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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: Reality TV is savior of America's ecology of fame

Tamar Braxton was voted the unanimous winner of the second round of "Celebrity Big Brother."

Let's have none of the obvious grousing here that Tamar Braxton -- sister of singer Toni -- isn't a "celebrity" at all, but rather a person who does things publicly that other people actually become famous for doing.

If you go down the list of "Celebrity Big Brother" contestants just ended, you find few real "celebrities" we could all agree on. Comedian Tom Green was once married to unquestionably real celebrity Drew Barrymore. Ricky Williams, Lolo Jones and Ryan Lochte had brief, but real ascensions as athletes. Kato Kaelin became a household word for one of the all-time most dismal and invidious reasons for American fame ("houseguest of presumed double murderer" is about as unenviable as American renown has ever become). But let's quickly pass over those whose public lives just weren't recognizable at all.

We know who real "stars" are: Lady Gaga, Tom Brady, Jane Fonda, Stephen Colbert, Michelle Obama, Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Mick Jagger, George Clooney, etc. We know who real "celebrities" are, too.

There is, I submit, a hidden genius in reality TV calling people "stars" and "celebrities," who are nothing of the sort.

What reality TV has done in a wholesale way has been to become an indefatigable conservator in the ecology of American fame. If "waste not, want not" is one of the cardinal American credos, Reality TV has shown the way to avoid wasting everyone whose life once touched real "fame" even for a second. Even Kaelin.

There is, it seems, a reality TV show waiting for almost everyone. When Mark Burnett is involved in the wholesale fabrication of a person's "real" past fame, we Americans have even proved that we're capable of putting them in the White House.

This is assuredly cultural genius, of a sort, I say. Sinister, probably, but genius nevertheless.

We know some foods are even better as leftovers the next day or two days later -- homemade Lasagna, homemade soup, meat loaf, fried chicken, etc. What they lose in crispness, they gain in flavor.

So it is with fame. The newly renowned don't have nearly the flavor and satisfying comfort of truly great leftovers. (Meat loaf is delicious. Cold meat loaf in a sandwich is also delicious, as well as being an entirely different dish altogether.)

In the world of reality TV, of course, that isn't always true about the shows themselves.

"Old" reality TV can become soggy and unwatchable it seems to me. I haven't wanted anything to do with "Survivor" in years. I couldn't care less about what turns up when a new season begins Wednesday.

On the other hand, the crisp new Fox insanity "The Masked Singer" is one of the gloriously insane triumphs of contemporary television.

While visionary TV honchos have rightfully called the current wall to wall increase in TV production a reason for current "peak TV" in the medium's history, we're also learning a hugely important variation on Andy Warhol's Law. (To wit, "in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." I actually remember the '60s article in Esquire Magazine where Warhol's apothegm was first propounded.)

The variation of it is a variant of the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy. That is: once created, true fame can never be entirely destroyed.

Not as long as there are junk-brained geniuses fertile enough somewhere to create things like Fox's "The Masked Singer."

The show was invented in South Korea. "Celebrities" dress in outrageously elaborate costumes and sing current pop hits, mostly, although occasional oldies are permitted, too. A panel of equally B-and-C-list celebrities (Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger and Ken Jeong) compliment them and try to guess who they are beneath the absurdly elaborate mask.

It's all completely nutso.

Because reality TV fame can never be totally destroyed, the host of the show is Nick Cannon, who was, arguably, the best host Simon Cowell's "America's Got Talent" ever had.

Cannon is a grinning charmer whose undeniable and irreplaceable gift is that he seems genuinely glad to be on television. It's a little eccentricity, in Cannon's case, that makes him a happy presence on a completely lunatic show.

Cannon was replaced on "America's Got Talent" by successively lesser hosts -- Tyra Banks and the current overly enthusiastic Terry Crews. "AGT" is renowned for maintaining a cost-saving high turnover. Judges just announced to be replaced next season are Mel B. and Heidi Klum, who will be replaced by Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough. (Howie Mandel and Simon Cowell will remain. Anyone want to complain about sexism? Don't let me stop you.)

The "contestants" who have left this season's "Masked Singer" have been disguised as the Alien, the Unicorn, the Poodle, the Deer, the Pineapple and the Hippo. In other words, they've been, in order, La Toya Jackson, Ricki Lake, Tori Spelling, Margaret Cho, Terry Bradshaw, Tommy Chong and Antonio Brown. B and C-listers all.

Left to reveal themselves down the road are the Rabbit, the Bee, the Lion, the Monster and the Peacock.

In other words, real people turned into crazily disguised pieces on an outrageous board game.

If you have somehow been missing this show, I feel it is my duty to tell you that you're missing, on Wednesday nights, one of the truly great lunatic concoctions in the history of television.

And if, for some reason, Cannon decides to run for president in the year 2020, don't say I didn't warn you.

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