SoapNet at 5: I Wanna Be a Soap Star!

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

I stood on my mark, excitedly informing my married lover that I was pregnant with his child, only to be devastated by the news that he’s not leaving his wife after all.

The camera was rolling. I played elated, then shocked and finally distraught.

“But you said you loved me. You said you wanted to be together,” I said, doing my best to feel my heart rip in two. “What am I supposed to do?”

I finished the monologue and got feedback from Michael Bruno, a talent manager for daytime television stars. My voice tends to rise a bit, he said, and I also need to stop acting with my hands.

But he also said, “You’re much better than I thought you would be.”

I took that as a compliment. After all, I’m a reporter, not an actor. But at 10:30 a.m. on March 24, I was, like countless other souls in the Los Angeles area, an aspiring actor trying to land a job.

I was at the Encino, Calif., office of LMNO Productions on a callback for the SoapNet reality show “I Wanna Be a Soap Star.” Mr. Bruno is a judge on the show. More than 5,000 people either submitted videotapes or attended one of the two open casting calls in New York and Los Angeles in March for the second season of the soap-centric network’s reality series.

The first season, featuring 12 wannabe stars learning to slap, argue and kiss like a soap star, premiered last October as one of the 5-year-old network’s first forays into original programming. More than 1 million women 18 to 49 watched during the show’s six-episode run as contestants vied for the prize of a 13-week contract on ABC’s “General Hospital.” The winner, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, recently re-upped for a recurring role on the soap.

SoapNet said about 20 percent of “Soap Star’s” viewers were new to the network. Its second season is set to run beginning in June, and the winner will sign on for a 13-week stint on ABC’s “All My Children.”

I learned about the show in mid-March while reporting a different story. When I heard the title, I couldn’t resist. Eleven years ago, when I was 21, I had pursued an acting career for all of nine months in New York before switching to journalism. But I had to admit I still harbored secret aspirations of stardom.

On a lark, I submitted a tape, which earned me an audition before the casting director in Los Angeles. I flew down from my San Francisco Bay Area home in March for my first audition in 11 years. The casting director put me on tape for the producers and then informed me the next day that I had received a callback to audition before the executive producer and Mr. Bruno.

Callback is one of those magic words in show business. It means, quite simply, that you didn’t stink.

“We saw thousands of people,” said Lisa Bourgoujian, an executive producer for the show, which is produced by LMNO. “Some were good. Some were OK. Some sucked.” Thankfully, I wasn’t in the last group.

At that point, I decided to go all-out. It would be one final shot at my fleeting 15 minutes of fame.

I hired a makeup artist and hair stylist. I bought another new outfit. I flew to Los Angeles again on my own dime, memorized the monologue, even grappled with my insecurity-or was it a genuine lack of talent that was causing my stomach to churn?

While waiting for my callback to start, I sat alone outside the little audition room, consumed by a commingling sense of confidence and dread that performers must feel daily. Like it or not, I was beginning to feel like a real actor now.

I did my monologue and a cold read of a scene, then listened to Mr. Bruno assess my potential as a soap star. When I left, I could finally exhale. I was surprised to realize how much I wanted this gig. There’s just something magical about the chance to become a star.

I suppose that’s why 5,000 people tried out for a shot on this cable reality show-not even a soap itself. And it must be why all the actors in the world continue to pound pavement and put themselves through the insecurity and rejection.

A few days after my callback, the casting director called me at home and said, “I have bad news. It’s not going to go any further.”

Like sands through the hourglass, my 15 minutes of fame slipped away.

He said he would keep me in mind for other projects, but for this reporter, there wouldn’t be any other projects. I was done.

But there would be more stories to cover. And at least I’d get to write about television.