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Kathleen Monteleone on Turning Her Reality-Show Elimination Into the Movie American Reject



What really happens after a hopeful is kicked off a popular singing-competition series? Kathleen Monteleone knows firsthand—and turned her experience into a new movie, American Reject, now available on Amazon Prime Video. Here she explains why asking “What if?” is a dangerous path. 

I was just a year out of school, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to become a Broadway star. “What? Like it’s hard?” Thank you, Elle Woods.

At that time, auditions were huge cattle calls. I’d arrive at 5 a.m., wait in line to sign up at 7 a.m., wait around some more until my audition time at 1 p.m., sing 16 bars (a.k.a. 16 seconds) of a song for a table of people ready to go home, exit the room awkwardly, and head to Starbucks to buy myself a “treat” drink. A wonderful way to keep up your self-esteem! It was brutal. But I chalked it all up as the romantic journey toward my Broadway Dream. It was the only thing I wanted in life. (I was 23.) 

One audition in particular changed the trajectory of my life, but I didn’t realize it until 13 years later. 

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I attended the chorus call for a new revival of Grease on Broadway. I sang 16 bars of “Blue Moon,” exited, and got my Starbucks. (You know the drill.) I didn’t hear anything until a month later, when I received a call from a producer at the BBC, asking if I would audition for a new singing reality show searching for Sandy and Danny in Broadway’s new Grease. Wow. The 16 seconds finally paid off!

I auditioned and made it through all the rounds, landing one of the six spots competing for the role of Sandy. I packed my bags for L.A., moved into the reality-show mansion, and performed for 8 million Americans each week. I not only thought I had completely “made it” but that I was pretty much famous. I wish that was sarcasm. There wasn’t a bone in my body that didn’t think I wasn’t going to win—until I didn’t. 

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I was in the bottom two each week—an awesome part of the competition where contestants with the lowest votes had to sing for their life and were chosen to stay or go based on the judges’ votes. What started as an incredible career opportunity with immense exposure turned into me crying through “It’s Raining on Prom Night” and begging people to vote for me because “I wouldn’t let them down as Sandy.” I’m just so glad this was all before social media. 

When I was kicked off the show, I was nothing less than devastated. I was so naive, with a daydreamer’s perspective on how career building worked. You mean it doesn’t happen overnight, like advertised? What I thought was my big break—my path toward the big dream—just slipped through my fingers like sand. Gone. I went back to New York and the cattle calls, but this time around I carried the “what if” with me. What if I had won?

It was a dangerous thing. What seemed like a natural human instinct to think about what would have happened or could have happened not only catapulted me into further bitterness, but it robbed me of appreciating what was happening. The “what if” was not on my side, and was not interested in the life that was unfolding. The “what if” took me to places that did not exist, and made me feel that what I had would never be better than what I could have had. It was a liar. 

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