Alabama reality TV stars then and now: 20 of our favorites and what they’re up to these days

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Fame can be fleeting on reality TV, but people from Alabama have been making their marks in this entertainment genre for almost 30 years. Our very first reality star, Julie Oliver Gentry, appeared on MTV’s “The Real World” back in (gasp!) 1992. She was followed by hundreds of folks with […]

Fame can be fleeting on reality TV, but people from Alabama have been making their marks in this entertainment genre for almost 30 years.

Our very first reality star, Julie Oliver Gentry, appeared on MTV’s “The Real World” back in (gasp!) 1992. She was followed by hundreds of folks with ties to our state who’ve been featured on a multitude of shows.

What have they done on camera? Sing cover tunes. Dance with graceful abandon. Cook scrumptious meals. Design fabulous clothes. Search for romantic partners. Shed plenty of pounds. Party with wild fervor. Survive desert-island challenges. Leap from tall buildings. (Remember “Fear Factor”?) And more.

Here’s a look back at 20 of our favorite reality stars from Alabama, along with updates on their lives and careers.

Anthony L. Williams

Fashion designer Anthony L. Williams was a fan favorite on “Project Runway” in 2010. He ended up in fifth place during Season 7, but returned for “Project Runway All Stars.”(AP photo/Stephen Chernin)

When we watched him: “Project Runway,” 2010; “Project Runway All Stars,” 2012 and 2018.

Why we loved him: The flamboyant designer, a Birmingham native, became a fan favorite with his witty comments and snappy comebacks. He also created ladylike gowns and sculptural cocktail dresses that glowed with dignified elegance. Williams placed fifth on “Project Runway” in Season 7 and returned to the fold for two seasons of “All Stars.” He won the “All Stars” title in 2018, along with a $100,000 prize.

What he’s doing now: Williams, who lives in Atlanta, continues his fashion career with his own label, Anthony Elle. He offers fashion training via online courses in sewing, draping and fabric fundamentals. Williams also has recorded videos for fans on Cameo.

Ruben Studdard

Ruben Studdard, a Birmingham resident, won viewers’ hearts on “American Idol” in 2003. The R&B singer took the title that year, and was nicknamed “the Velvet Teddy Bear.”(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

When we watched him: “American Idol,” 2003; “The Biggest Loser,” 2013.

Why we loved him: Studdard helped to put Birmingham on the reality map, winning “American Idol” during its second season. For his smooth R&B vocals, he earned the nickname “Velvet Teddy Bear,” and bested Clay Aiken during a much-watched finale. Fans in his Studdard’s home state cheered, united and bursting with pride. A decade later, Studdard launched a personal health campaign on “The Biggest Loser,” shedding 119 pounds from his starting weight of 462 pounds.

What he’s doing now: Studdard’s most recent album, “Ruben Sings Luther,” was released in 2018. He continues to perform in concert, and sang at a memorial service for U.S. Rep John Lewis in 2020. Studdard maintains his ties to “Idol,” and offered advice to hopefuls during Zoom auditions for Season 20. He’s also been recording videos for fans on Cameo.

Ruben Studdard

Ruben Studdard sang at a memorial service for U.S. Rep. John Lewis at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma on July 25, 2020.(Desmond Wilson/ AL.com)

Riley Green

Riley Green, from Jacksonville, made his debut on “Redneck Island” in 2014. Two years later, he returned to win the competition and a $100,000 prize. Green had some help from his partner on the show, Becky Andrews.(CMT)

When we watched him: “Redneck Island,” 2014 and 2016.

Why we loved him: Mud wrestling! Beer chugging! Drunken hookups! Green, who’s from Jacksonville, never took himself too seriously on CMT’s hard-partying reality series. (Think “Survivor” soaked in a beer keg and you’ll have the general idea.) Green aced the competition during his second try in 2016, and won a $100,00 prize with his partner, Becky Andrews.

What he’s doing now: Green is a rising country star. He won the ACM Award for New Male Artist of the Year in 2020, and has been headlining dates at venues such as The Wharf in Orange Beach and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. Green’s debut album, “Different ‘Round Here,” was released in 2019. “Behind the Bar,” a seven-song EP, came out in July.

Sunday at the Faster Horses Festival 2021

Riley Green performed at the Faster Horses Festival at Michigan International Speedway on on Sunday, July 18, 2021. The three day country music festival featured Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean as the headliners.

Julie Oliver Gentry

Julie Oliver Gentry, a Birmingham native, was 19 when she appeared in the 1992 cast of “The Real World,” MTV’s pioneering reality series.(The Birmingham News file photo)

When we watched her: “The Real World: New York,” 1992.

Why we loved her: She’s the Alabama reality queen. The Birmingham native, then known as Julie Oliver, appeared on the very first season of MTV’s pioneering reality series. (The term “reality series” hasn’t even been coined yet.) She bravely allowed the cameras to follow her every move — well, nearly every move — as she settled into a Manhattan apartment with a motley group of roommates.

What she’s doing now: Gentry reunited with her former castmates for “The Real World Homecoming: New York,” a docuseries that began streaming in March on Paramount Plus. She’s the vice president of the College Choice Foundation, a nonprofit that helps high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Gentry also oversees a community garden in Birmingham. She’s married to Joshua Gentry, a Birmingham restaurateur and an operating partner for Little Donkey. The couple has two children, teens Noah and Phoebe.

RELATED: Julie Oliver Gentry of ‘Real World’ fame: ‘I don’t really love watching myself on TV’

"The Real World Homecoming: New York"

Julie Oliver Gentry is one of seven original cast members for “The Real World: New York.” It aired in 1992 on MTV. She returned to the New York City loft where the series originally filmed for a reunion docuseries, “The Real World Homecoming: New York.”(Courtesy of ViacomCBS)

Taylor Hicks

Taylor Hicks, from Hoover, earned fans and fame on “American Idol” in 2006. Hicks had a track record of performing in Birmingham nightclubs, but he graduated to a national audience when he won the Fox reality competition.(AL.com file photo/Tamika Moore)

When we watched him: “American Idol,” 2006; “State Plate,” 2016-2018.

Why we loved him: The gray-haired singer, a Birmingham native, charmed fans with his energetic performances, charismatic personality and shouts of “Soul Patrol!” Hicks won the “Idol” crown and became a hugely popular figure who exuded Alabama pride. A decade later, he served as host of “State Plate,” a food and travel series on INSP.

What he’s doing now: Hicks continues to record and perform. He’s also a partner in Saw’s Juke Joint, a barbecue restaurant in Birmingham. Hicks starred in a 2019 production of “Shenandoah” at the Serenbe Playhouse in Georgia, and appeared in an indie movie, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” that was released in January.

Hicks plans to release a new album, "Six Strings and Diamond Rings."

Taylor Hicks’s restaurant interests include co-ownership of Saw’s Juke Joint in Birmingham.Shelley Lehner photo courtesy Taylor Hicks

Heidi Elnora

Birmingham fashion designer Heidi Elnora was featured on TLC’s “Bride By Design” in 2014, outfitting women with their dream gowns.(TLC)

When we watched her: “Project Runway,” 2005; “Bride By Design,” 2014.

Why we loved her: The Birmingham fashionista got zapped on the first round of “Project Runway.” But she rebounded to become a successful designer who specializes in wedding gowns. She also scored her own series on TLC, “Bride By Design,” outfitting women with their dream gowns.

What she’s doing now: The designer continues to create dreamy dresses and gowns at her couture bridal boutique in Birmingham. She was the creative director of Birmingham Fashion Week for six years, and teaches master classes in bridal fashion. She’s married to Jeff Baker; the couple has three children.

Noah Galloway

Alabama Army veteran Noah Galloway earned fame on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2015, teaming with Sharna Burgess. They took third place for the season.(ABC/Adam Taylor)

When we watched him: “Dancing With the Stars,” 2015; “American Grit,” 2016.

Why we loved him: Galloway, an Army veteran and double amputee, inspired viewers with his grace, good humor and grit on “Dancing with the Stars.” Partnering with Sharna Burgess, the Birmingham-area resident earned the third-place spot in the competition, mastering difficult routines and displaying admirable strength. In the process, he became a real-deal American hero. One year after his stint on “Dancing,” Galloway served as a mentor on “American Grit,” a reality series that asked competitors to face daunting physical and mental challenges based on military training.

What he’s doing now: Galloway travels the country as a motivational speaker. He’s also a fitness enthusiast and the founder of the No Excuses Charitable Fund. Galloway is married to Amanda Such, a yoga and meditation teacher, and is a devoted father to his three children: Colston, Jack and Rian. He recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Although Galloway didn’t reach the summit — the altitude became too much for him — he expressed pride in tackling the challenge. He’s also recorded some videos for fans on Cameo, donating the money to charity.

Katherine Webb-McCarron

Katherine Webb-McCarron, a former Miss Alabama USA, tested her diving skills on “Splash,” a 2013 reality show on ABC.(ABC)

When we watched her: “Splash,” 2013.

Why we loved her: Oh, let us count the ways. The former Miss Alabama USA tested her athletic skills (and showed off her bikini body) on this celebrity diving competition. The Auburn University graduate became a favorite with viewers here, partly owing to her status as the girlfriend (now wife) of former Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron. She made her exit after four episodes, citing a back injury, but fans loved her for taking the plunge.

What she’s doing now: She’s a model, mom and self-taught artist who specializes in abstracts. Webb-McCarron and her husband (now a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons) have three sons: Tripp, Cash and Gunnar (born in April 2021). She keeps fans posted on their family via Instagram.

Katherine Webb-McCarron

A.J. McCarron, right, walks with his wife Katherine Webb-McCarron and their son Tripp after practice at an NFL training camp in 2018. At the time, McCarron was a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Bo Bice

Bo Bice, a Huntsville native, took second place on “American idol” in 2005. In the process, he became a fan favorite on the series.(Fox)

When we watched him: “American idol,” 2005.

Why we loved him: Bice, a Huntsville native, kept the “Idol” dynasty rolling, impressing the judges and pleasing viewers just two years after Ruben Studdard’s win. Laid-back and experienced, Bice stood out with his confident vocals, neo-hippie vibe and penchant for Southern rock. He took second place, ceding to Carrie Underwood but earning a devoted fan base.

What he’s doing now: Bice continues to write, record and perform at venues such as Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta. He keeps fans updated on his agenda via Instagram, and has been recording messages for admirers via Cameo. He toured as the lead singer of Blood, Sweat and Tears, 2013- 2018, and performed at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony and awards show in 2020. Bice lives in Georgia with his wife Caroline and their four children. He also records videos for fans on Cameo.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox, a Mobile native, made her reality TV debut in 2008 on VH1’s “I Want to Work for Diddy.”(VH1)

When we watched her: “I Want to Work for Diddy,” 2008; “TRANSform Me,” 2010.

Why we loved her: A transgender woman from Alabama competing on reality TV? That concept was a novel one in 2008, breaking new ground on a show similar to “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Just as important, it introduced us to this talented actress, a Mobile native who’d later earn fame on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” For the record, she placed eighth on “Diddy,” and moved on to another reality series, 2010′s “TRANSform Me.”

What she’s doing now: Cox, an actress and producer, remains a trailblazer and advocate for transgender people. She hosts a podcast, “The Laverne Cox Show,” that features “intimate conversations with guests who provoke thought and potentially new outlooks.” She’s also the new host of E!’s “Live from the Red Carpet.” Cox earned nominations for four Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on “Orange Is the New Black,” and won a Daytime Emmy as the executive producer of “The T Word.”

Laverne Cox

Mobile native Laverne Cox appeared on the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards broadcast on April 08, 2021. Cox is an actress, producer and transgender advocate.(The 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Ryan "Daddy" Richards

Ryan “Daddy” Richards, from Orange Beach, made mayhem on “Party Down South. He was in the middle of many boozy hijinks on the CMT series, 2014-2016.(Andy Batts/CMT)

When we watched him: “Party Down South,” 2014-2016.

Why we loved him: This unabashed boozehound from Orange Beach threw himself into the fray immediately, drinking, carousing and making mayhem. As AL.com reviewer Lawrence Specker put it, Richards is “a spark plug for much of the alcohol-fueled action. In a preview he’s heard declaring, ‘I’m wasted, Mattie’s slurrin’, Lyle’s pukin’, it’s the best night ever.’” Enough said.

What he’s doing now: Richards is the face of Daddy Hard, a company that sells beer funnels, camo “booty shorts,” bottle openers and more. He keeps fans updated on his party-hearty lifestyle via Instagram, and works as a professional scuba diver, doing maintenance and repairs on boats.

Roy Wood Jr.

Roy Wood Jr., who grew up in Birmingham, competed on “Last Comic Standing” in 2010.(AL.com file photo)

When we watched him: “Last Comic Standing,” 2010.

Why we loved him: The Birmingham native did himself proud on the show, and was widely expected to win. Although his standup routines raised the roof, Wood ended up in third place. The comedian would have the last laugh, building a career that now includes a correspondent’s gig on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

What he’s doing now: Wood continues to work as a standup comedian and correspondent on “The Daily Show.” He was featured in May on “Finding Your Roots,” a PBS documentary series that focuses on genealogy. Wood was executive producer for “The Neutral Ground,” a documentary about the removal of Confederate monuments. In 2019, he filmed the pilot for a TV series, “Jefferson County: Probation,” in Birmingham. Wood was co-writer and an executive producer for that project, as well. Wood has a key role in “Confess, Fletch,” the “Fletch” remake starring Jon Hamm. He’s been raising money for various charities, including https://tipyourwaitstaff.com, which supports the staffs of comedy clubs who’ve been out of work during the coronavirus pandemic, and Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR), a literacy and tutoring program for kids.

RELATED: ‘Finding Your Roots:’ Roy Wood Jr. hopes painful look at the past will pay off in his son’s future

Roy Wood Jr.

Roy Wood Jr. attended the “Neutral Ground” premiere during the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Pier 76 on June 19, 2021 in New York City.(Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald, an Opelika native, earned new fans during his 2011 stint on “American Idol.”(Fox)

When we watched him: “American Idol,” 2011.

Why we loved him: The Opelika native, a graduate of Huntsville High School, used his raspy voice and stage experience to impress judges and viewers. McDonald, a veteran of the Southeast nightclub scene, made the leap to national TV after fronting bands such as Hightide Blues and the Grand Magnolias. He finished in the top eight, and remained a fan favorite.

What he’s doing now: McDonald, who lives in Nashville, continues to write songs, record and perform. He has concerts booked in October on the West Coast, according to his Instagram page. McDonald also revealed on Instagram that he had proposed to singer-songwriter Leah Blevins. He’s been recording videos for fans on Cameo.

Sarah Simmons

Sarah Simmons, a Birmingham native, made top eight on “The Voice” in 2013.(Trae Patton/NBC)

When we watched her: “The Voice,” 2013.

Why we loved her: The Birmingham native wowed the show’s celebrity mentors and became an early front-runner with her cover of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.” Her sweetness, strength and trademark rasp also made her a favorite with viewers. She made the top eight on the NBC reality series, earning fans and fame along the way.

What she’s doing now: Simmons continues to work as a singer, songwriter, producer and vocal teacher. In 2018, she released a Christmas EP, “All is Bright.” Simmons lives in Memphis with her husband, Greg Langston, where they own and operate Langston Studios. Their first child, Anna, was born in January.

Steven "tWitch" Boss

Steven “tWitch” Boss auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2007 and 2008. He took second place in Season 4 and returned to the series as a mentor in 2015.(Screenshot, Fox/tWitch audition video)

When we watched him: “So You Think You Can Dance,” 2008.

Why we loved him: Mad skills. The hip-hop dancer from Montgomery came in second during Season 4, but made an indelible impression. He returned to the show several times as an All Star and served as a team mentor in 2015, once again displaying his energy, precision and edge.

What he’s doing now: tWitch has become a high-profile sidekick to TV’s Ellen DeGeneres, appearing on various shows in her entertainment empire. He been featured as DJ on “Ellen Show” since 2014 and was promoted to co-executive producer in August 2020. tWitch also serves as the announcer for “Ellen’s Game of Games.” Along with his wife, dancer Allison Holker, he hosts the series “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings.” The couple has three children: Weslie, Maddox and Zaia.

Stephen "tWitch" Boss

Stephen “tWitch” Boss presented the award for top Latin artist at the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Martie Duncan

Birmingham’s Martie Duncan made the final four on “Food Network Star” in 2012.(AL.com file photo/Beverly Taylor)

When we watched her: “Food Network Star,” 2012.

Why we loved her: Tasteful with ingredients, unflappable in the kitchen. The Birmingham party planner emerged as a strong candidate in the final four, filming the pilot for a potential series called “ With the Party.” She was gracious in defeat, praising winner Justin Warner, her teammate on the show.

What she’s doing now: Duncan continues her work as a cook, caterer and event planner. She’s the author of three cookbooks — “Alabama Cravings,” “Magic City Cravings” and “Birmingham’s Best Bites” — and hosts a podcast, “Allrecipes Homemade.” She competed on another Food Network series, “Guy’s Grocery Games,” in 2018.

Gina McDonald

Gina McDonald of Hoover shed 46 percent of her body weight on “The Biggest Loser” in 2014. For her efforts, the Hoover lawyer earned the at-home prize of $100,000.(NBC)

When we watched her: “The Biggest Loser,” 2014.

Why we loved her: The Hoover lawyer aced her battle of the bulge, losing 46 percent of her body weight. Although she didn’t win the grand prize, McDonald won the at-home prize of $100,000. “The most important thing is how I feel on the inside and how healthy I am now,” she said.

What she’s doing now: McDonald continues her legal work at Gina H. McDonald & Associates, specializing in bankruptcy. She’s also been a motivational speaker. (You can see her current photo at the law firm here.)

Yelawolf

Yelawolf, a rapper from Gadsden, had a brief stint on “The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott” in 2005.(UPN)

When we watched him: “The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott,” 2005.

Why we loved him: To be honest, we didn’t really love him on the show. Yelawolf was brash and outspoken during his brief stint on the UPN reality series, and not always respectful to Elliott. But his talent shone through. Yelawolf — born and raised in Gadsden as Michael Wayne Atha — was the third to be eliminated from a pool of 13 contestants. But viewers probably knew they’d see him again.

What he’s doing now: Yelawolf has earned fame as a rapper and songwriter, releasing four albums on Eminem’s Shady Records label, 2011-2019. His latest record, “Mud Mouth,” was released in spring 2021 on his indie label, Slumerican. (It’s also a clothing and lifestyle brand.) Yelawolf has released several singles, mixtapes and EPs. A 10-part documentary series, “Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life,” streamed on Crackle in 2020. He’s the founder of Creek Water Whiskey and, according to Instagram, has a rock album in the pipeline with Shooter Jennings.

Yelawolf

Yelawolf performed at the Rock On The Range Music Festival at Mapfre Stadium on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.(Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Tribble Reese

Tribble Reese, a former Birmingham resident and quarterback at Mountain Brook High School, appeared on two seasons of CMT’s “Sweet Home Alabama” in 2011.(CMT)

When we watched him: “Sweet Home Alabama,” 2011.

Why we loved him: Romance! If he couldn’t be “The Bachelor,” this was the next-best thing. Reese, a former Birmingham resident and quarterback at Mountain Brook High School, was the first season’s runner-up, rejected by Devin Grissom. Reese turned the tables and was courted by 22 women during Season 2, exuding hunky appeal.

What he’s doing now: Reese, who lives in Atlanta, is the owner of CryoEvolution, according to his LinkedIn profile. It’s an alternative wellness company that specializes in cryotherapy, or “the process of exposing the body to ultra-low temperatures (-200 to -250F) in a controlled environment for a limited amount of time.” Reese’s website, however, defines him a TV personality, model and host.

Tribble Reese

Tribble Reese in 2018, at the 10th Annual Shorty Awards at PlayStation Theater in New York City.(Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Shorty Awards)

Diana DeGarmo

Diana DeGarmo, a Birmingham native, competed on “American Idol” in 2004 and took second place, losing to Fantasia Barrino.(Fox)

When we watched her: “America’s Most Talented Kid,” 2003; “American Idol,” 2004; “Gone Country,” 2008.

Why we loved her: The Birmingham native earned fans with her big voice and perky personality, covering songs on “Idol” that ranged from “Turn the Beat Around” to “Because You Loved Me.” During her season on the Fox reality series, she acknowledged her Alabama roots but claimed Snellville, Georgia, as her hometown. DeGarmo made the finals, but was bested by a vocal powerhouse, Fantasia Barrino. Although DeGarmo came to national attention on “Idol,” she already had roots in reality TV as a 2003 finalist on NBC’s “America’s Most Talented Kid.” In 2008, she competed on CMT’s “Gone Country” and developed a professional relationship with producer John Rich.

What she’s doing now: DeGarmo has made a name for herself in musical theater, appearing in shows such as “Hair,” “9 to 5,” “Hairspray,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Always … Patsy Cline.” Her latest studio album, “Gemini,” was released in 2019. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Ace Young. (He’s a singer, actor and former “Idol” contestant.) In July, the two starred in “First Date,” an online version of the Broadway musical.

Diana DeGarmo

Diana DeGarmo and her husband, Ace Young, performed at the 88th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on December 01, 2019 in Hollywood, California.(John Wolfsohn/Getty Images)

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