Reality TV revamps traditional makeover

And you thought the judges on "American Idol" were harsh.

The next great reality television show from FOX plans to put Simon Cowell & Co. to shame.

"The Swan," set to premiere April 7, follows 18 women through three months of physical, mental and emotional evaluation, culminating with a beauty pageant. The contestant who undergoes -- or perhaps more fittingly, survives -- the greatest transformation from "ugly duckling" to "the ultimate swan" will be crowned at the series' conclusion.

On the surface, the show may seem like another bland variation on ABC's twin reality monsters, "Extreme Makeover" and "Are You Hot?" But "The Swan" earns its creative stripes in cruelty by taking so-called constructive criticism to frank new lows.

Each "Swan" competitor is assigned a panel of specialists -- a coach, therapist, trainer, dentist and, yes, cosmetic surgeons (plural, nonetheless) -- to aid in what FOX calls an "incredible opportunity" for a "lifestyle makeover." Then, with said army of mouthy critics in tow, the women take part in an intensive boot camp of exercise, diet, therapy and inspiration in order to achieve their goals.

Goals? If free plastic surgery with a side of massive public humiliation is all you've ever dreamed of, well, congratulations.

As the show progresses, participants' work ethic, growth and achievement are judged, and -- get this -- "the final reveal at the end of each episode will be especially dramatic because it will be the first time that contestants will be permitted to see themselves in a mirror during the three-month process."

Nothing like having a little slice-'n-dice work done and not seeing the results until some smug Jeff Probst clone says it's OK to sneak a peek.

And lest you think "The Swan" might lack drama, contestants who fail to properly transform as the weeks go by will be sent packing. This is a competition, after all, not an outreach program for ogres.

It's important to keep in mind that women actually clamored to be on this show: No one was paid to appear or snatched off the street. FOX reports it received thousands of audition tapes after issuing a call for "ugly ducklings" last October.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, the producer responsible for both "American Idol" and "The Swan," recently offered her profound insight into the show's unique draw.

"We all know people who at some point in their lives get stuck in a bad spot. They have a goal and think, 'If only I could change what I don't like about myself, I would be able to fulfill my dreams,'" Frot-Coutaz said on realitytvworld.com.

If television reflects society's unfulfilled dreams, Ms. Frot-Coutaz (yes, this show was created by a woman), I would venture to say "The Swan" seems like a pretty good sign we should all avoid the mirror. It's beyond disappointing that so many women would want to subject themselves to widespread water-cooler ridicule in exchange for a what can only be loosely defined as a makeover.

MTV honchos, however, can't seem to ignore the current popularity of a conscience-unfriendly approach any more than FOX. The music channel's new series "I Want a Famous Face" recruits "regular people" to undergo plastic surgery in order to look like their favorite celebrity.

Recent episodes featured a 27-year-old Orlando woman who wanted breast implants to enhance her career as a passable Britney Spears impersonator, a pair of 20-year-old, acne-ridden twins who endured rhinoplasty and chin implants to look like Brad Pitt (but not at all, really) and a brave transsexual who ordered breast implants, cheek implants, an eyebrow lift and a lowered hairline to channel Jennifer Lopez. What, no bum lift?

MTV deserves minimal credit for inserting a cautionary tale of plastic surgery gone wrong into each episode, but really, it's all for naught. Following his operation, one of the 20-year-old Pitt twins gushed, "Plastic surgery gave me my life back."

Kid, you're 20 years old and you look more like a cross between androgynous fashionistas Joan Rivers and Steven Cojocaru than you do Brad Pitt's reflection in a muddy puddle.

Tell me, when exactly did your life get taken away?

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