Because they Need Love: Women of Competitive Reality TV

30.11.13 ShaSha LaPerf 4 Comments

Hey folks! So normally when I do the "Because They Need Love Posts" I focus on Asian men. Well this time I wanted to give love to the ladies. This is something I really need to do more often. :/ Anyway I wanted to focus on some women that were in reality TV this year. Normally when we think about black women in reality TV, we're thinking of the women of the Real Housewives of Atlanta or Basketball Wives or Love and Hip-Hop. And although I am a ran of RHOA, even I can admit that some of the behavior these women display isn't exactly the greatest. Sadly we live in a world where people assume what they see on TV is true about an entire group of people. So even the words "reality TV" and "black women" will conjure up some negative thoughts.

But what about the women of competitive reality TV? We rarely hear about them.

Let me back up a bit. What is the difference between competitive reality TV (CRTV) and something like Love and Hip-Hop? Well CRTV is usually created to focus on a person's talents which are used to win some sort of prize. So a show like Project Runway or Shark Tank or American Idol would be considered a competitive reality show. Now in some cases there is still room for snark (shows like Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef come to mind), but you still get a display of a person's talents. Although I've seen black women on several of these shows, we don't get too many winners. America's Next Top Model regularly had black winners, though the past 6-7 cycles have been white. So I wanted to take a look at a few of black ladies that have persevered and where able to take the crown on a few reality TV series this year. I may be missing a few, but these are the ladies I actually watched out for during their seasons.

Amber Riley - Dancing With The Stars Season 17
Dancing With The Stars have had everyone from reality TV stars like Kate Gosslin to trash talk show host Jerry Springer to Olymipans like Apollo Ohno and Kristi Yamaguchi. Amber Riley is mostly known for her role as Mercedes on Glee. Although there is some choreography on Glee, Amber isn't a trained dancer. Elizabeth Berkeley Lauren of Saved By The Bell fame was expected to take the win due to her own dancing skills (LOL and perhaps notoriety for making a certain movie). However it wasn't long before Amber became a fan favorite and ultimately the winner of the season, making her the first black woman to win the show.

While I think Amber's partnership with Derek Hough (who has won at least 4 times) and her following on Glee helped her quite a bit, Amber's own charisma and fucking awesomeness shined through in every routine. Take a look at this performance:

OMG THAT STEP ROUTINE!!!! Seriously girl was always on point!

The death of Cory Monteith has pretty much marked the end of Glee with Ryan Murphy deciding to end the show pretty soon. I'm hoping that Amber will continue to pop up on TV, movies, and music.

Dom Streater - Project Runway Season 12
I have to admit I've been losing a lot of interest in Project Runway recently. I could barely remember most of the members after that awful Gretchen chick beat out Mondo (yeah I was bitter about that one for a while). A show that did focus more on talent was started to become a bit too "character" based. They were choosing designers that would make for good reality TV rather than being more focused on the talent. So drama free, easy-going Dom was a pleasant surprise. She was one of two black women on the season along with Kahindo Mateene. Dom won two challenges during the season and was place in the top 3 a few other times. Her smart print choices and designers took her to the Bryant Park finals and earned her a place as the first black woman to win Project Runway.

Here's a clip of her work over the season:

And Tom and Lorenzo get more into details over her final runway show. Dom is busying working on her clothing line. In the meantime she will get the standard photo spread in Marie Claire along with her model Ray'uana Aleyce, who I believe is blasian.

Candace Glover - American Idol Season 12
Candace Glover is not the first black female winner of American Idol. Fantasia Barrino was a winner in Season 3, while Jordan Sparks took the win in Season 6. However in the past few years only white males have been winners--in fact it "WGWG" ("White Guy With Guitar") became a joke to those who watched the show. 2013 was the first time in years that women dominated the final 5.

One of Candace's more memorable performance's on the show was her stripped down version of rapper Drake's "Find Your Love."

Her version was such a hit the Drake himself appeared on Idol to surprise her. During the finale, Candace was named the winner, beating out fellow competitor Kree Harrison. Candance is currently working on her album which will be released next year.

Honorable Mention
Ja'Nel Witt - Hell's Kitchen Season 17
So technically Ja'Nel did will Hell's Kitchen, but I'll get to why she's an honorable mention in a minute.

Hell's Kitchen is the kind of show you watch less so for talent and more so to watch crazy ass chefs go off on each other while Gordon Ramsey yells about everything. And this season there was Ja'Nel Witt and Nedra Harris holding it down for the black ladies. Nedra was seen as a total turn off to people because she was pretty much a walking stereotype to many people. She was big and black with a loud mouth and gruff personality. But I'll admit that I actually did like her because she called people out on their shit and usually could back up her loud mouth with serious skills. Ja'Nel was on my radar as well. She generally stayed out of the drama and had her own set of skills that impressed Ramsey and her teammates. So I cheered when Ja'Nel won.

Unfortunately it came out that Je'Nel didn't receive her job working for Ramsey's restaurant because she failed a drug test when cocaine was found in her system. Ja'Nel hasn't outright admitted to drug use, but through Twitter said she didn't take the job for personal reasons. As a result she was not hired to work at the restaurant, though she did receive the money associated with the job. There hasn't been much word on her since this news came out, but she still seems to be doing some cooking, just not at Ramsey's restaurant. Of course if these allegations are true than that really sucks, but I still have to give her credit for the work she did on the show.

Jasmine Harper - So You Think You Can Dance Season 10
When Jasmine initially auditioned for the show, it was big news for the judges since was once dated Cyrus Spencer who was a runner-up the previous season. Jasmine was a bit on the shy side, but knocked people over with her dance skills and long legs. She was paired up with Tap dancer Aaron Turner, and the two received much praised for their routines. This routine was one of their more memorable ones:


Her routine with All-Star Marko was a judges favorite:

Despite her awesomeness, she only came in second place. Still Jasmine is probably my fave female dancer. I'm sure they'll be calling her to be All-Star next season. Jasmine's talent has already gotten notice from big stars. She's appeared in a Ciara video and is on tour with So You Think You Can Dance.

So congrats to all these ladies. I hope their appearances on these shows will encourage other women to audition and get on the air. Reality TV doesn't always need to be a bad thing and it's always awesome to see some women other there who are on TV reminded people that we're not a monolith and loaded with a variety of skills and talent. Although Lillie McCloud was the last black contestant on The X Factor, blasian Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin is still going strong on The Voice. So I need to give her a bit of love. Good luck to Tessanne and any other ladies hitting the competitive reality TV rounds!


  1. I had to read twice before I read about Amber's win. Actually, I didn't think she would win. Don't get me wrong, Amber was an awesome dancer that did deserve a win,but there have been other Black women that was good and didn't win. I was afraid that DWTS was going to find way to lower her score to keep her from winning. That was something I noticed when I seen some of the other Black women lose in that manner.

    There aren't a lot of reality shows that I watch because I think that they already have their picks, though they tell us that fans have to call in to show their appreciation for their favorite person. Although some judges may also have had their minds made up, I would look at Sta Search during the day. I prefer it when the judges, judge the contestants and not the fans. Some of them put acts up there that have no talent. I would watch AI at one point but, I stopped watching it.

    1. The show has changed a bit over the past few years. I remember when the show started they were very hesitant to give out high score early in the season, and now that seems to be a normal thing. Plus they've added a few new dance styles, which gives the dancers more to work with. In general black women got pretty decent scores from the judges (LOL except for Wendy Williams, her dancing was downright awful and she will admit it). The problems most of them face was not having enough of an audience to vote for them. Black folks hardly pay attention to Mya and Brandy--both women released albums in the past few years that were flops--and they were barely known by white audiences. Amber is still on Glee and is pretty popular, which gave her the edge. If anything I was surprised Corbin got as far as he did since he hasn't done much since High School Musical, but he may still have a strong fanbase (plus he's grown to be a pretty good looking man...and I feel a little dirty).

  2. Hey shout out from the UK. That's quite a list and its great to mention postive images of people of colour in the media as too often people think of the negative. Although I don't know everyone mentioned I value this piece. Great post :0)

    1. Hi hi! Most of the people I listed were pretty much unknowns until they won on these shows. That's one reason why I like watching these shows is because it does give some little known people a chance to go after their dreams. Of course not everyone can win, but it does give them exposure. Jennifer Hudson is probably the best example of this. There are some other winners of So You Think You Can Dance that are now backup dancers for people like Beyonce and Lady Gaga. And most of these shows will have several POCs per season as opposed to one or two, but at the same time, very few POCs have won these shows. For example, Project Runway has only had two POCs (An Asian woman and now Dom). I'm hoping these stats will improve and we'll get to see more faces on these shows as well as a diverse group of winners.