Almost Famous

Reality shows may make good television, but they don't portray reality. Their "characters" are constantly performing, all too aware of the crews, production assistants and publicists looming nearby. At least Bravo's The It Factor is a little more honest; its cast makes no bones about loving the spotlight. The new show chronicles the lives of nine struggling performers -- including Houston-born and Pearland-raised model-actress Jennifer Ann Massey -- as they search for their big break.

"The show appealed to me because whatever happened, happened. There were no retakes," Massey says from Pearland, where she spent the holidays. "People think it's easy to be in Hollywood and that you make it or you don't right away. They don't see the struggles that go on for years."

Her family and friends know that to watch the show will be to witness her hard times, but according to Massey, that's no big deal to them. "They are, unfortunately, viewers of my failures all the time," she laughs. "The acting business isn't all bells and whistles, and this show will give people the other side of that."

The It Factor followed Massey for nine months last year as she navigated the cutthroat world of TV pilot casting in Los Angeles. Cameras documented her triumphs and disappointments, both personal and professional. Massey admits that having a crew in tow at her auditions singled her out -- and not often in a good way. "People would hide their faces behind paper. It was like I had leprosy and no one wanted to come near me," she recalls. "And anyone that did would be slapped with a release."

The crew's presence may not have benefited Massey's career at the time, but she hopes the exposure she gleaned from the series will deliver "delayed gratification."

Massey's career started when, as a teen hanging out at Baybrook Mall, she entered a Seventeen magazine model search on a lark. Three days later, she was named a finalist, and soon she was traveling the world and appearing in major fashion magazines.

But Massey says she always viewed modeling as a conduit to her true goal of acting, even if being an actress isn't always as glamorous. For a Budweiser commercial audition, Massey had to simulate horseback riding while straddling a bouncing barrel held aloft by strings. She got the job.

Besides her appearance on The It Factor, the biggest role Massey has landed is that of Kaya, the "self-proclaimed bitch," in the pilot of a Melrose Place-style lipstick-lesbian soap opera called The Complex. Massey assumed the show's producers would cast only actual lesbians, so she pretended to be one, creating a whole new past for herself. But it turned out that the show didn't care what her orientation was, as long as she was willing to kiss girls.

As for The It Factor, Massey is anticipating the show's pop-cultural impact with a mixture of excitement and dread. "Right now," she says, "it's nice to be back in Texas for a vacation before I expose my life to the United States of America." At least her days of jockeying empty beer kegs should be over.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero