Thought-provoking and positive stories go a long way with audiences. That’s what this year’s Emmy nominated casting directors in outstanding casting for a reality program sought when casting their respective shows.
To get those positive stories, honesty and authenticity were key. Combined, these series helped to tell rich and diverse stories.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
How does the reigning champion of Reality TV, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” continue to raise the bar with each new season of the show?
“The Queens themselves continue to raise the bar,” the show’s casting director Goloka Bolte says.
The search for America’s drag superstar is a year-round process. Bolte explains, “We ‘formally’ cast the show for about eight to ten weeks, between when we announce casting and when the final tape submissions are due, but we keep an eye out for fresh talent everywhere we go. Throughout the year I’m bookmarking queens on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, catching drag shows, collecting recommendations and keeping a running list of who might be ready to apply next season.”
Casting the show takes a village, from RuPaul to the producers to the show’s casting directors Adam Cook and Michelle Redwine. All are actively involved in the process. It’s not just about the celebration of diversity and inclusivity. Notes Bolte, “We always want to cast queens who not only reflect the way the world actually looks, but also have a meaningful story to share.”
This past season, the show broke new ground for transgender visibility with a record-breaking five queens coming out as trans during the season. The queens who shared their vulnerability in the Werk Room throughout the season is something Bolte says she is so proud of.
“When the queens discuss social and personal experiences like coming out as trans, relationships with families and different upbringings while creating this beautiful sisterhood, they inspire a young generation of fans and show the importance of self-love and being their true authentic selves.”
Similarly, the casting team for “Top Chef” prides themselves on looking for chefs who have “different stories, journeys and origin stories,” says casting director Samantha Hanks.
Ron Mare is SVP of casting at Magical Elves, the company that oversees casting for the show. Mare admits that finding the next Top Chef gets harder each year, saying the level of talent he sees during the casting process is high with drive and passion for succeeding are the key motivators.
Mare says, “The chefs that are going on the show want to go on the show and compete. It’s not about necessarily coming on and winning a title. It’s about them being able to prove something to themselves.”
Casting Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” is also getting harder and harder for casting director Danielle Gervais. Each season, she asks herself, “What have we already done? What are the incredible stories that we’ve already told? And then, it’s ‘What haven’t we done and where haven’t we gone?’”
The show’s last season was set in Texas, and the upcoming season will be set in New Orleans. When it comes to finding the show’s next location to send the Fab Five, Gervais says, they look for a city that “feels rich in culture and diversity and probably needs the message.”
Gervais thinks the show’s success is based on audiences wanting a release and also finding familiarity in the stories. She says, “They can turn on the TV, watch a story and at the end of the day, you can laugh, cry and see from beginning to end this incredible journey of a fellow human being, who might not be just like you, but who you can appreciate what they’ve been through.”
“Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls”
Lizzo’s reality show about seeking dancers to join her on tour resonated with Television Academy voters, landing six nominations. Casting director Lynne Spillman always knew that the show was going to resonate. Aside from Lizzo being a hitmaker, Spillman says, “I loved meeting the girls, every interview I had was moving to me, but I never could imagine how good it was going to look all together on the stage with all those girls meeting and everyone being together with their stories.”
Jazzy Collins adds for her, it was about being able to celebrate plus-sized women from different backgrounds.
“Love On The Spectrum”
Laura Ritchie says the casting process for Netflix’s “Love on the Spectrum” is different from the traditional casting process because it’s a sensitive approach that takes time and care. Says Ritchie, “It’s very much a collaboration between the production team, everyone’s input is valued. The director and co-creator, Cian O’Clery, and I work closely on casting and development for over three months.”
Ritchie adds, that they never look for anyone to fit a particular mold when casting for the series.
“The autism spectrum is varying and complex. It’s important for people to understand that not one neurodiverse person is the same,” she says. “It’s such a treat to get to know them and you instantly know viewers will feel the same way about them. The most valuable attribute each participant shares is the ability to always remain unapologetically themselves.”