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Reality TV is giving ordinary people the chance to become superstars ... God help us all

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"I double majored in criminal justice and African-American studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was planning on working with juveniles in the court system," he said. "I was living with a young lady and we separated, so I redecorated the entire house to sort of start fresh. When my friends saw it, they told me I should think about being a designer."

Smith heard what his friends suggested and started studying design and even took a year of design courses at Central Piedmont Community College before eventually opening his own design firm, Interior Motives (www.interiormotives.ws). With solid design experience under his belt, most of which was self-taught, Smith wanted to take his career to the next level, so he auditioned for Design Star.

"I didn't have any hesitation about applying ... I thought it was a good opportunity to get my work out there," he said. "Actually, I wanted to apply for season one, but I was in the middle of renovating my home ... I couldn't find my portfolio ... I couldn't find my pictures ... basically my life just wasn't organized. So when I saw the ads for season two, I applied and they called me back."

Walking around Smith's Charlotte home, you can see why he was picked for the show. His home is elegantly decorated with contemporary furniture, light fixtures and accessories accented with a touch of Afro-centric and Asian pieces. From outward appearances, Smith looks more like a construction worker than an interior designer. Talk to him and listen to his ideas and techniques about design, however, and you'll see his eyes light up and the passion come out. To him, interior design isn't just about making your home look pretty; it's an art form.

Smith's eye for design combined with his passion and Kanye West-ish confidence (minus West's whining and bigger-than-life ego) got him to the final three of the competition before he was eliminated. Although he didn't win the competition, Smith still got what he wanted out of the experience.

"Being on Design Star gave me the opportunity to show my talent to America," he said. "I didn't go on there just to get famous or to jack my prices up. A lot of people think I might be too expensive now, but they'll never know if they can afford me or not until they have a consultation. It's the same thing as if I would have wondered if I could make it on the show ... I would still be wondering if I didn't try."

While McCluney and Smith auditioned for reality shows as a way to showcase their talent with the ultimate goal of being recognized for their skill, there are thousands of people who want to be on reality shows for the sole purpose of being on TV and becoming famous. Their only real talent is, well, talking -- and some of them haven't even mastered that. Casting specials for shows like American Idol, Flavor of Love and The Real World show people acting like complete fools just so they can be seen on TV for a split second. "It gets on my nerves because they get in the way of people who actually have talent or have a dream," says McCluney.

Michelle Maxey definitely has a dream -- she wants to host her own entertainment television show. She's also a go-getter. She's a senior majoring in communications at Winthrop University. She's held down internships at ESPN and for the Charlotte Bobcats. And she's known as a poet around her college campus. But since her blink-and-you'll-miss-her appearance on the Flavor of Love 3 casting special, Maxey has been known as "Flaaaavoooor Flav" around Winthrop. "It's annoying," she said. "I don't want to be known for that."

Maxey had her reasons for auditioning for Flavor of Love 3 -- love not being one of them. "I think the type of interest I had [with Flav] was more for networking," she said. "I'm not physically attracted to him. People asked if I would have made out with him if I was chosen for the show ... you never know. But plenty of girls make out with ugly guys."

Maxey's real hope was that she'd get cast on the show and exit the workforce. "Basically, I felt if I got on the show I wouldn't have to work again," she said. "I could get paid to show up at clubs."

But since she didn't get on the show, she's moving to phase two of her "get famous" plan -- finish school, save up money and move to a bigger city where her aspirations of making it in the entertainment industry have a better chance of materializing. "I saw this as a quicker way to get to my goal," she said. "But it's not my only way."

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