There's no denying America's fascination with reality television.
But MTV's shows about teen pregnancy stand out from the crowd with actual teaching moments. Scores of viewers — from pimple-faced teens to middle-age dads — have tuned in to “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” a mini-documentary series that follows four high school girls (and their boyfriends) as they go from being flighty teens to parents.
One of those moms is Farrah Abraham, a Thomas Jefferson High School graduate in Council Bluffs. You might recognize her walking around the Old Market or driving down Interstate 480.
Cameras followed her for months, sometimes in the most intimate moments — from the beginning of labor to relationship struggles to a very public fight with her mom.
We spoke with Dina Sansing of Us Weekly magazine about the hit show “Teen Mom,” which gets more than 3 million viewers per episode, and why the celeb-news magazine chose Farrah as the subject of its lead cover story for the current issue.
Here's what she had to say:
Q. What's the show's attraction?
A. People can really relate to these girls. When you watch “The Hills,” another MTV reality show (about Hollywood's young socialite celebrities), it seemed very manufactured. When you watch this show, it feels really real, as if you're in their lives.
Q. People always wonder how staged reality shows really are.
A. Look at the finale of “The Hills.” They kind of joked about it when they pulled back and it was a set. It was very much a comment on what “The Hills” was and how staged it was.
Q. Why did Us Weekly decide to feature the teen moms as the cover piece?
A. Teen pregnancy and motherhood is a very real issue. It's not a new issue, but it's something people are more willing to speak about. I think that's what's interesting in the show. It's not preachy. It's real. It's certainly not condoning teen pregnancy in any way. But it's also saying that not everything is bad and there are moments in the show where they show happiness.
Q. Any moments in the show that stick out in your mind?
A. Some of the most touching moments are with Catelynn and Tyler. They made the extremely difficult decision to give up their child for adoption. And it hasn't been an easy road. They did some growth. They did what was the right thing for them, but it wasn't always the easiest decision. Seeing and looking at pictures of their child shows those moments. I think they're very happy photos, but it shows their sadness because their child is no longer with them.
Q. The show attracts 3 million viewers. Why?
A. It's really attracting a lot of different audiences. Teens are looking at it as their peers. But a mature audience has tuned in as well. I have a 1-year-old son and think if a 16-year-old can do it, I should be able to do it. It's interesting to see ... I'm so cautious with my child. And they're playing in the kitchen. There are people who don't even have children but watch for Amber and Gary and their crazy fights.
Q. Why did you select Farrah and Maci Bookout (another mother on the show) for the cover shot?
A. They were sort of the popular ones, the ones that resonated the most with our readers and the stories that we've been following closely. It's just been fun to watch.
Q. Any pivotal moment in this next season where we really see Farrah for who she is?
A. She's starting to address what happened to Sophia's dad (he was killed in a car wreck before Sophia was born). She talks about it a little bit in our story (in the magazine). It's obviously a huge part of her life. Farrah's reluctant to date because she had such a hard time. Watching that will be very emotional. Watching her grow up ... she's had trouble with her mom, so (she's) getting out on her own. Even without a kid that's hard for a 17- or 18-year-old.
Q. In the article, she tried to open up about mom. But she didn't really let readers in.
A. It does seem like they're doing better. In some ways it's a very raw situation. From her account, things are better with her and her mom. She's letting her mom see Sophia. She called her the best babysitter she could find. She thinks it's important for her to have her mom be a part of Sophia's life. (In January, Farrah and her mother, Debra Danielson, were involved in a physical altercation.)
Q. How were Farrah and her daughter at the photo shoot?
A. They're really cute together. She's really good with Sophia. They're really happy.
Q. Is she going to school now?
A. She's finishing up culinary school. Once she gets an associate degree in November she wants to move to Chicago or San Jose to open a fusion restaurant.
Q. Where was the photo shoot?
A. In Omaha. I'm not certain where exactly.
Q. Tell me about the clothes she wore.
A. The clothes were provided. On the cover she's wearing a J. Crew top. Inside, she's wearing a Top Shelf blouse. Sophia wears a lot of Old Navy and Baby Gap — stuff that anybody can find, not just a Hollywood type.
Q. How do you think this next season will play out?
A. It remains to be seen. There's a lot of drama, and as long as the drama continues we'll want to keep watching. I think we watch for both the good and bad moments. The struggles are certainly interesting to viewers. But ultimately I think they want all the girls and kids to be happy. As a mother and anyone who's watched a teen mom, there's a lot to go through. Certainly, enough to keep (the show) going.