From Brandon native Skylar Laine on “American Idol” to Tupelo resident Brooks Ayers on “The Housewives of Orange County,” this year’s crop of Mississippi reality stars is as abundant as ever. Here’s a look at who we’ve been watching and who we’re keeping an eye on.
•The Bachelorette – Tune to ABC Monday at 7 p.m. to watch Clarion-Ledger advertising representative Travis Pope vie for “The Bachelorette’s” heart. Will he become North Carolina resident Emily Maynard’s new beau? Pope, who has been described by colleagues as a “Southern charmer,” is a 30-year-old Mississippi State grad and Madison resident who has worked at The Clarion-Ledger the past three years.
•The Housewives of Orange County – Tupelo resident Brooks Ayers has been spending a lot of time in California. He’s been featured on the Bravo! series this year as housewife Vicki Gunvalson’s boyfriend. The show airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. Ayers, who has become the subject of entertainment gossip blogs, is a businessman who met Gunvalson through work. You can find the Mississippi State graduate’s bio on the Virginia-based WFJ Associates website, where he is listed as a regional vice president.
•Food Network Star – Mississippi University for Women graduate Linkie Marais is one of 15 contestants competing for her own cooking show on The Food Network. The show airs Sundays at 8 p.m. The South African native moved to Tupelo with her family when she was 16 and worked as a cake decorator and baker during high school. She’s hoping her degree in culinary arts will help her win. She now lives in North Attleborough, Mass.
•MasterChef – Jackson’s Josh Marks and Biloxi’s Michelle Gollott are cooking toward a win, including $250,000, in the third season of the Fox show, which is on Mondays at 8 p.m. Mississippi has a history with the show; Whitney Miller of Poplarville took the title in “MasterChef’s” first year out. Marks and Gollott were among nearly 30,000 hopefuls who auditioned at open casting calls in 11 cities.
•American Idol – Brandon native Skylar Laine wowed audiences on “American Idol” with her country voice and placed fifth in the competition. She graduated from Brandon High School a year early and plans plans to move to Nashville to pursue her music career. She is the second “American Idol” finalist from Mississippi. The other was Starkville native Jasmine Murray from Season 8, who will compete in the Miss Mississippi Pageant June 27-30 in Vicksburg.
•Dancing With the Stars – Alcorn State University graduate and Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver Donald Driver took home the Mirror Ball trophy this year. Driver and partner Peta Murgatroyd danced their way to the finals. Driver said he hoped his win would bring attention to his charity. The Super Bowl champion and his wife, Betina Driver, a Mississippi native, created the Donald Driver Foundation, which offers assistance to ill children and provides housing for the homeless.
•Duets – Brookhaven resident Ashley Stephens, 18, was featured on the premiere of the ABC show “Duets.” She isn’t a contestant, but she did get to audition for the show with singer and “American Idol” Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson. Stephens recently graduated from Brookhaven High School and plans to move to Nashville to study music.
•Amazing Race – Pass Christian native Kerri Jones Paul appeared on this season’s “Amazing Race.” The 2004 University of Southern Mississippi grad and her cousin traveled around the world in hopes of winning $1 million. When she was cast for the show, she worked for the City of Gulfport as recreational events and cultural programs coordinator.
•The Real World – Who’s responsible for all these reality shows? Gulfport native Jonathan Murray is widely known as the father of reality television. He co-created “The Real World,” which has spawned a variety of other reality shows. Murray graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has created and produced more than 80 seasons of reality TV. He’s responsible for “Road Rules,” “Real World/Road Rules Challenge,” “The Simple Life,” “Making the Band” and has produced “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Khloe and Kourtney Take Miami,” “Project Runway” and “Living Lohan,” among others.
–LaReeca Rucker, The Clarion-Ledger