Five TV stars, one state
Think of all the reality television you watch (it’s OK, we do too). Is Minnesota the first reality TV location that pops into your mind? Probably not. We don’t have any Kardashians, and it’s hard to have a hot tub party on “The Bachelor” when the weather is 40 below. But the 10,000-lake state has been breeding reality TV stars for years, everywhere from NBC to the Food Network. Whether you’re seeing them on TV or in the local grocery store, take note of some of these home-state heroes.
Kat Perkins, “The Voice”
Kat Perkins was a semifinalist on the sixth season of NBC’s “The Voice” in 2014, eventually eliminated in the fourth week of live shows. Perkins grew up in Scranton, North Dakota—a town of less than 300 people—but moved to Minnesota when she was 18. Though she was new to Minnesota at the time, she wasn’t new to music or performance.
“Even at the early age of four, I remember singing in front of people,” Perkins, who grew up with a music teacher for a father, said.
When she was 15, Perkins formed her first professional band with members of her family. Right out of high school, she performed in The Medora Musical in North Dakota, which featured a lot of Teddy Roosevelt and country music, earning it the title “the greatest show in the west.”
Many of the cast members were from Minnesota and encouraged her to move to Minneapolis, she said.
“Minneapolis was the closest big city to my family,” Perkins said. “Plus, there wasn’t much opportunity in North Dakota.”
Perkins said she always wanted to be a singer, but got a cosmetology degree as a backup plan. Bonus perk? Cosmetology experience meant she could do her own hair and makeup for performances, too.
Perkins journey to “The Voice” began in an airport. She performed during a layover in Amsterdam, someone posted a video of her performance to YouTube, and the rest was history. When she was discovered, she was working as a nanny in the Twin Cities. After seeing the video, producers for the show contacted her to audition privately, and the “nanny by day, singer by night” was chosen to move on to television.
“The kids that I nannied for, five kids in Edina, they’re the ones that pushed me to do it,” Perkins said. “They gave me all the confidence in the world to do it.
Perkins watched the first five seasons of the show religiously, and was now on the inside. Though it was weird, Perkins said, the experience was also overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s a very positive show, you could tell everybody was on your side and the coaches believed in the contestants and wanted them to succeed,” Perkins said. “Being around all the same kind of people—it started off as 200 of us, and everyone wants to be a singer, be a professional singer and entertainer—it was great.”
Yet being on the show meant performing consistently every week on a busy schedule. The pressure was almost overwhelming, Perkins said.
“13 to 15 million people watch every week. It’s very nerve-wracking, and stressful, and intense, and the pressure you feel to do well is enormous,” she said. “You learn a lot about yourself, it’s the biggest stage you’ll ever be on in your life.”
The first round of “The Voice” are blind auditions—where the coaches don’t know what the singer looks like, and have to decide if they want that performer on their team based on their voice only. Perkins surpassed the blind auditions and moved on to the battle rounds. She fought for a spot on coach Adam Levine’s team and was chosen, beating out seven others and moving on to the “knockout” round. Since the show is filmed months in advance, both excitement and disappointment must be kept under wraps.
“You actually know the outcome way before the general public does and have to be good at keeping secrets from friends and family,” Perkins said.
Once America has seen all the build up, the shows moves to live rounds, when the country decides who moves further in the competition. Not only do contestants have to learn their song and choreography from the show’s creative team, they have to maintain a certain image and manage the whole package of engaging with fans on social media, doing promotional events, and trying their best to get people to like them (not an easy task on the best of days).
“It’s really a lot of work to be the best you can possibly be with only a week to learn your song,” Perkins said. “You have to be living life out loud and showing personality on social media outlets, because at that point everyone is talented and everyone can sing so you have to set yourself apart.”
In addition to the pressure of performing every week, which Perkins likened to “the scariest thing you’ve ever done, times ten,” contestants are kept in a motel and are often too busy to talk to their loved ones.
“I think the hardest part was being away from my friends and family and that sense of being isolated out there. I wasn’t even able to talk to my friends and family,” she said. “Granted, some of my family got to come out but you can’t see them that much—we see what America sees of them in the audience.”
The competitive nature of the show was another difficult aspect for Perkins.
“Music and competition, that’s a very unnatural setting,” she said. “It makes for good television, but music is supposed to be entertaining.”
Even after elimination, Perkins continued to watch the show. Now, she serves as a correspondent on two radio programs, 107.1 “My Talk” on Tuesdays, and “The Marilu Henner Show” on Wednesdays.
By appearing on “The Voice,” Perkins has cultivated the standout quality that is so necessary in the music industry, allowing her to work with producers and songwriters she admires.
“Asking to work with certain producers for recording music, or getting press—especially out here in Minneapolis—it was way easier to knock on those doors having ‘The Voice’ on my resume,” she said. “I feel like my career is on another level.”
Though her post-show experience hasn’t been perfect. How do you adjust to going back to regular everyday life after being on a reality television show? Finding the balance between the stardom of “The Voice” and nannying in Minnesota was harder to find than Perkins first thought.
“I felt this incredible sense of loss, I wanted to keep my life moving in that forward direction. It affected my relationship with my boyfriend and friends because I wanted to keep progressing.”
She missed the friends she met on the show and the producers she talked to every day, along with the professional vocal lessons and development.
Even with those downsides, Perkins wouldn’t change a thing about her experience.
“I really truly feel like I did the best I possibly could,” Perkins said. “The entire state of Minnesota and the entire Midwest lifted me up. I call it the culture of kindness—people want you to do well, especially in your hometown.”
Sameh Wadi, “Iron Chef: America”
Wadi was the first Minnesotan to appear on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef: America” in 2010, and was the youngest ever competitor on the show. He now owns critically acclaimed Minneapolis Mediterranean-Middle Eastern restaurant Saffron and casual Mexican restaurant World Street Kitchen in Uptown. Wadi also recently unveiled his own line of gourmet spices, called Spice Trail.
Laura Osnes, “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!”
Born in Burnsville and raised in Eagan, Osnes has appeared in five Broadway plays and was the winner of NBC’s short-lived 2007 reality show “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!” She competed against six other women to win the role of Sandy in a Broadway production of “Grease,” and has since starred in Broadway’s “Cinderella” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Raina Hein, “America’s Next Top Model”
Hein was born in Minnetonka and competed on the fourteenth cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” in 2010, making it to the finale before becoming the runner-up. Hein has since modeled for companies including Macy’s and Target and has also appeared in music videos for Maroon 5, Bon Iver, and The 1975.