UPN releases 'Amish in the City' contestant details, screens premiere for TV critics group
By Wade Paulsen, 07/22/2004
Now that UPN secretly completed its controversial reality-documentary series Amish in the City, which will air beginning July 28, some details are finally reaching the public. This week, UPN announced personal details about the 11 young people (5 Amish, 6 not) chosen for the show and also screened the first episode during the Television Critics Association press tour.
Viacom co-COO Les Moonves, who is no stranger to controversy, told the critics that some politicians and some affiliates had asked to have previews of the show, but UPN had turned them all down. One of the people in this group was U.S. Rep Joe Pitts, who has campaigned against the show sight unseen and recently has been trying to organize an advertisers' boycott of it. "I don't want to be judged by a member of Congress before the show goes on the air," said Moonves.
We think Moonves displayed a degree of common sense rare in the TV industry by rejecting the request for previews, since most critics were unlikely to be mollified by even the most sensitive, well-made show. For example, Joseph Yoder, who bills himself as an Amish cultural historian, told the Associated Press that he was opposed to the "whole thing of televising the Amish and putting Amish people on TV" because "they're trying to stay separated from the world."
At least one of the Amish participants, who are identified by first name only, would disagree. Said Mose, the only one of the youths on rumspringa (the traditional Amish time for young people to experience the world before deciding to be baptised into the church) who had already been baptised, "I came into the show knowing there was going to be a lot of controversy" and that some of his "family and best friends were going to disapprove" of his participation. But "so many people are curious about the Amish way of life. I felt like I could be the person to teach Americans about how the Amish live."
By airing the show for the critics, Moonves and UPN entertainment president Dawn Ostroff managed to put most of the media-driven controversy behind them. According to USA Today, the critics "seemed unoffended" by the show. In fact, Mediaweek.com critic Marc Berman stated that "this 'fish out of water' concept is the best thing I have personally seen in reality in ages. Although Fox's The Simple Life tries to impersonate this concept, Amish in the City does so without even blinking an eye."
The five Amish roommates, all between ages 18 and 24, who will be living in the Hollywood Hills house during rumspringa are:
Occupation: Construction worker
Background: Jonas was raised in a strict Old Order manner in Iowa. Sharp, independent and confident, he enjoys riding horses, playing pool and reading. A self-described "bad boy," Jonas completed his traditional Amish education with 8th grade and was at the top of his class.
Occupation: Waitress and hotel maid
Background: One of 13 children, Miriam was brought up in a religious family on an 80-acre farm in Ohio, growing corn and raising animals. Her father is a bishop, her brother is a deacon and her uncle is a pastor of the church. She attended a traditional two-room school until 8th grade.
Occupation: Construction worker, former teacher
Background: Mose grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, working the fields and laboring in the family sawmill. Raised in a strict Old Order manner, he taught school in his community for three years. Intellectual, mature and artistic, he invents and constructs gadgets and toys in his spare time, often giving them as gifts to friends and family.
Occupation: Construction worker
Background: Randy is one of seven children raised on an 80-acre corn farm in Indiana. As with Amish custom, Randy grew up without electricity in his home or a car; instead, he customized his horse-drawn buggy. Well-mannered and easy-going, he is very athletic. He attended a two-room school through 8th grade and worked on his farm before moving into construction.
Occupation: Factory worker
Background: The oldest girl of 13 children, Ruth was raised on a farm in Ohio in an Old Order manner. Cute and energetic, she had numerous duties on the farm as well as inside the home. She was schooled through 8th grade and is eager to explore the world outside her community. Ruth loves music and playing the harmonica.
The six city roommates who share the house -- and who were not told ahead of time that their roommates would be Amish -- are:
Background: From Los Angeles, Ariel was raised vegan and still leads a strict vegan lifestyle. Vocal in her views, she asserts, "Everything that is bad in this world right now is directly related to meat, I think, because it creates this horrible anger in the body." She also practices yoga and meditation. Currently working at a raw food restaurant, she is contemplating attending college. Adventurous, she has traveled extensively through Costa Rica.
Hometown: From Las Vegas, Kevan recently graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in business. Now that college is over, he is trying to decide what his next step in life should be. He comes from a small family with a Persian-Muslim father and American-Presbyterian mother. Well-rounded and funny, he is a competitive swimmer and spends time teaching kids how to swim. He also recently started playing the guitar.
Occupation: Freelance fashion stylist
Hometown: A Chicago native, Meagan is funny, free-spirited and extremely ambitious. Currently pursuing a career in fashion in Los Angeles, she would like to one day own a chain of stores around the world that cater exclusively to celebrities. A cosmopolitan young woman, she sports a variety of piercings and tattoos and embraces city life.
Hometown: Hailing from Boston, Nick enjoys music, particularly the blues, and loves to play guitar. Confident, outspoken and unpredictable, he is a confident flirt who loves the nightlife. Nick has tackled numerous odd jobs, including pizza deliveryman and ice cream truck driver.
Occupation: Club promoter
Hometown: Originally from Hattiesburg, Miss., Reese is currently a club promoter in Hollywood. Colorful and extremely extroverted, Reese works most nights. He also volunteers his time with a program that introduces performing arts to mentally disabled individuals and is in the process of finishing his bachelor's degree in the arts.
Occupation: College student
Hometown: Raised primarily by her mother in Los Angeles, Whitney's positive outlook on life keeps her ambitious, levelheaded and excited about her future, despite the recent loss of her boyfriend in an unsolved drive-by shooting. She is ready for new experiences outside her inner-city community.
The special two-hour premiere, which airs Wednesday, July 28 from 8-10 PM ET/PT (the show will then be seen Wednesdays from 8-9 PM), is entitled "This is My Very First Time on an Escalator."
During the episode, the Amish begin to experience unfamiliar technologies, from the mundane (escalators, parking meters) to the advanced (airplanes), and new foods, including sushi and avocados. Together, all of the roommates visit scenic Los Angeles destinations, including an emotional first-time visit to the ocean for some of the Amish and a spectacular rooftop view of the downtown skyline. All of this causes at least one of the Amish to seek solace in reading the Bible after all of the new experiences, while vegan housemate Ariel forcefully tries to persuade others to her views (the Associated Press wrote that she "seems to be channeling Jessica Simpson").
The executive producers are Jon Kroll (Amazing Race, Big Brother) and Steven Cantor and Daniel Laikind (Devil's Playground, Family Bonds). Amish in the City is a production of New Line Television in association with Stick Figure Productions.
We doubt that people will think of the Amish as "stick figures" after seeing this show.