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Nikki Mah thought she was a shoo-in for the job.

She had met with producers at a Canadian TV network to audition for a hosting position on a popular entertainment show. They loved her, she said, from her screen presence to her interview technique.

But then the producers informed the Calgary native that despite her performance, they were not offering her a gig.

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"People see your face and they think MuchMusic," she was told. "We'd be taking their leftovers."

Ms. Mah, 24, was the third-place contestant on MuchMusic VJ Search: The Series, a reality show that aired in 2006.

Since then, the former marketing major has been trying desperately to land a job in television, but has so far found her reality stardom to be more of a curse than a career boost.

"It's been very disappointing because I think I have demonstrated that I have talent," she said. "It's almost like people don't want to see you succeed."

Competition-based reality television came to Canada in 2003 with the arrival of Canadian Idol, and was soon followed by other homegrown versions of U.S. megahits in the form of Canada's Next Top Model, Project Runway Canada and Superstar Chef Challenge.

But while some American contestants have managed to leverage their time on reality shows into actual careers, Canadians like Ms. Mah are finding that after their 15 minutes of fame is up, real success remains elusive.

"I'm not aware of people in Canada making the leap," Marsha Barber, director of broadcast journalism at Ryerson University, said of former reality contestants. "They have competition experience, they have reality-TV experience, but they have no actual job experience."

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Andrea Muizelaar, winner of the first cycle of Canada's Next Top Model, quickly discovered that her televised victory had little impact on her real-world employment opportunities.

A few days after the show's finale, she stepped into the office of her new agent, procured through the show's contract, and saw a man who had rejected her as a model only a year earlier.

"He had told me there wasn't a chance I was going to be a model," she said. "So I knew it was pretty much over."

Other than the photo shoots that were part of her contractual winnings, Ms. Muizelaar did not land a single modelling gig post-reality.

The $100,000 contract given as prize money was subject to income tax, she was sued by her former modelling agency for breach of contract and came to terms with the fact that she had a serious eating disorder.

Six months after the show's finale, Ms. Muizelaar fled Toronto for her family cottage and has not heard from her modelling agency since.

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Now, the 20-year-old is in a two-year business program at Durham College and works at the Bank of Montreal. She is trying to write a book about her struggles with food, and has freed herself of any ambition to model, a professional goal she's held since the age of 11.

"I haven't seen any of the winners of America's Next Top Model, so how in the hell is there going to be a Canadian that makes it?" she said. "That's how it is."

For Ryan Malcolm, the inaugural winner of Canadian Idol, reality television had a slightly better track record.

The first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, had topped the charts, and Mr. Malcolm toured with her after his win, performing pop songs from an album that had been quickly composed for him by a team of writers hired by the show.

But when it came time for his next album, Mr. Malcolm pushed to record his own style of music - more Brit rock than Britney Spears - and his label balked.

Though he was signed to a three-album deal, his record company merged with another shortly after his win and subsequently dropped half of their recording artists - including Mr. Malcolm.

Free from his contractual obligations, Mr. Malcolm found himself bound by a new reality - he was now considered a manufactured pop star.

He has since bought himself out of the management contract that came with his reality win and formed a new band, Low Level Flight, which released an album this year on a record label he created with his winnings. So far, the response has been mostly positive, he says, although band members still endure cracks about their prime-time pedigree.

But Mr. Malcolm, now 28, said he does not regret his instant stardom for a minute, as it gave him contacts in the industry and financial freedom that he would never have achieved independently.

"The great thing about Canada is that it's not all about fame and money, because there isn't that," he said. "It's not like people from Canadian Idol are living in huge mansions driving their Ferraris, but we're all doing music."

Alison Hearn, a professor at the University of Western Ontario who is working on a book called Real Incorporated, about the world of reality television, said it is unrealistic to believe such shows can help create a career.

"I think the people are delusional if they think that's going to happen," she said. "There's a difference between making it on a TV show and really making it."

That said, Dr. Hearn acknowledged that reality television has evolved beyond entertainment into a sort of reality industrial complex, where shows are creating brands as well as buzz.

"It's serving more as a place where you develop commodities, businesses," she said. "Reality TV is there to create new products, and part of that is the people."

In the United States, the television network Bravo recently announced a partnership with Pangea Management, which will help shape the careers of reality contestants after they are cut from shows such as Project Runway, Top Chef and Shear Genius. The move is meant to address concerns of contestants who felt they were not given the tools to leverage their notoriety, and Ms. Mah believes a similar commitment should be made to Canadian reality stars.

"I really felt like they left me hanging," she said. "When you take that much of someone's time, and you know that they're capable of doing a good job..."

After the VJ search, Ms. Mah attempted to land a gig in New York before returning to Canada and working briefly for TV stations in Calgary and Vancouver. She is now in Toronto auditioning for television work.

"I don't want to work for Breakfast Television, reporting on location at a hot dog factory," she said. "I want to be with the big dogs, with the major networks."

But Ms. Barber doubts those in positions of power will ever see reality experience as anything more than just freelance fluff. And she believes those who are looking for a job in their industry should avoid the trappings of instant fame, and put in their time instead.

"A lot of them go in with stars in their eyes and then they hit a brick wall," she said. "That's the true reality of what's out there - it's very competitive, and the only real advantage of being on a reality-TV show is that people know you, but you lose that very quickly."

Gone, but not forgotten

Ryan Malcolm was driving to Kingston along Highway 401 when a man in a minivan began gesturing for him to pull over.

"This guy's got his family in the back and he's rolling down his window and yelling," the musician recalled. "I thought he wanted to kill me."

But what the stranger actually wanted from the 2003 Canadian Idol champion was an autograph, a strange act of pseudo-celebrity fever in a country that generally prides itself on keeping cool in the face of fame.

Nikki Mah was sitting in a Calgary mall eating McDonalds when a group of screaming young girls surrounded her, taking the former MuchMusic VJ Search contestant's picture and begging her to go shopping with them. She started receiving love letters in the mail, and soon had more than 5,000 MySpace friends. But she also found three T-shirts in a Calgary Value Village that said "Vote for Nikki," a sign that her moment in the spotlight had come and gone.

"That was embarrassing," she said. "I bought them."

Canada's Next Top Model Andrea Muizelaar desperately wanted to be famous in her early teens, mostly as a way to exact revenge against kids who had taunted her at school.

Now she works as a bank teller, and occasionally someone will tell her she looks familiar.

"It happens way more than I thought it would," she said. "But if people were to forget about me tomorrow, I'm totally fine with that."

Siri Agrell

Other than the photo shoots that were part of her contractual winnings, Ms. Muizelaar did not land a single modelling gig post-reality.

The $100,000 contract given as prize money was subject to income tax, she was sued by her former modelling agency for breach of contract and came to terms with the fact that she had a serious eating disorder.

Six months after the show's finale, Ms. Muizelaar fled Toronto for her family cottage and has not heard from her modelling agency since.

Now, the 20-year-old is in a two-year business program at Durham College and works at the Bank of Montreal. She is trying to write a book about her struggles with food, and has freed herself of any ambition to model, a professional goal she's held since the age of 11.

"I haven't seen any of the winners of America's Next Top Model, so how in the hell is there going to be a Canadian that makes it?" she said. "That's how it is."

For Ryan Malcolm, the inaugural winner of Canadian Idol, reality television had a slightly better track record.

The first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, had topped the charts, and Mr. Malcolm toured with her after his win, performing pop songs from an album that had been quickly composed for him by a team of writers hired by the show.

But when it came time for his next album, Mr. Malcolm pushed to record his own style of music - more Brit rock than Britney Spears - and his label balked.

Though he was signed to a three-album deal, his record company merged with another shortly after his win and subsequently dropped half of their recording artists - including Mr. Malcolm.

Free from his contractual obligations, Mr. Malcolm found himself bound by a new reality - he was now considered a manufactured pop star.

He has since bought himself out of the management contract that came with his reality win and formed a new band, Low Level Flight, which released an album this year on a record label he created with his winnings. So far, the response has been mostly positive, he says, although band members still endure cracks about their prime-time pedigree.

But Mr. Malcolm, now 28, said he does not regret his instant stardom for a minute, as it gave him contacts in the industry and financial freedom that he would never have achieved independently.

"The great thing about Canada is that it's not all about fame and money, because there isn't that," he said. "It's not like people from Canadian Idol are living in huge mansions driving their Ferraris, but we're all doing music."

Alison Hearn, a professor at the University of Western Ontario who is working on a book called Real Incorporated, about the world of reality television, said it is unrealistic to believe such shows can help create a career.

"I think the people are delusional if they think that's going to happen," she said. "There's a difference between making it on a TV show and really making it."

That said, Dr. Hearn acknowledged that reality television has evolved beyond entertainment into a sort of reality industrial complex, where shows are creating brands as well as buzz.

"It's serving more as a place where you develop commodities, businesses," she said. "Reality TV is there to create new products, and part of that is the people."

In the United States, the television network Bravo recently announced a partnership with Pangea Management, which will help shape the careers of reality contestants after they are cut from shows such as Project Runway, Top Chef and Shear Genius. The move is meant to address concerns of contestants who felt they were not given the tools to leverage their notoriety, and Ms. Mah believes a similar commitment should be made to Canadian reality stars.

"I really felt like they left me hanging," she said. "When you take that much of someone's time, and you know that they're capable of doing a good job..."

After the VJ search, Ms. Mah attempted to land a gig in New York before returning to Canada and working briefly for TV stations in Calgary and Vancouver. She is now in Toronto auditioning for television work.

"I don't want to work for Breakfast Television, reporting on location at a hot dog factory," she said. "I want to be with the big dogs, with the major networks."

But Ms. Barber doubts those in positions of power will ever see reality experience as anything more than just freelance fluff. And she believes those who are looking for a job in their industry should avoid the trappings of instant fame, and put in their time instead.

"A lot of them go in with stars in their eyes and then they hit a brick wall," she said. "That's the true reality of what's out there - it's very competitive, and the only real advantage of being on a reality-TV show is that people know you, but you lose that very quickly."

Gone, but not forgotten

Ryan Malcolm was driving to Kingston along Highway 401 when a man in a minivan began gesturing for him to pull over.

"This guy's got his family in the back and he's rolling down his window and yelling," the musician recalled. "I thought he wanted to kill me."

But what the stranger actually wanted from the 2003 Canadian Idol champion was an autograph, a strange act of pseudo-celebrity fever in a country that generally prides itself on keeping cool in the face of fame.

Nikki Mah was sitting in a Calgary mall eating McDonalds when a group of screaming young girls surrounded her, taking the former MuchMusic VJ Search contestant's picture and begging her to go shopping with them. She started receiving love letters in the mail, and soon had more than 5,000 MySpace friends. But she also found three T-shirts in a Calgary Value Village that said "Vote for Nikki," a sign that her moment in the spotlight had come and gone.

"That was embarrassing," she said. "I bought them."

Canada's Next Top Model Andrea Muizelaar desperately wanted to be famous in her early teens, mostly as a way to exact revenge against kids who had taunted her at school.

Now she works as a bank teller, and occasionally someone will tell her she looks familiar.

"It happens way more than I thought it would," she said. "But if people were to forget about me tomorrow, I'm totally fine with that."

Siri Agrell

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