rochelleoliver.jpgNews headlines seem to be getting more depressing each day. In times like these, people search for a glimmer of hope pretty much anywhere.

Some people turn to God. Many have turned to President Obama.

A few others have put their faith in reality TV. But these shows, which promise to turn the average Joe or Jane into an overnight success – a common theme that began way before housing booms and pyramid schemes – may be evolving, and possibly causing more harm than good.

A recent string of reality castings and rehearsals has proven contestants aren’t the only ones desperate for stardom.

Take “America’s Next Top Model,’’ for example. Last month, the CW Network, which airs the show, dealt with an onslaught of negative media after a casting went horribly wrong. Thousands of young ladies, along with their friends and parents, lined up in Midtown Manhattan for a chance “to be on top” (as quoted from the show’s theme song).

After hours of waiting,  alarm broke out.  The New York Times reported that someone screamed that a car was about to explode. (A car was indeed overheating, but never exploded.) People began running for their lives. The result: Three people were arrested and six others injured.

It’s believed that the area wasn’t equipped with ample police and security in case of such an emergency.

While this incident may seem isolated, it isn’t. The cost of big ratings and big dreams has put other lives at risk, and has brought at least one to an end.

Paula Godspeed, an American Idol 2005 contestant, was rejected after performing an unworthy song during the Texas audition. Godspeed, like many of the contestants, believed she had great pop potential, much like her personal idol, Paula Abdul, to whom she compared herself obsessively.

Then, in November 2008, the 30-year-old Idol reject committed suicide. Godspeed parked in front of Abdul’s home and overdosed on pills. Her lifeless body was found in her car, along with CDs and pictures of Abdul.

ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” was recently in the news when Robert O’Ryan, 34, was arrested after attempting to scale a security fence at the studio. O’Ryan had an obsession for 17-year-old Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, a competitor in the show this season.

Found in his car on March 24 were love letters to Johnson, a gun and duct tape. He was charged with one felony count of stalking, according to authorities. For carrying a loaded gun in his car, he was slapped with two misdemeanor counts. His trial is set for April 27.

To get some perspective on reality, I sat down with Jeff McInnis.  He is more than just an executive chef for the South Beach Ritz Carlton’s
DiLido Beach Club, he’s also known as the sexy blonde who was eliminated from the latest Bravo Network show, “Top Chef: New York.”

During the eight-week taping, he was allowed only three phone calls total.

“It was like living on a Martha Stewart compound,” he said jokingly while working a cooking demonstration in Hollywood during “Top Chef: The Tour 2.”

McInnis, who was eliminated in episode 10, had mixed reactions about being on the show. A friend applied for him.

“I thought it was going to be a waste of time,” McInnis said. He was also afraid to lose, he said.

But in the end, he gummed up and joined.

“I got to cook for people like Rocco DiSpirito and Martha Stewart,” he said. “You can’t get that anywhere else.”

But then again, when judges slammed him for a dish he was serving at his Miami Beach restaurant, reality hit home.

His quest for fame took a toll on his personal life, he said: “It took us away from our family. Now, it’s a lot of interviews that continue to take us away from the stove.”

Despite being eliminated from the show, McInnis has a bright future. His next venture includes publishing a cooking book, The Natural Course.

With all his newfound fame, he definitely has a fighting chance for success in the real world.