Learning About French Culture: “Star Academy”

For the past six years Recently, I’ve been trying to get back into running, which means I rely on my old friend to motivate me. His name is iPod. I normally listen to music on Pandora at work, as my co-workers can attest from the head bobbing they witness when walking by my cube. However, my new-found physical stamina has allowed me to become reacquainted with some forgotten tunes.

In case you didn’t know, and this will come as a shock to some of you, I grew up in the suburbs of Paris. No, not Paris, TX. Paris, France (Click here if you are unfamiliar with it. ‘Nough said). This means I didn’t lay on the floor watching “Saved by the Bell,” or laugh along to “Nickelodeon.” Instead, I had something much better: “Star Academy.”

This is a Big-Brother-Fame-American-Idol hybrid that took Europe and the rest of the world by storm. My friend Wikipedia informed me that “Star Academy” is the second most expanded reality show behind “Big Brother” that was recreated and broadcast in over 50 countries (Except America because your version was cancelled. How does it feel to be left out for once?).

The premise of the show is that 16 contestants were put in a French castle mansion and taught performing arts such as dancing, singing and acting. Each week, for three hours, they would entertain the country accompanied by whatever American singer was passing through at the time on a media blitz (Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Tina Turner, Elton John etc.). Squealing teenagers would vote for their favorite heartthrob, sending the contestant with the least amount of votes home.

What sparked this whole train of thought is that in between me dragging my feet and gasping for air, “Au Soleil” came on – the crowning anthem for Season 1 winner: Jennifer.

It’s obviously not good and only manages to get stuck in your head, but it does help me go back to my 14-year-old self and remember how I wanted Mario to win and discussed it thoroughly at church with everyone the next day. To her credit, Jennifer is the only breakout star from that show who managed to have a career, much like Kelly Clarkson until Carrie Underwood came along.

That’s some French culture for you in a nutshell and only a glimpse at the wonderful, extravagant world of “Star Academy.” I didn’t even mention its Ryan-Seacrest-like host Nikos Aliagas or the music teacher my dad lovingly referred to as “the penguin.” I’ll even let you guess which is which from the pictures below.

Needless to say, this was the very first reality TV show I watched. Then followed  “Amazing Race,” “Project Runway” and “The Real World” to name a few, once I moved to Missouri for college. What reality show did you first get into and like to fondly look back on?

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