Home The Soapbox Friday List: Wisconsin no stranger to the world of reality TV

Friday List: Wisconsin no stranger to the world of reality TV


The recently concluded season of “The Voice” on NBC gave the Fox Valley a true rooting interest and showed the nation something that many of us here take for granted: There’s incredible talent to be discovered on the east end of Downtown Appleton at Lawrence University.

Lawrence professor John Holiday sang all the way to this week’s finals of the popular vocal talent competition and ended the run with a fifth-place finish. 

In honor of the accomplishment, Valley Review will take a comprehensive look at local and state contributions to the biggest oxymoron in popular culture: reality television.

Holiday is the latest musician to quickly gain a national fan base through the medium, but he isn’t the first.

American Idol built the vocal talent show into a must-watch, television powerhouse. Danny Gokey, a favorite son of Milwaukee, had the Dairyland rooting as he kept on keeping on during the eighth season of American Idol. 

Holiday wasn’t the first Wisconsinite to ride into the finals on The Voice. Chris Kroeze, a Barron singer and guitarist, took second place on the star-studded singing show in 2018. It appears there’s a pattern emerging: look for Wisconsin to emerge in the finals once again in 2022.

Vocal chops aren’t the only talent that’s made for television gold.

He may not be a Wisconsinite by birth, but we adopted him. He’s ours. And in 2012, Donald Driver’s road to victory on Dancing With the Stars was just as much appointment television as his Sunday performances on the gridiron.

Of course, there are other ways to compete.

Wisconsin residents brought their weight loss journeys into our living rooms via television competitions. We watched on as Ryan Sawlsville of Appleton lost 217 pounds as part of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. We rooted for Greenville’s Kristin Steede as she competed on The Biggest Loser.

Dave and Rachel Brown of Madison had an armchair cheering section as part of their reality television adventure that spanned 36,000 miles and five continents. The couple won the 20th season of The Amazing Race.

The first season of Survivor was a game-changer as it came to reality television. It was the first show of the genre to become appointment viewing and fodder for water cooler conversation. Waukesha’s Susan Hawk was a major character of the competition and finished in fourth place. 

Reality television isn’t always a matter of winners or losers. Anything that can produce a little drama or lend to a good story is fair game.

Today, Sean Duffy is a conservative firebrand, a Fox News contributor and former member of Wisconsin’s delegation to the House of Representatives. In 1997, he was part of a different house … one where he first learned what happens when people stop being polite … and start getting real. MTV’s The Real World is often credited as the genesis of reality television. Duffy was on the Bostonian sixth season and went on to participate in MTV’s Road Rules All-Stars and Real World/Road Rules Challenge.

One of the Fox Valley’s biggest reality TV moments came in 2010 as Ty Pennington and crew rolled in.  They made dreams come true for the Arboleda family for an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Fox Valley residents pitched in — or at least dropped by for a little in-person preview. Our region has never again said “move that bus” with such vigor.

American Pickers has been no stranger to Wisconsin, given their shop is in the far off land of … Iowa. They piqued curiosity in the Fox Cities in 2015 as their unmistakable Sprinter van rolled into town. Frank and Mike stayed in Downtown Appleton after arriving for a pick at EAA in Oshkosh.

In 2018, Ken Melchert, owner of Menasha’s Harp Gallery, showed up in the Las Vegas Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on an episode of History Channel’s Pawn Stars. In doing so, the curtain fell for many in the Fox Cities. No, Ken didn’t walk in with an 1885 Wooten desk hoping to scrape up enough for a plane ticket after exhausting his credit line on the dollar slots. He explained to The Post-Crescent how producers found him and his item and offered the invite. Reality television has scripted elements? What are you going to tell us next? That the tooth fairy isn’t real?

After giving the genre so much talent, reality TV finally gave Wisconsin a show of its own.

Wisconsin may not have a cool pawn shop. We may not have pickers or chopper builders. But damnit, we have … a blacksmith? Milwaukee Blacksmith, which follows the exploits of a business called Milwaukee Blacksmith, is a part of the History Channel’s reality lineup. The business, should you want to know, does blacksmithing and is located in Milwaukee.

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