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American Television, Reality Shows  
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Dancing, Romancing, and Remodeling: The Future of GLBTQ Reality Television

While Isis King was burning up the fashion runway on America's Next Top Model, another notable transgender figure was displaying his moves on the dance floor. In 2011, the thirteenth season of ABC celebrity ballroom dance competition Dancing with the Stars (hereafter, DWTS) showcased the talents of Chaz Bono (nee Chastity Sun Bono, b. March 4, 1969).

Although DWTS featured openly gay judge Bruno Tonioli (b. November 25, 1955) and celebrity dance partner/instructor Louis Van Amstel (b. June 23, 1972) as part of its regularly appearing ensemble, Bono was the first transgender person to appear on the show. The only child of entertainer and gay icon Cher and former recording artist turned U.S. congressman Sonny Bono, Bono is a transgender advocate who was outed as a lesbian in 1995 and underwent female-to-male sex reassignment surgery in 2009.

Bono survived six rounds of the competition before being eliminated on October 25, 2011, and noted of his tenure on DWTS that he came on the show because he wanted to show America a "different kind of man," adding that "I know that if there was somebody like me on TV when I was growing up, my whole life would have been different."

In addition to Bono, the 2011 season of DWTS also featured openly gay fashion consultant Carson Kressley (b. November 11, 1969). Kressley, who was already well-known and well-regarded as a member of the "Fab Five" on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, competed for five rounds on DWTS with dance partner Anna Trebunskaya, but was eliminated on October 18, 2011.

Following his appearance on DWTS, Kressley went on to host Carson-Nation, a one-hour reality show on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) that debuted in June 2011. Carson-Nation utilized the "make-better" formula similar to that seen on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which Kressley travels to small towns throughout the U.S. to help transform lives with humor and style.

The "make-better makeover" format of Kressley's show reflected increased viewer interest in and awareness of shows structured around practical home and self-improvement. In fact, the new century saw a number of similarly formatted shows--many of them featuring queer hosts or participants--appearing on cable networks such as Bravo and HGTV (formerly Home and Garden Television).

For instance, HGTV's Color Splash debuted in 2007 with openly gay interior designer David Bromstad (b. August 17, 1973) as its host/lead designer, while gay former model-turned-home remodeler John Gidding (b. January 7, 1977) hosts the Atlanta-based Curb Appeal: The Block, which debuted in January 2010. In addition, other HGTV shows such as the long-running House Hunters (1999-present), Designed to Sell (2004-present), and the original Curb Appeal (1999-present) regularly show gay and lesbian home owners who were, according to AfterElton columnist Christie Keith, "just part of the scenery."

While HGTV viewers watched and learned from others how to improve their lives, audiences on other networks were discovering ways in which they could actively participate in literally making someone's dreams come true. Competitions such as Fox's enormously popular American Idol franchise (hereafter, Idol) which debuted on June 11, 2002, as well as NBC's The Voice, which premiered on April 26, 2011, gave viewers the opportunity to tune in and vote for the person or persons they felt were most deserving. Both shows revolved around contestants who endure rigorous tryouts, strenuous vocal coaching, and live performances in front of both audiences and music industry celebrity judges.

Throughout its successful (if frequently contentious) run, Idol has showcased several queer competitors, although it has received criticism for encouraging contestants to effectively "mask" their sexuality. For example, Jim Verraros (b. February 8, 1983), who appeared on the first season of Idol in 2002, was told by show producers to remove all references to his being gay. Verraros later explained to The Advocate that this was done because "they thought I was trying to gain more votes and have that little extra edge."

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