. If they fit the system, they are more
marketable, and what is more important to large corporations than
marketing?

If candidates are not willing to do the work to get a
contract the traditional way, they probably don’t have the drive to
really succeed, even if given the opportunity. And, truthfully, if they
were talented enough, someone would’ve noticed along the way.

This is why few winners of any of these shows have gone on to serious stardom. In five seasons, the only American Idol
winner with sustained chart impact is Kelly Clarkson. Bill Rancic, the
original Apprentice, is best known for his appearances on subsequent
seasons of The Apprentice. And the winners of the first season of The Next Food Network Star, Dan and Steve, have been judged almost universally as failures.

Reggie
and Guy, this season’s finalists, are no different. Both of them seem
like perfectly nice, competent individuals, but they lack that
intangible star power. That they were judged the best amongst their
competitors is not necessarily an achievement to be proud of.

Guy
is an accomplished chef, whose delicious looking cuisine would surely
please most restaurant patrons. But his show idea, “Off the Hook,”
lacks focus and originality.

His spiky hair, loud shirts, and
fast paced delivery are meant to convey his exciting personality. But,
as he’s shown over the course of the show, there’s just not that much
to Guy. His bold style masks a lack of substance.

This
deficiency was most apparent when he pitched his show to Food Network
execs. He promised to take a core demographic of 18-35 year olds to the
“wild side” of cooking, including how to recreate the fun food they
love to eat at concerts and ballparks in their own home.

But he
missed an obvious problem with his idea: that demographic eats out so
that they don’t have to cook for themselves. It’s not terribly hard to
recreate popcorn and hotdogs, anyway. And he never did define what
“wild” means in terms of cooking.

Guy came close to showing us
“wild” on last night’s two-hour road to the final two. He made sushi
rolls without either seaweed or raw fish, he fried up a
tequila-marinated turkey breast, and he stirred up an ice cream pie
topped with Junior Mints. Until last night, none of his dishes had been
close to “wild,” so it’s hard to believe he really has enough ideas to
build a show around.

Reggie’s proposed show suffers from a
similar lack of focus. “Simply Spectacular,” the working title, doesn’t
describe what the show is about, unlike network stalwarts 30 Minute Meals or Semi-Homemade Cooking. And are those shows any less simple or spectacular than Reggie’s?

For
a while, Reggie billed his cuisine as Southern comfort food with city
style, but his herb-roasted chicken and pot pie didn’t waver much from
traditional recipes. And focusing on Southern foods would put him in
direct competition with reigning queen of the Food Network, Paula Dean.
I know who I’m putting my money on in that fight.

Another
sensitive problem hurts Reggie’s chances for success: his weight. Few
of the chefs on Food Network are slim, but Reggie is obese. It’s
something viewers notice immediately about him, and it may make them
wonder, “Is that what his food will do to me?”

It’s a tricky
problem for the network, and for Reggie, because it’s not something
that can be solved easily or in a short period of time, and it’s not
something that can be ignored. On two separate occasions during this
season, writers for TV Guide praised ousted contestants
Nathan and Carissa for looking fit, saying (without saying) that they
looked the part of a TV host. That praise helped Nathan and Carissa
coast to spots in the final four with Reggie and Guy.

The same
writers emphasized Reggie’s great personality, which is code for,
“First, we noticed his looks, but he won us over anyway.” It’s a
compliment to Reggie as a person, but it’s a signal that he may have to
work extra hard to earn an audience.

That said, there’s still a
good chance that Reggie’s engaging personality will triumph over Guy’s
caffeinated mannerisms and wild food. After filming demo segments of
his show, the crew and judges in attendance cheered loudly for Reggie.
Guy only received a modest round of applause.

The winner will be
determined by audience voting, and will be announced on Sunday night’s
finale. Cast your vote through Thursday at FoodNetwork.com.

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