During filming of The Learning Channel's A Makeover Story on Aug. 24, the members of the all-female New Orleans rock band the Hazard County Girls had definite plans as guests on the show. They wanted to spread their music on national TV and to show off the "real" New Orleans throughout the program.
But sometimes, reality TV can seem like anything but. On A Makeover Story -- a program where a fashion expert reinvents guests' styles -- the line between what is "real" and what is staged is often blurred.
With the cameras off, drummer Sharon Heather asked from her dressing room at the Trashy Diva boutique on Magazine Street, "Am I allowed to dislike?" She had just finished trying on her new outfit and was worried about her ability to play drums in high heels.
With cameras once again rolling, Heather emerged from the dressing room in the heels, black dress pants and a frilly pink shirt. Host Danny Beckman and the rest of the band oooh-ed and ahhh-ed appropriately.
"Cut!" said the director. "Jen, feel free to react more."
The scene was shot again. Sharon emerged from the dressing room again, and once again the band and host acted as if they were seeing her for the first time. This time, bassist Jennifer K voiced her concerns that the wide pant legs might get caught in the bass drum pedal.
Moments like these trigger anxiety in reality-show participants. On TV, such shows appear only barely manipulated. However, in the real reality, there is a director behind the camera who wants certain things to happen, and will shoot multiple takes until it happens.
"You never know how they'll edit these things," said lead singer Christy Kane after the shoot. "We shot hours and hours of footage, but when it's actually played on TV, so much of that is cut out."
On a typical episode of A Makeover Story, a knowledgeable host helps bring a fashion-clueless guest's hair, makeup and wardrobe up to date. The idea for the Hazard County Girls' episode was to take the band's gothic-cowgirl style and give it a shot in the arm.
"The girls have a strong sense of style," Beckman said before the shoot. "We're mostly sticking with their same look and keeping it New Orleans-y, but amplified."
The crew followed the women for three days while they drove Beckman around the city in their tour van. They showed him their favorite spots while he got to know the girls and pinpointed their individual looks and attitudes. They spent the first day driving around mostly and ate lunch at Juan's Flying Burrito. On the second day they tried on the different outfits at Trashy Diva and decorated equipment with feathers, rhinestones and flowers. They spent the third day at Twisted Hair Salon doing the band's hair and makeup.
Though Beckman loved the city, how would he and the production crew portray the "reality" of New Orleans to the home audience? This was a real concern for the Hazard County Girls.
"We plugged things like crazy," said Kane. Going into the show, the girls all wanted to make sure it portrayed the New Orleans that they know, not the typical tourist notions. On one day, Heather prominently sported a T-shirt with local band Suplecs' logo. They took the crew to Sharon's Bar (no relation to the drummer) and were even the ones who suggested the use of Trashy Diva and Twisted.
It's no wonder, then, that when given the choice of where they would play their makeover-revealing live set, they picked the Mermaid Lounge, where Kane tends bar.
"When tourists come, they know Tipitina's, the House of Blues, but they don't know the Mermaid Lounge," said Heather. "We wanted to represent small businesses that local people patronize."
For the set, Beckman chose their final outfits. Heather wore a blue corset, rhinestone heels, and big fake lashes. Kane wore a light-blue "grandma" dress, fishnets, heels and barrettes all through her hair. Jennifer K wore heels and a red satin dress. As striking as the outfits were, the band's concerns about their practicality were prescient. By the end of the first song, Heather's eyelashes fell off and stuck to her snare drum, Kane had pulled out all the barrettes for head-banging purposes, and all three girls had kicked off their immobilizing high heels.
The show first aired on Oct. 15. As it aired, the girls called each other laughing.
"A makeover show's a weird experience. It's kind of hokey so you just do your best with it," says Kane. "We all agreed that it was not as mortifying as we thought it was going to be."
The band wishes the live performance was featured more prominently -- it is shown only during the credits in a tiny box at the bottom of the screen -- but as Christy says, "The upside of that was that maybe we were just too metal for middle America."
- The Hazard County Girls "have a strong sense of style," according to A Makeover Story's fashion expert Danny Beckman. "We're mostly sticking with their same look and keeping it New Orleans-y, but amplified."