Essay: Three Colorado reality TV contestants become unlikely community leaders
“Duck Dynasty” personality Phil Robertson publicly rants against homosexuality and claims racism does not exist. Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, the child pageant star at the center of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” glorifies gluttony. (Thompson once stated, “I wish I had an extra finger, then I could grab more cheese balls.")
However, three reality TV stars who call Colorado home are turning stereotypes on their heads.
Mondo Guerra (“Project Runway” and “Project Runway: All Stars”), Nina Flowers (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) and Hosea Rosenberg (“Top Chef”) are contributing in a variety of invaluable ways to their local community.
While some reality TV show cast members spiral downwards following their 15 minutes of fame, these Coloradans demonstrate the positive impact television personalities can have off set.
Mondo Guerra: supporting the local fashion scene
Mondo Guerra, runner-up on season 8 of “Project Runway” and winner of the first season of “Project Runway: All Stars,” is back on the Lifetime Channel, serving as a mentor on the recently premiered Tim Gunn reality series “Under the Gunn” (Thursday at 8 p.m. MST).
However, this fashion designer’s success in Tinsel Town hasn’t disconnected him from his roots in Denver.
“My family is here -- has been for generations,” Guerra says. “Denver is definitely home for me. I'm trying to stay in Colorado as long as I can.”
Rarely do plastic clogs and high fashion fit together. But Guerra is collaborating with Crocs, the Niwot, Colorado based shoe manufacturer. “Crocs is a Colorado business and we bonded over our love of color, textures and prints,” Guerra says.
Besides his current role as a mentor on “Under the Gunn” and designer for Crocs and the upscale SEE Eyewear brand, Guerra is busy with a variety of Denver-centric projects such as the Denver Goodwill’s Good Exchange Fashion Show and Clothing Swap on Thursday, Feb. 6 at the EXDO Event Center in Denver.
“Over the years, Mondo has been so gracious lending his time to mentor students from Goodwill’s youth services programs that are interested in a career in the fashion industry,” Vanessa Clark, Goodwill Denver’s director of public relations, says. “He’s giving back to his local community one student at a time, and it’s really inspiring to be a part of.”
Nina Flowers: empowering the transgender community
Jorge Luis Flores Sánchez, better known by his drag name Nina Flowers, came in second on the first season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and was voted Miss Congeniality by the show’s fans, an award given to the kindest queen to grace the catwalk.
“After returning from the first season of “RuPaul's Drag Race,” Nina's Puerto Rican flare inspired a younger generation to don their heels and embrace the community,” Shanida Lawya, a Denver drag queen who performs in Denver’s longest running drag show at Hamburger Mary’s Bar & Grille, says of Flowers’ engagement effort within the Denver drag community.
“Since being back in her second home of Denver, Colorado, Nina has helped out in all of her possible ways to further our fight for equality. From embracing her fans to graciously being humbled by compliments, her love of music and performing has changed the way people now think and treat drag!”
Flowers’ impact has been so monumental that John Hickenlooper, then Denver Mayor, declared May 29 Nina Flowers Day in 2009 and awarded Flowers a key to the Mile High City.
Hosea Rosenberg: joining flood relief efforts
Following his win on the fifth season of “Top Chef,” New Mexico native Hosea Rosenberg returned to Boulder, where he spent his college years and served as head chef at Jax Fish House prior to the show.
“I love the Rockies and I love Boulder,” Rosenberg says. “The support I've received here is amazing. I've always loved cooking in the area, and the lifestyle the mountains afford, so I never really thought I needed to go anywhere. I grew up in New Mexico and like to stay close to my roots. And I'm a mountain boy at heart, so the city just doesn't fit me as well.”
Owner of Blackbelly Catering & Events and Blackbelly Farm in Boulder, Rosenberg plans to launch a restaurant, butcher shop and food truck as well as to expand his farm.
“I have always been a supporter of our local agriculture, and I have always been a proud member of the local restaurant community,” Rosenberg says. “I have been involved with a multitude of local charities for years. This newfound fame just allowed me to help shine a brighter light on our food scene, and to raise more money for the local charities.”
This past November, Rosenberg prepared a meal of porcini crusted beef strip loin, winter squash puree, roasted and shaved farm vegetables for the Honor Thy Farm Flood Relief Benefit hosted by Slow Food Boulder and Door to Door Organic.
“The meals says it all,” Tiffany Cooper, board member for Slow Food Boulder, says.
“Chef Hosea truly believes in the mission of Slow Food and cares deeply for the mission of ‘good, clean, fair food for all’. With his support in the kitchen, we raised over $7,000 that was put towards the efforts to help rebuild the ditch system in Boulder County that supplies water to all the farms for to water crops during the growing season.”
Coinciding with the theme “CU in Hollywood”, Rosenberg was named grand marshal of the University of Colorado’s 2009 homecoming parade.
“The committee felt that he was this amazing alum who lived right in our backyard and who had been recognized nationally as Top Chef that year,” Tori Peglar, assistant director of marketing and communications for the University of Colorado Boulder Alumni Association, says. “It was a no-brainer to ask him.”
For the most part, reality TV contestants return to their normal lives and continue to pursue their dreams once the cameras have stopped rolling.
However, some don’t seem to be able to leave the drama of reality TV behind. Tyra Sanchez (winner “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 2), Kenley Collins (runner-up “Project Runway” season 5) and Morgan Wilson (finalist “Top Chef: Just Desserts” season 1) have all been arrested since their 15 minutes of fame for crimes ranging from minor drug charges to possession of child pornography.
Unlike those who use reality TV as a platform to get attention for their bad behavior, Guerra, Flowers and Rosenberg turned on-camera opportunities into new possibilities for the Colorado community.
Alli Sands is a Denver native who has been contributing to various local media outlets for over a decade.
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