Reality-competition stars: Why we watch

Personalities that pushed our buttons

These are some of the reality competition stars that bring the crazy — or make the crazy tolerable.

Casey Abrams
“American Idol”
If Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez helped bring the sexy back to “Idol,” Abrams brought the growl. His blues-jazz repertoire had a young Harry Connick Jr. vibe, and his standup bass was as cool as any electric guitar. One of the most dramatic moments of the season involved the fuzzy-faced 20-year-old: When he was voted off by America in mid-March, the judges called it unjust and used their save. As his burgeoning career was revived, he nearly had to be as well, almost passing out as the drama unfolded.

Kirstie Alley
“Dancing With the Stars”
Alley has been troubled, addicted, obese and written off dozens of times. But she’s never dull and always real. That’s why the 60-year-old walked away with the lion’s share of audience love, if not the mirror ball, after she exposed every weakness while she danced — and fell — across the stage. Viewers cheered her because, when someone keeps on getting up every time they fall, you want to hang your own hopes on their story.

Boston Rob And Russell
“No ordinary man should have this much power,” says Rob Mariano, aka “Boston Rob” from “Survivor.” “Thankfully, I’m not an ordinary man.” Handsome rogue Mariano and his nemesis, the ego-infused Russell Hantz, have both tearfully shown their vulnerability and tossed off arrogant comments that knock you off-guard. The sharp-tongued Hantz has an uncanny knack for finding immunity idols and charming young women. Likeable Mariano powered through the challenges, manipulating players and plotting his game like a master craftsman.

Gretchen Jones
“Project Runway”
Love her or hate her, Jones beat Mondo, much to the dismay of many viewers. The defeat made Jones one of the most controversial reality-competish winners in recent history. It wasn’t her designs that turned her into a reality villain, it was her words. Like “Project Runway” host Heidi Klum, Jones spoke her mind, but unlike the supermodel, Jones wasn’t able to express her numerous opinions in a disarming manner, which may be the reason why we kept tuning in.

Jet And Cord Mccoy
“The Amazing Race”
Oh my gravy! The real-life cowboys and brothers entered this all-star season known as fierce competitors, but stunned fans by arriving dead last at the first (non-elimination) pit stop. With grit and guts they toughed it out and leaped toward the head of the pack. Pressure didn’t fluster the courteous cowboys; it boosted their can-do attitude into high gear. Competitors never underestimated the brothers’ ability to come from behind, making them the most-likely team to be U-turned.

Richard Blais & Carla Hall
“Top Chef: All-Stars”
“Top Chef: All – Stars” was a nail biter, thanks partly to watching Richard Blais skillfully maneuver a crowded kitchen while on the verge of a stress-induced meltdown, only to come up with a brilliant dish. Luckily for Bravo, Carla Hall gave the skein some much-needed levity. While Hall didn’t win Blais’ Top Chef title, she did win fans hearts with her talent and her amusing take on kitchen drama — “There is man-law and there is chef-law.”

Ann Ward
“America’s Next Top Model”
Bullied in high school because of her looks, Ann didn’t have an ideal “model body” type — the winner of the series’ cycle 15 is too tall (6-foot-2) and very thin. That physique initially caused outcry over the glorification of anorexic models. Producers acted quickly to dispel the controversy, while awkward and shy Ann shot glorious photo after glorious photo, revealing a natural talent for the discipline as well as that prized “relatable” charisma. Fans loved her story, and when Vogue’s Andre Leon Tally went gaga over her early on, a humble star was born.

Brad Womack
“The Bachelor”
Just four years after he was deemed the most heartless “Bachelor” on primetime television, ABC — along with 30 reasonably normal female contestants — gave Brad Womack a second chance at love. Perhaps it was his ability to take fake fangs, inexplicable black eyes and embalming tables in stride that made him so endearing. Or perhaps it was his “Hooked on Phonics”-inspired dating manual and good looks? Whatever it was, there was something magnetic about this reality buffoon.

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