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When I was a little kid, I used to watch a show called Romper Room and hoped each day with all my might that Miss Peggy, the host, would look into her magic mirror and finally say to all of TV-land that in addition to Timmy, Tommy, Susie, Janie, Jennifer and Chad, she could see me. I spent lots of time hoping, but never heard her utter my name.
It was my first brush with reality TV.
I later learned that the kids who got mentioned during the magic mirror segment of Romper Room had written a letter to the show, or lived in the city where Romper Room was filmed and visited the set, or something. They had connections.
I also figured out that Miss Peggy and her Romper Room colleagues at local stations around the country were throwing in some of the more common children’s names so that we’d all feel included, but I can’t remember ever once hearing Miss Peggy say, “I see Kristina” or even “I see Krissy” or “I see Kris.” She saw my brother plenty of times, as both Mike and Myki. But she didn’t see me.
Years later, I would find myself afflicted by Miss Peggy Syndrome whenever I came into close proximity to anyone I’d seen on-screen. She never thought I was good enough to mention then, so in the presence of celebrities now I tend to freeze up and assume that nothing I have to say would be interesting to the person I’m about to meet.
A few months ago I sat at the head table for a National Press Club luncheon featuring Glenn Close, which meant I was invited to the VIP reception with her before the lunch. I attended, but ended up too chicken to even say hello to her, convinced that if I stood before her she would look into her magic mirror and see — nothing.
Since the Romper Room days, I’ve been profoundly influenced by the power of television and have been mostly unashamed of the prominence of the boob tube in my life. But despite my Romper Room upbringing, I have mostly avoided the reality TV craze, except for a few seasons of The Real World and The Osbournes.
That is, until this summer. As soon as the reality TV industry starting taking its gay viewing public seriously, I sat up and took notice.
It’s no secret to regular readers of this column that throughout the summer I indulged in some reality TV idolatry involving the men on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy. At some point, I got sucked into The Amazing Race and became part of the cheerleading team for the gay male couple who won on that show, Chip and Reichen. The fact of reality TV is that it wraps you up in a celluloid personality’s life even more than other programming. We become privy to details about these people’s real lives and there are often common threads through which we can personally relate to and grow to love — or hate — these quasi-celebrities.
Happy to be a stargazer, I found myself in Hollywood this month, where my business and personal affiliations took me to the annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. I’d never been to Los Angeles, and the notion of walking down the street and seeing someone almost as good as Miss Peggy was a little daunting at first. But pretty soon I realized the conference was smack dab in the middle of touristville, and there was no way I’d run into anyone good.
I let my guard down.
Before I knew it, I found myself giddy with the knowledge that Ted from Queer Eye would be on one of the NLGJA panels. I’d figured there was a chance he might show up at the conference, because I knew he is or has been a member of that organization. I wasn’t too excited about it, though, thinking of Ted as the food and wine guy, which in my life translates to about the most boring topic invented. I am not a discerning diner or someone prone to extended kitchen experiences, so I have never cared much about what Ted had to say.
Still, I decided to attend the session, because I knew it’d make certain people jealous if I met him, and because it would give me a good story to tell.
Little did I know that James from Boy Meets Boy had also been recruited to sit on that panel with Ted, and little did I know that Ted and James are two of the funniest, sweetest, most adorable reality TV stars on the face of the planet. Little did I know that I would be floored by the sight of James in real life. Although I am firmly planted in my lesbianism, James is cripplingly handsome.
Television does not do this man justice. It also does not convey how sweet he is. He stood and talked to a few of us for what felt like hours after the panel ended, flashing that time-stopping smile of his and revealing so much sincerity that I found all of my cynicism about him quickly melting away. He and Ted posed for photographs with me and my housemate and traveling companion, Chris, and they both graciously signed their name placards for me to carry home. The next night, while vying for a Lord of the Rings bobblehead for my partner at the silent auction, I remarked to Chris, “Who are those two really good-looking men?” We’d just met James, after all, and were sort of frantically (and asexually) cruising gay men in the aftermath.
Chris, who is solely responsible for getting me sucked into The Amazing Race as the season wound down, looked up and, after a second, started practically hyperventilating and squeaked, “That’s Reichen and Chip!”
Again with the even-better-in-person effect. Again with the oh-so-sweetness when we approached, asked for a photo and started chatting with them, at which point they, like James and Ted before them, made us feel like their most trusted confidantes. (Did you know Reichen and Chip are still together, despite rumors of a break-up, and just moved to the L.A. area so Reichen can pursue an acting career?)
I became a full-on gay reality TV groupie over the course of a weekend. I concluded that I could never live in L.A., because I’d be too exhausted from all the excitement anytime I came near anyone I’d seen on TV. And after chatting casually with my newest semi-famous friends, I concluded that Miss Peggy could take her magic mirror and shove it in a very un-preschool place.
Kristina Campbell stargazes from her living room in Takoma Park, Md. Her column appears biweekly and its author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.