Celebrities Aren’t Given a Guide Book: Interview with Sean Gehon
OVERSATURATED is a 6-part interview series by independent filmmaker, Ashley Good.
Through a series of interviews with individuals in front of, chasing, or inspired by the limelight, OVERSATURATED will explore a ménage of topics including: self-commodification, the chicken and the egg situation of the teenagers influencing celebrity culture and celebrity culture impacting teenagers, and the use of celebrity stories as a political distraction.
New interviews will be released once a week until the series is complete. Please sign up here to be notified when each part is released.
What would you do if your favourite TV network (or more realistically, streaming service) asked you to host a show? Let’s assume that, unless you’re a professional actor, or the child of a Dance Mom, you probably haven’t been preparing for said role... Look at what you’re wearing. Look at your body. Look at your social media presence. Are you ready to be thrust into the spotlight right now, for millions of people to judge? What would you do if you found yourself the face of a channel tomorrow?
Sean Gehon found himself suddenly famous when he landed a spot in Much Music’s VJ Search; a reality competition he entered entirely on whim.
Although Sean believes that his time on the reality show was mostly positive, the after affects of it have plagued him for years. While Sean did not win the VJ Search competition, he was immediately scouted by STAR! Canada to become their newest host. Unless most jobs though, there was no training — he was thrust back into the spotlight, but now with the added pressures of representing an entire network and speaking with celebrities.
I thought it that this interview with Sean Gehon was a very interesting follow-up to the interview with Brittany Flickinger because of similar situations that they faced. Even though the reality shows that thrust Sean and Brittany in the spotlight were quite different, and in different countries/television markets, they shared many similar experiences with the pressures of navigating life once the cameras have stopped filming.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Let’s start with the most cliché question ever. Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’ve always gone with the flow in my life, whatever happens, happens — that’s how I ended up on a reality show, how I wound up at Star… I just decide on an adventure. I moved out here to become a famous celebrity-slash-actor and so far that’s not working out, but it’s been fun. I work retail right now but I act on the side. I like to think of myself as an entertainer... I like to lie about my age. I hope that’s relevant to this situation… Let’s just come up with a fake one.
We’re all 26.
Alright, I like it. My birthday card from my mother this year says I’m 25, I was like, thanks for getting on board… *Laughs* … [Pretty much] I’m a big weirdo that loves entertainment and movies. I’m just a huge nerd.
It sounds like everything you do all comes back to being in the entertainment industry.
Yeah! I just remember growing up and being fascinated by the world of pop culture and fascinated by what makes someone a celebrity. I mean what really is the difference between a one hit wonder and someone who stands the test of time? I remember being OBSESSED with the Spice Girls. Everything about them. And now when I look back on that — and I still love them, don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing — but that was just such a flash in the pan! It was really like four years. In my childhood it seemed like eternity that would go on for ever. It was only four years of the Spice Girls! They didn’t stand this huge test of time or anything. So being fascinated with that [idea] is what got me into Much Music and that whole world. It was just this fascination of what Much Music was at the time. At the time it was the pop culture hub of Canada.
It was the thing to watch!
Right! And now it’s what, just some schlocky re-run program of shows from the States? Do they even play music anymore? Do they even have VJs? I don’t think so.
I saw that Ed the Sock had a Kickstarter to make sort of a new Much Music or something and it broke my heart.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ed the Sock — well not Ed “the Sock,” but he was there — but I was just astounded. That man is so smart and so quick. That was a true Canadian icon. But I guarantee if you go to any Canadian kid today and say “I met Ed the Sock” they’d be like “What the fuck are you talking about?” And he was like a huge part of Much Music’s [peak] culture! I don’t even know what Much Music is now.
So, take us back to 2006… Why did you decide to apply to the VJ Search?
[It’s] the most cliché reality show story of all time. So, my friend, she really wanted to get into journalism. She wanted to be a reporter on TV. I was a 19 kid who had no idea what they wanted to know with their life. I saw my best friend, and I was like, look. They’re going on tour for this Much Music thing. She used to host karaoke, so I was [all], you’re a host. You entertain people all of the time. All you have to do is get your ass up on the stage, tell a few jokes, who knows what will happen!
She ended up not going. … Me and [another] friend wound up going…
And I just went up. … I don’t even know what I said. I went up, I did two minutes of telling stand up, just bad jokes and being an idiot. [Afterwards] I had [my audition DVD] and just threw it in my closest like screw it, I’ll never need this thing again! That was summer. Then I got a call, it had to be after Christmas. Sometime Boxing Week. They were like “Hey it’s the Much Music VJ Search.” I was like what?! Okay! I was literally out of the shower — there was a long number on my phone, and I thought it was a telemarketer — and I was so mad, I was wet and naked. [After] I was like “Ha ha that’s so funny! They actually called me.” … I was [out shopping with friends] two weeks later and they called me again and I was like, “What is happening?! How is this happening?!” Then, at the time I was dating this guy and we were out at his place on a farm in the middle of fricking Saskatchewan and they called and were like “Your flight leaves on this date, are you coming?” And I was like, “I guess so?” And the rest was cheesy television history.
That’s the most Canadian reality show story of all time. You’re on a farm and everything…
I told my boyfriend that I was being interviewed for this thing (VJ Search), and I left the room (to take the phone call) and had to sit there and be quiet because they [said] you can’t tell anyone… My boyfriend knew, but it was crazy! Less than a week later I was on a plane to Toronto. They [said] “Oh we’ll meet you.” There was some weirdo [waiting] with a picture of my face! It was such a bizarre experience. I could have been getting kidnapped! In hindsight, that was a little murder-y. *Laughs* …
It is such a bizarre thing to do reality TV. You would watch people be one way when the camera was off, suddenly the cameras would be on, and they’d be acting a totally different way — zanier, and more in your face — thinking that’s what they had to do to get on the show. And I was just sitting there like you guys are idiots! And I swear, the reality TV people must have hated me because I every time someone was different I’d be like, “Why are you acting different now that the cameras are on? Why are you acting different? What is happening?!” *Laughs* I got pulled aside and told, “Sean, you’ve got to stop calling people out on camera. We can’t use any of this footage.”
I find it interesting that they didn’t actually tell you to play a character. Like with so many other reality shows — I mean maybe it’s gotten worse over the years — but it’s basically all scripted.
We weren’t the type of show where cameras were around 24/7. For the “candid” moments, they’d bring in the cameras and you’d all know that the cameras were there, then of course all of the antics would amp up and whatever, but no, I was never [coached]… Okay, I can think of two times that I was instructed to do something that was “scripty.” … In the second episode, Frank and Eric (two other contestants) were getting into a huge fight and Eric tried leave the room to like, cool it down and give everyone some space and they wouldn’t let Eric leave because they wanted the fight to happen… And I remember in the first episode when were in were the grocery store Eric and Larissa were fighting over seafood. He wanted to eat it but she was allergic. So Natalie and I were sent over to go “police” the situation. … So I was like “You guys are fighting over seafood? She’s allergic, don’t be an asshole.” … But like, I was the wrong person to send in because I’d [just say], “You’re being stupid, this is dumb.”
Hey sometimes people just need to be called out.
And see, that was my thing. I have no patience for people doing bullshit in the real world so being on a TV show, I get that that was a good call, because I was like “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you… Here we go, let’s do this!”
What did your friends think when you got on the show?
Well I couldn’t tell anyone. I just told them I was going up to Duck Lake [to help with family] because I was unemployed at the time. Which by the way, is the worst thing and more embarrassing thing to tell anyone [involved] in reality TV. Because [all of the other contestants] had a job. They were like, “So and so’s a student, so and so’s a whatever, Sean’s…. unemployed!” And when we filmed the opening, everyone got filmed doing their jobs. And they were like, well, you’re unemployed. I guess we’ll film you shopping. So my [scene] was me at the mall! … Rude! Every time, it was like Sean UNEMPLOYED! I was like, fuck all of you. *Laughs*
Shopping! And it’s like, with what money, you’re unemployed!
Exactly! *Laughs* But yeah, my friends didn’t know I was on until it was airing. And so when we were [down to] the Final Three, before Tim got voted back in, I think only the third episode was airing the week I was there? And so everybody, once they found out I was back home assumed that I was voted off and assumed I was a loser, and I was like “Fuck all of you, I’m in the finals.” *Laughs* I knew I was going to lose, but I was in the finals, respect me!
[People] all asked a million questions but I had signed a confidentiality agreement. It was a weird situation to be in. People were phoning my parents house, like “Oh my god, are you Sean’s mom? I love your son!” My friends started hating going out with me, because I would get mobbed everywhere. It sounds crazy to say now in my life when nobody knows who I am or gives a fuck who I am, but at a point in my life I couldn’t go out! … I wound up becoming a homebody so that I could spend time with my friends and not be the weird guy getting stared at all of the time.
That’s actually interesting, because I didn’t think that it would be like that in Canada. We have that rep of being more chill with celebrities and everything.
Well, Much Music’s [target] audience was more the tween age. It wasn’t mature adults being all “[Look at the] celebrity!” It was kids who voted for me on the show screaming for me. It didn’t really go away the whole time I was on television. …
When we were filming, we were in a bubble… If we went out, we had a babysitter with us. We didn’t really know what was going on out there. I remember being on the flight home and on the little TV in the plane had an ad for the next episode for the VJ search and there I was! I started laughing because I remember thinking “No one is watching this shit, how funny is this?” And there was a soccer team [behind me] … They were watching the same ad. And at the time [the show] had dyed my hair this disgusting colour of bleach blonde hell, ruined my hair, it was straw I hated it. Literally bleached it five times. My scalp was on fire. I hated that day.
They made you do that for the show?
Yeah, there was the makeover episode… They interview you before hand and they were like “What is the one thing you’d hate?” And I was like “I’d hate to be blonde.” So of course they did that for drama. Of course. Anyway, the soccer team started to be like “Oh my god, that’s you!” And freaking out over me. And I was like, holy crap! Are people watching this show, or are you just seeing me on TV right now and being like “Ha ha ha!” It was so weird.
Yeah, the blonde thing sounds like the earlier seasons of America’s Next Top Model when they’d shave the poor woman’s head because she was like “I love my hair!” and they would be all “Bitch, you’re bald now!”
Yeah, 100%. I’m not the type of person that gives a shit. One of my best friends was a hairdresser. I [thought], I’ll just go home and fix this. It’s no big deal. But I’m still mad to this day, because they were like “Sean, do blondes really have more fun?” and I was all, “Well if the VJ thing doesn’t work out, I can always go to law school…” And no one got my Legally Blonde joke. I was really mad about that. *Laughs*
What was the vibe of the competition on set? Were you all friends?
We were all forced to hang out. You got one ten-minute phone call twice a week. You had no real connection to the outside world. You kind of had to find your clique basically, within these ten people. … You worked so much, there wasn’t a lot of downtown. I remember when we were shooting an elimination until 3 in the morning and we had to leave for Edmonton at 6 in the morning. I was so exhausted. It’s no wonder I was so bitchy!
I have to tell you the greatest thing, and I think what people don’t understand about reality shows, at least the less scripted ones… When they sat me in front of that confessional camera for an interview with the producer. It was the best therapy! There was no one around, no one could hear you. You could just vent your soul to the camera! And of course at the time you’re not thinking, “This is going to air, everyone is going to hear what is coming out of my mouth…” It was a beautiful experience, because you’re frustrated. [Imagine] if you have a co-worker that frustrates you, guess what you live with them now. Guess what, they’re in your face all of the time. There’s no real break. So to just sit in front of that that camera, and just let your soul out and crush it, was very needed and very necessary.
After the show ended, because you were so honest on camera, did people get really weird around you? Did they act like they knew you already?
I wouldn’t say they felt like they knew me, but there was an expectation that they owned me. And that I HAD to stop and HAD to take those pictures. I remember going out to a club when I first moved to Toronto, and there was this girl who lost her shit over me. And I was like “Ha, girl, whatever…” And I walked away [from her] because I was leaving. And in my mind, it was joke… She ended up emailing the network about how I was such a bitch at this club and she couldn’t believe it, so I had to write her an apology email and say I was so sorry. … The entitlement of my time was this crazy thing that just made me question the whole fame thing. … I would be out on dates and people would mob me and it was so weird. And I would not get a second date. Although maybe that’s not why I wouldn’t get the second date, but it certainly wasn’t helping. *Laughs*
I think I already have the answer to this question, but do you think it would be much worse in the age of social media? Because this was before Twitter, before 24/7 everything…
It was [during] the peak of MySpace! … The final three challenge was to direct the music video for Lindsay Robbins. And the only way to get information on her was on MySpace, so I created [an account] on the show. Which, by the way, we had a babysitter the entire time to make sure we weren’t checking our email or Googling ourselves. … So I created an account. I came back after the show and had over 1000 MySpace friends. …. I can only imagine if that show was today… Having Twitter and Instagram, how much bigger it would have been…
Because this was pre-Instagram, there weren’t really “influencers” but do you think anyone signed up for the show to launch their career in another field?
Abso-fucking-lutely! There were some fame whores in that group. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of being famous as a kid had appeals, but I never thought that this show… It was a glorified job interview at the end of the day. … I knew I would lose…. Some flaming homosexual kid from Saskatchewan, I wasn’t going to win this show. For me the whole time it was just this cool experience to have a fun story. I was going to get my job back at Rogers Video and move on. But there were people in there… [One guy] was in there to get a career in the music industry. … One guy wanted to be a producer. … And maybe that was all smart, but I wasn’t in there to take advantage of anything, I was just having a good time. Maybe that was foolish and naïve of me. It’s not necessarily wrong to go on to make connections, but some people were there for different reasons.
Do you think homophobia impacted the end result?
I think Tim was cute, it was that age group… It was what they wanted. I don’t think my sexuality had much to do with it. And if it did, I wouldn’t have made the top for a second.
That’s reassuring to hear. I mean, it was only a decade ago, but a lot has changed since then. And there was a lot more bigotry and everything in Canada back in the 2000s, especially in small towns.
Absolutely. I think I proved some people wrong. … I mean, you could see the characters on the show. They were right there. And I was the gay guy. And that’s fine, I am a gay guy, they never instructed me to act or say anything… [Some product placement] but it wasn’t really that scripted.
You mentioned labels. Every show, whether it be reality or scripted, always has those archetypal characters. The joker, the pretty guy, the whore… Do you think people are creating these labels for themselves when they apply, or is it a top down thing?
I would truly say both. I think you have to present yourself in a way that is authentic to who you are, but you have to make sense to the world. And the world loves a label. I think of gender right now, and the whole gender spectrum we live in. I think that spectrum has always existed. It’s funny, all of those people that hate labels are labeling themselves even further. We’re breaking down male and female into everything in between, which has always existed. But we hate labels. But we need labels… … I think we all self-label. If you’re applying to a show, you can’t just be “Becky from Kentucky,” you have to be “Becky the slutty farm girl from Kentucky.” You have to make sense to the world, because if you don’t how can they place you?
So, you know how actors during awards season always look extra skinny and botox-y? As a red carpet correspondent [for STAR!] did you feel the same pressure?
It was definitely a culture shock for me. [With] every job I’ve ever had, your first day is training. I showed up to my first day at STAR! dressed super casually. They were like, “Did you bring a change of clothes, you’re on camera today.” And I was like “What, huh?” So I had to rifle through my wardrobe, I had to get a clothing sponsor. I had to do all of these crazy things I had never even thought about, because on the reality show we just did whatever. And that’s why [Star!] liked me, that’s why they hired me. I got the job offer the day after I lost, with no real explanation, no real understanding of what I would be doing. I know that sounds kind of ignorant, but I thought that there would be training. I didn’t know what I was doing from the reality show, I had no background in this. … I was never pressured by the network to get any work done, to lose any weight, nothing. … I mean, the pressure was there to figure out how to do my own make up, to figure out how to look ready. To start dressing and behaving a certain way was definitely there, because “You represent the network Sean, you’re not just Sean from Regina anymore, you’re Sean the face of STAR!” So, yeah, the plastic surgery no, but you could tell the women, some of them, were getting it. You could tell the pressure was on the women to lose weight.
It almost sounds like the corporate culture. Not even just that organization, everyone just behaving a certain way just because they thought they had to. Sort of a self-perpetuating thing.
It’s weird, being a television host, being an entertainment reporter, your job is to talk about celebrities and amp up that culture, while also sort of being a celebrity. It’s just this weird connection between celebrities have to be perfect so I have to be perfect because I am talking about celebrities. It’s definitely, I just think it’s an industry thing. But there are probably executives out there who are like if you want to host this show, drop 20 pounds. That wouldn’t shock me.
I mean, there is Harvey Weinstein…
Let’s be honest, there is a Harvey Weinstein in Canada, somewhere. There is this perception in the media right now that “We’re Canada and we’re above the racism! We’re not doing what the [USA] is doing…” No, the states [were] doing it all along. It’s not like Donald Trump suddenly made it legal to somehow be a racist again. It’s just, he’s up front about it and so the other racists are like if the President can, I can. And we’d be stupid to think our culture [doesn’t] at least on some levels have some similarities there.
You’re from a small town, right?
I grew up in a town called Pinawa, Manitoba.
I grew up in a small town in the interior of British Columbia. I know you haven’t heard of, so I feel you. *laughs*
You stick out like a sore thumb when you’re a weirdo in a small town. It’s hard enough in a big town. But in a small town, Jesus.
I don’t want to generalize, but there is much more bigotry in small towns than people in cities care to acknowledge.
Oh for sure.
Despite all of the shitty stuff and the pressure that you’ve dealt with, what made you want to stay involved in entertainment?
The human brain is a complex thing… I hated a lot of my time being famous. It robs you of a private life… To this day, I have difficulty being in large crowds if someone looks my way, I’m like ”Oh fuck do they recognize me?” There’s a bit of paranoia. But, selfishly, I love making people laugh. I love making people smile. I am a comedian, a jokester and an entertainer at heart, and I would take in a heart beat, all of the bad things again if it meant I could bring joy to many people.
It wasn’t great being famous. … It put a weird pressure on my parents because [strangers] would call them. It made people not want to hang out with me in public. … But then you’d meet those people that [would say], “You make me laugh… You helped me come out to my parents…” There are a lot of beautiful stories out there that came from that experience.
Do you have any advice to people that want to get involved in the entertainment industry to “be famous?”
Find a real reason to do it, because the famous part is the worst part.
Sean continues to build his career as an actor and entertainer having appeared in several commercials, and most notably appeared in Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black’s gay rights mini series WHEN WE RISE. Sean Gehon in on Instagram at @seangehon.