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The Reality TV Star to Celebrity Pipeline in Nigeria

People turn to television as an escape from the real world, fiction draws you in and lets you imagine a world outside your reality. However, there is still a fascination that comes with watching people deal with everyday situations whether in heightened situations or controlled environments. Reality Television is a genre of television with a focus on ordinary people being filmed unscripted and with no involvement from actors. Reality TV is so popular that it has developed sub-genres; adventure, dating, game shows, food competitions, talent expositions, lifestyle, fashion, and so on. The idea of reality television is targeted at regular people and their daily living or participation in different simulations or scenarios, making it the direct opposite of fictional entertainment. Participants in these shows are referred to as reality stars.

Reality TV Shows

Before its boom today in the 21st century, there were several reality TV programs. The first recognized reality show was Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera” in 1948. The show featured the reactions of unsuspecting people to pranks. However, it wasn’t until the 90s that modern reality TV gained popularity. The Real World, aired in 1992, was the true story of strangers chosen and paid $2,600 to live in a house; it was truly the start of the era of the modern reality TV we know today. By the late 90s and 2000s, shows like America’s Next Top Model, Dancing with The Stars, American Idol, Masterchef and Big Brother dominated the entertainment scene. Some of these shows went on to become established franchises. Today, reality TV is the most popular television genre in the world.

The Nigerian Entertainment industry often takes its cues from the global American industry and with reality television, it is no different. The earliest Nigerian reality TV show is Gulder Ultimate Search produced by Nigerian Breweries. The first season aired in 2004 and the show’s premise was a competition between contestants in a search for a hidden treasure in the forest. From
this many other reality TV shows in Nigeria such as Nigerian Idol, Project Fame, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and the Real Housewives of Lagos were produced. Unarguably, the most popular reality TV show in Nigeria is Big Brother Naija. The Nigerian edition of the Big Brother Franchise recorded the highest number of viewers in the fifth season.

Origin of Big Brother Reality TV Show

The Big Brother Franchise originated as a Dutch reality competition that was created by John De Mol Jr. Its first season aired in 1999 in the Netherlands. In 2021, the Franchise had over 62 versions in different countries and regions. The show is based on contestants (who are referred to as housemates) living together for a set period. Participating in daily tasks and games, with regular nominations by housemates and the public vote determining evictions. The last person standing is crowned the winner and leaves with a sum of money. Interestingly, the name is derived from the novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell due to its shared theme of continuous oppressive surveillance. Participants of Big Brother Naija often gather fame due to their time on the show and in some cases are referred to as celebrities. Nowadays, the prize money is not the sole reason for participating, some contestants go on the show in hopes of fulfilling their dreams, starting an entertainment career, or becoming famous.

Collins Dictionary defines a celebrity as someone who is famous, especially in areas of entertainment such as film, writing, music, and sport. To be regarded as a celebrity, you generally have to be recognized for an accomplishment. Objectively, there is no standard for the level of accomplishment, no matter how big or small it is. There are however tiers to the status attached
based on the scale of achievements or accomplishments. From A-listers to D-listers, there are benefits attached to celebrity status. Celebrities enjoy preferential treatment while being able to capitalize on the attention. Fame comes with many benefits, but not every famous person is a celebrity.

The likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian cemented the concept of being famous for being famous, attaining “celebrity status” for no distinguishable reason. These individuals are well-known not for notable achievements in entertainment or their skills but for their relationships with other celebrities or public persona. Most reality TV stars fall under this category. Regardless, there is a common trajectory from reality tv stars to full-time celebrities.

In Nigeria, the primary example of this pipeline (reality television star to celebrity) is showcased in Big Brother Naija (also known as BBN). There have also been instances in Nigerian Idol, The Voice Nigeria, and Project Fame, where participants build a music career with the platform from these shows. A success story from a singing/music competition show is Chike Ezekpeazu Osebuka. Known by his stage name, Chike, the Afro RnB singer first came into the spotlight in the 8th season of MTN’s Project Fame in 2015. He was however eliminated after becoming one of the top ten contestants.

In 2016, Chike competed in the first season of The Voice Nigeria. He captured the attention of all four coaches (Waje, Tuface, Patoranking, and Timi Dakolo) with his rendition of “Roses” by James Arthur. Choosing Patoranking as his coach, he went on to become the first runner-up of the premier edition of the show. He was signed to Universal Republic along with the other four
finalists before breaking away to become an independent artist in 2017. He had a short stint as an actor as “Mayowa Badmus” on Africa Magic’s “Battleground” but it wasn’t until 2020 that he had his big break as a musician with the release of his debut album “Boo of the Booless”. The project was nominated for Best RnB Album and Album of the Year at the Headies Award in 2020, cementing his career as a musician and thereby making him a celebrity as a result of his accomplishments in the music industry.

Boo of the Booless
Credit: Pinterest

It was easy for Chike to fully transition from a reality TV star to a full-fledged celebrity. He could acquire a celebrity status (albeit not the highest) because he participated in a reality show focused on a specific part of the entertainment industry; music. An achievement in a field, particularly entertainment, is a determining factor for attaining celebrity status. For a person to become a celebrity, they have to be recognized as an expert (or near to one) in their industry. Celebrities are known for their impact in a particular field, it could range from entertainment to sports to business and many more. It is however not as effortless to switch from being a star of a game reality show to a celebrity.

Game shows have different premises, they could be talent-based shows or survival shows. Big Brother Naija is a classic example of a survival show. Of all the versions in the franchise, the Nigerian edition is one of the versions which follows the initial international format with public-voted evictions. As earlier stated, the goal of some participants of the show is to acquire fame.
Fame however needs to be distinguished from the status of a celebrity. Individuals can be famous for a wide range of things while a celebrity has to be respected or recognized for efforts made to master a skill.

Bisola Aiyeola
Image credit: Pinterest

Bisola Aiyeola, First Runner-Up, Season 2 of Big Brother Naija

A close look at the past participants of Big Brother Naija will show less than 50% in the entertainment industry. The most established of these housemates in the industry include Ebuka Obi Uchendu (Season 1) Bisola Aiyeola (Season 2, See Gobe), Tobi Bakre (Season 3, Double Wahala), Elozonam (Season 4, Pepper Dem), Veeiye and Laycon (Season 5, Lockdown). Ebuka is currently the host of the show as well as other TV shows, Bisola and Tobi are both actors and TV hosts, Elozonam is known for creative direction and content production while Veeiye and Laycon are musicians. What a good number of the housemates have done is leverage off the platform the show gives, establish a large following, and thereafter delve into social media influencing and content creation. While they are not celebrities because a vast majority of them are famous simply for the personalities they revealed on the show and not their craft or skills, they are accorded and treated with the respect a celebrity status of any level brings you.

They score invites into A-list entertainment events mainly for the media coverage and consumer attention they bring in. The Wakanda Forever Lagos premiere had past housemates as attendees. It still is not enough for them to be referred to as celebrities. In some cases, they are awarded opportunities that should be reserved for those deserving of them. Ever so often in the
Nollywood industry, there is a movie or two with a cast full of past BBN housemates. There is always an attempt that usually fails to propel themselves as members of the entertainment industry in lieu of upcoming and deserving actors and artists. Influencer marketing and content creation are the routes the housemates settle for but even then they are unable to delve and stick to specific niches.

The Advantage of Big Brother Naija

A con of this show is it has given these housemates a sense of grandeur and this is encouraged by their fans who continuously try to prove that their favorites are nothing more than social media marketers or influencers. Influencer marketing is big in the digital age but influencers are still not celebrities. Yes, “famous for being famous” individuals are often regarded as celebrities but a proper term would be macro influencers. These reality TV stars are not particularly known for anything other than their time on a reality show. It might be an odd pill to swallow given the attention received from fans but there is nothing particularly outstanding about most of these reality TV stars that earns them the title and status of a celebrity. When a reality TV star makes an impact in the industry (like Ebuka has done), where their time on a reality tv show is nothing but a stool to success, they would be deserving of a celebrity title, otherwise, they are not the next best thing after sliced bread like they and their fans would like us to think.

Aanuoluwa Odole

Aanuoluwa Odole is currently a law student in Nigeria. She produces and hosts a socio-political and pop culture podcast called Off The Record with Aanu. She is a lover of most forms of entertainment, but will forever stick to romance genres and music by black women. She is also a fan of the group, BTS. She spends her free time watching kdramas and commentary videos on YouTube. Aanuoluwa has dreams to work in the media and entertainment industry. She is fascinated with the efforts that go into media and content production. As a writer, she takes an opinion-based approach and due to the influence from her legal education, interjects facts to support her assertions. She prefers to focus on issues relating to women, race and the media. She hopes that in whatever she does, she is able to reflect and enjoy the process.