This week Lifetime's Project Runway will return to the little screen, and if the previous nine seasons are any indication, it will be choc-a-block with queer contestants, including Gunnar Deatherage, who was eliminated in the first episode last season and is (surprise!) back again. In fact, more and more reality shows are featuring LGBT contestants or cast mates including Jake Nodar, the gay horse trainer on Full Metal Jousting; Robear Chinosi the gay tattoo artist on NY Ink; and Dani Shay and Tyler Ford, the lesbian and transgender (respectively) musicians on The Glee Project. Here are a few reality shows with LGBT characters you won't want to miss.
I'M HAVING THEIR BABY
Show: I'm Having Their Baby
Premier date: Monday, July 23 at 11 p.m.
Why You Should Watch: You wouldn't think a show that follows would-be moms as they struggle with whether to place their babies for adoption would hold much for LGBT viewers but you're wrong. While we don't know yet if any of these women are bisexual or lesbian, we do know that in at least one of the episodes a same-sex couple are the adoptive parents. In episode 102 (which airs on July 30), we meet Amanda, a 28-year-old mother raising two boys, as well as her boyfriend's son from a previous relationship, in Chehalis, Wash. Amanda is already swamped with parenting duties and a tough economy, so she goes in search of adoptive parents and finds gay couple John and Doug. The cameras follow Amanda through the decision, pregnancy, birth, and eventual transfer of the baby, and we get to know the heartbreak Doug and John have already gone through in their quest for adoption. It's a heartbreaking but eventually uplifting story that many wannabe same-sex parents will identify with.CHEF WANTED WITH ANNE BURRELL
Show: Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell
Network: Food Network
Premier date: June 28, air Thursdays
Why You Should Watch: Think of this as the world's toughest job interview and LGBT job seekers are front and center -- as is recently out chef Anne Burrell (who didn't even shrug when cohort Ted Allen told the world she was in a relationship with another woman recently). On the show, when top restauranteurs need a new executive chef, Burrell scoures the U.S. for the top four candidates and she and the owner put each through a gauntlet of difficult challenges. After each challenge, one job seeker gets sent packing. The final two must then face off, by managing the restaurant as the executive chef for a night. It's nerve wracking and exhausting just watching (how do they do this without developing ulcers, one wonders) but for moments like when Tully Wilson, a gay chef from the South, manages to impress even hardcore foodies like Todd English -- landing the job of a lifetime -- it's so worth the TiVo space.
SMALL TOWN SECURITY
Show:Small Town Security
Premier date: Premiered July 15; airs on Sundays
Why You Should Watch: After a slew of hit dramas including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Killing, AMC has struck gold of a different kind with this oddly alluring new unscripted series. The show centers on quirky and outspoken Joan Koplan (a former actress and talk show host) and her small, family-owned private security company located in rural Georgia. Koplan's right-hand man is Lt. Dennis Croft, a fascinating man with a military background determined to turn JJK -- a small-town, family-run security and private investigation agency -- into an elite force. Croft, we learn halfway through the episode, is transgender, but just as Koplan is compelling, Croft is so fascinating that the fact he once inhabited a female body isn't nearly the most interesting thing about him. And Joan, and her little Chihuahua, are probably among the most indescribably fascinating characters on TV today.
THE BIG HOUSE
Show:The Big House
Premier date: Monday July 23
Why You Should Watch: Um, mobsters, gays, and women with big personalities to name just three reasons. This new reality series reunites Big Lou, an old school Philly mobster who's been in and out of prison for 25 years, with his kids -- daughter Michel (who, with her husband Jay, own one of West Hollywood's top gay bars), and gay son Louis -- and his ex-wife, Dotsie. All under one roof, in one big modern blended family. As Big Lou struggles to adapt to "straight life," cultures collide in more ways than one. Best sign of promise: the first episode, in which Big Lou threatens his son's gay on-again, off-again boyfriend to not hurt his son, telling him something to the effect of, "there isn't going to be a third time--you know what I mean?" Heck yeah, we do.
FOOD NETWORK STAR
Show:Food Network Star
Network: Food Network
Premier date: May, airs on Sundays
Why You Should Watch: You won't want to miss lesbian contestant Michele Ragussis who, as of press time, is still fighting it out with the three other remaining finalists to see whose pilot gets picked up by Food Network. A season of quirky coaches (Good Eats' Alton Brown, Grill It's Bobby Flay, and Everyday Italian's Giada De Laurentiis) and even quirkier contestants (like an adorkable hipster who I hope is gay) has made for memorable moments. But all eyes now are on 42-year-old spikey-haired Ragussis, who looks vaguely like a lesbian version of the show's season two winner Guy Fieri. She wants to explain New England fare to the masses; we want to listen. We'll see how America votes.
Network: ID (Investigation Discovery)
Premier date: June 15; airs on Fridays 9 p.m.
Why You Should Watch: Turns out, a show that promises to reveal the most intimate and forbidding stories from the darkest corners of a murderer's mind isn't just for straight women. One upcoming episode, "The Skull Collector" (which airs July 27) follows a young man who franticly tells police that he's escaped from the house of a torturous madman named Bob. Kansas City police storm the house and discover a horrifying torture chamber -- and soon investigators must find out where the owner of an oddities shop may have buried the bodies. (So sure, it's a gay serial killer episode, but heck, we can't all be model gays, right?)ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
Show: All The Right Moves
Premier date: July 31, 9 p.m./8C
Why You Should Watch: Famed gay choreographer Travis Wall's newest reality show follows the tight knit friendships of four successful male choreographers -- all roommates -- as they launch a new contemporary dance company called Shaping Sound. Wall, from So You Think You Can Dance and Step Up: Revolution is teamed with his lifelong friends Kyle Robinson (Dancing With the Stars), Nick Lazzarini (So You Think You Can Dance), and Teddy Forance (Dancing with the Stars). Like Push Girls and other recent shows, this is another reality series in which young attractive people turn their passions into paychecks, but having it set in the uber-competitive world of dance -- and having it produced by World of Wonder's Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey -- promise at least a few good gay episodes. Did I mention they're all pretty damn hot, too? So, there's also that.TOP CHEF MASTERS
Show: Top Chef Masters
Premier date: July 25
Why You Should Watch: Season four features three gay chefs and one gay judge, but truthfully, even without them this would be homodelicious. Top Chef Masters brings 12 award-winning chefs to Las Vegas to compete for $100,000 for the charity of their choice. In each episode the winners of every quick fire challenge will be awarded $5,000 while the victors of the elimination challenges will receive $10,000 for their designated charities. Het but hot celebrity chef Curtis Stone is back as series host and there are several discerning judges including James Oseland, the gay editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine. Perhaps most fascinating -- besides the weekly hour of food porn -- is the rotating cast of guest judges including many LGBT and ally folks like the Indigo Girls, burlesque star Dita Von Teese, The B-52's, Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, and bisexual porn maven Holly Madison. The chefs of note are Art Smith, executive chef and co-owner of LYFE Kitchen and Southern Art Restaurants (who is sexy and flirtatious in the interstitials of episode one -- let's hope that continues) and partners Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, owners of Arrows (who are both competing for LGBT charities).NY MED
Premier date: Premiered July 10; airs on Tuesdays at 10p.m./9C
Why You Should Watch: Fans of Dr. Oz will be thrilled to find him in episode one (doing his day job as a top heart surgeon), but this eight-part docu series is laudable because of more than the great Oz: it offers a rare, real glimpse inside a cutting edge hospital in the nation's most crowded city. The ER staff and their often-opinionated patients make for compelling and complicated viewing, and the all-too-common life and death situations can sometimes be heartbreaking. If episode one is any indication, LGBT people will just be part of the mix. In the debut, a gay man shows up at the ER for something routine but still terrifying: he had taken Cialis, the popular erectile dysfunction drug and had a 12-hour erection that just wouldn't go away.
MILLION DOLLAR NEIGHBORHOOD
Show: Million Dollar Neighborhood
Premier date: June 9, airs on Saturdays
Why You Should Watch: Gay financial expert Bruce Sellery new series is already one of the most popular programs on OWN Canada and with the economy still in the crapper, it's proving popular here, too. Sellery, the founder of Moolala, a personal finance training company with a mission to inspire people to get a handle on their money so they can live the life they want, is a former TV journalist and a diversity specialist, but it's his back-story (as a gay father with an adorable little girl named Abby, that he and his partner Dennis Garnhum adopted in 2007) and his tips for all sorts of families navigating financial issues that should attract LGBT viewers.
Show: Big Brother
Premier date: July 12; airs Sundays and Wednesdays
Why You Should Watch: Like that case of the clap that just won't go away, Big Brother has returned for it's umpteenth season of guilty pleasure viewing. But, this season introduces a cute lesbian housemate: Jenn Arroyo -- who already gained queer icon cred as bass player for the all-girl metal band, Kittie. Can this 37-year-old lesbian beat the usually sexist, ageist, and often lesbophobic BB house? Let's hope so. She's says if she wins BB, she's going to "head right back into the studio and record a full length album and then head out on the road with my band and tour. Start a music program to help underprivileged kids stay focused. Music has saved my life and I want to give back to what has been so good to me."