Famous Latter-day Saints

18 Latter-day Saints on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

Members of the Church who have competed on reality TV shows know all too well how hard it can be to stay true to their faith under pressure. Of the many Latter-day Saints who have appeared on reality TV shows, here are a few of our favorite stories.

The Amazing Race

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

Competing on The Amazing Race was a dream come true for Connor O’Leary and his father, Dave. The  father-son team were strong competitors after they first beat Dave’s prostate cancer and Connor’s testicular cancer. “From the outset,” says Connor, “we wanted to race, hold our integrity, and show our true character, which is what you do in everyday life.” But theirs was a dream cut short. Like their Latter-day predecessors on the show (Lena and Kristy Jensen, who were eliminated early in Race 6 in a challenge that came down to luck), the O’Learys also went home early after Dave tore his Achilles tendon in Leg 2. “That,” Dave says, “at least mentally, put an end to the Amazing Race for us.”

Though the pair did continue for another two legs with Dave on crutches, they were forced to withdraw at the start of Leg 5 so that Dave could get surgery to repair the injury. It seemed their brief Amazing Race dream was over until about a year later, when the phone rang. Dave recalls, “A Race representative started asking me how my Achilles was and how my rehab went. I thought, ‘Boy, this is really nice! They care enough about me to check in and see how I’m doing!’” But the conversation took a turn. “Then the questions got a lot more specific, and the guy who I was speaking with said, ‘Do you have a sense of where this is going?’ And I said, ‘Yes, and we’re in!’”

Just like that, the father-son team was back on the show, one year older and wiser, too. And this time, they wouldn’t have to withdraw. This time, they would win leg after leg and prizes like trips around the world and a 2015 Mustang for each of them. And these two cancer survivors would even make it all the way to the end and claim the $1 million prize.

“For me,” shares Dave, “it was the most satisfying moment of my life to be able to be there with my son, recognizing what he has gone through from a health standpoint. To be on that mat was truly surreal.” Connor adds, “It was an amazing experience to be able to win with my dad and to be the first parent-child team to win was pretty special.”

In fact, in their record-setting run, in addition to being the first parent-child duo to win, the O’Learys also  became the first Utahan and Latter-day Saint winners. At age 59, Dave was also the oldest winner ever with Connor, age 22, tied for the youngest winner ever. They split the prize money from the show, which they plan to invest and donate to cancer research. Reflecting on their roller coaster experience, Dave reveals, “I never really believed we could get there. I didn’t! I thought, we’ll give it our best shot. We’ll have fun in the process.” He adds, “We recognize it’s a game. We recognize it’s not life. But it was a  pretty fun thing to do!”

Photo courtesy of CBS.

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

Left in a cold, remote wilderness with a handful of others, no food, and scant survival supplies, could you get out alive?

In NBC’s 2013 reality show Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls, Latter-day Saint father-son duo Jim and Austin Vach got the chance to find out for themselves. The show, hosted by renowned survivalist Bear Grylls, followed 10 teams of two people through an arduous group expedition, including arranged challenges, in the wilds of New Zealand.

For the Vachs, preparation was more than physical—it was spiritual. Austin shares, “One thing that my dad and I said going in was that we don’t want to do anything we’ll be embarrassed about.” Their determination to embody the values of the Church even in such extreme circumstances was noted by fans of the show, and Austin says he was praised for staying out of the drama and camp gossip.

The father-son duo excelled during their time in New Zealand, winning three weekly challenges, the most of any team. They advanced all the way to the final episode, eventually taking second place overall.

-->Read more about the Vachs' experience on Get Out Alive

Photo courtesy of the Vach family.

The Voice

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

It wasn’t until season six of NBC’s The Voice, which aired in early 2014, that an Latter-day Saint singer made a mark on the show. Madilyn Paige sang her heart out for the judges and was the first Latter-day Saint to make it all the way through to the playoff round before being eliminated.

Recalling her experience, she shares, “A lot of the contestants smoked and drank, and I decided not to participate in that. Also, I had to let the wardrobe people know my standards and what I would or would not wear. And luckily, they were really understanding, but I definitely had to set my boundaries.”



Madilyn Paige: Still Singing

After leaving The Voice, Latter-day Saint singer Madilyn Paige wasn't done singing--in fact, she's set to release an extended-play album in February, including a track about her time on The Voice and how she needed to decide what she was going to stand for. The CD, titled Madilyn Paige, will be available for purchase at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.

-->Download Madilyn's single, Irreplaceable, now


Her success was followed up later that same year in season seven of the show with the audition of Tanner Linford. This 17-year-old, coached by country music legend Blake Shelton, made it through to the knockout round before he was eliminated. Linford plans to serve a mission and is quoted as saying his time on The Voice has helped him prepare for that because he was able to answer other contestants’ questions about his faith.

Photo from LDS Living

American Idol

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

You can’t talk about Latter-day Saints on reality TV without mentioning American Idol and David Archuleta. However, the famed singer wasn’t the first Latter-day Saint to compete on the show. Carmen Rasmusen Herbet made it into the top six during the 2003 season of American Idol. During the show, her modest dress standards repeatedly put her at odds with the show’s wardrobe stylists. In fact, a stylist was quoted in Us magazine as saying, “She has a fantastic figure, so [her religious guidelines] are restricting.” But Carmen stood her ground every time—an impressive feat for a teen in a high-pressure showbiz environment. “I really think I found strength beyond my own,” Herbert says. “I wanted to do what was right. I wanted to dress modestly. I was taught to stay true to my values and stay true to myself—even after I went out into the world.”

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

Five seasons later in 2008, Latter-day Saint singing sensation David Archuleta was also criticized for his values, in particular, his humility—skeptics thought it was an act. Immediately, David’s friends came to his defense. “People just didn’t understand how David could be shocked when the judges complimented him,” says Dean Kaelin, David’s voice coach. “People thought, ‘How could he not know how good he was?’ Not only does David have a beautiful voice, he is just a good, good kid. That was a shock to America. People couldn’t accept that he was just a humble kid.”


David Archuleta: Still Making Headlines

After his success on American Idol, David Archuleta saw tremendous success both in his music career and out in the mission field.  In addition to his mission to Chile, Archuleta continues to stand for his beliefs and inspires through his music and his considerable charitable work.  

--> Order David Archuleta's most recent album, "No Matter How Far," from deseretbook.com today.


Though Archuleta lost to David Cook in the show’s finale, he’s gone on to have a successful singing career—and even put his work on hold to serve a two-year mission in Chile. He returned home with honor in March of 2014. Other members on the show include Latter-day Saint singer Brooke White who competed on the same season as Archuleta and endeared herself to the judges and fans when she explained that he’d never seen an R-rated movie or had a drink of alcohol. She was eliminated after making it to the top five.

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

And just last year, Latter-day Saint Kenzie Hall had a shot at performing on the show after being selected to advance out of 40,000 applicants. However, in a surprise twist, the show eliminated five of the 15 female contestants without ever allowing them to sing for America’s votes. Though disappointed, she told the Deseret News, “All along, I knew I had to rely on my Savior because He sees the bigger picture. And I had a good experience, I think, because I kept to my standards, and I’m proud of that.”

Photos courtesy of LDS Living; Deseret News. Left: Carmen Rasmusen Herbet. Right: Kenzie Hall. 

The Sing-off

From the Sing Off’s first season in 2009, BYU a cappella groups have been fundamental to the NBC show’s success and have inspired thousands with their talent, dedication, and unshakable faith in following their beliefs.

In 2009, Noteworthy—a nine-member women’s group from BYU—was asked by producers at NBC to become one of eight a cappella groups to perform on the show’s debut season. Noteworthy’s vocal talent amazed the producers and viewers alike, adding to the show’s popularity and forging the way for later BYU groups to compete in the show.

In 2011, another BYU group, Vocal Point, joined the show. But this time, the group was all male, and these men came to Los Angeles with a mission: to share the gospel and to share their stellar voices. Vocal Point refused to rehearse on Sundays and always attended sacrament meeting. And everyone was impressed that these men could juggle church, school, and performances without any coffee. They prayed together before every performance, and everyone could feel the difference—a difference that soon spread beyond the set.


Vocal Point: Still Harmonizing

There's nine men, no instrumentation, and no fooling around when it comes to the award-winning group, Vocal Point.  With over a half a dozen albums released since 2011, these talented musicians cover everything from inspirational hymns to pop music, and many of their music videos have received well over half a million views.

--> Check out Vocal Point's latest album, "Nonstop," at deseretbook.com.


Vocal Point’s courage to stand apart in their beliefs led to incredible missionary opportunities; a member from another group even began reading the Book of Mormon and investigating the Church. Of their powerful experiences and uplifting influence, tenor McKay Crockett says, “We just had to be  ourselves and the spirit of good and positive living that comes from Jesus Christ and what we are a part of really shines through.”

Photos from New York Times; BYU News


16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

In a game she describes as “somewhat diabolical,” Latter-day Saint Dawn Meehan showed she has what it takes to survive. Meehan was one of 18 competitors on Survivor: South Pacific, which aired on CBS in 2011. “I knew that as a Latter-day Saint this would be difficult; it’s nearly impossible to win Survivor and live each day like we do as Christians and Latter-day Saints.”

Indeed, Meehan first tried to play the game with fairness and faith but was quickly voted off the island. “From the minute I was eliminated from Survivor: South Pacific, I had dreams of returning to the game,” she says. “Literal dreams!”

Those dreams would prove almost prophetic when Meehan was granted a second “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to come back for a 2012 season of the show, Survivor Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites. This time, she vowed to play the game differently. She would play to win.

Though fans criticized her for the change in tactics, her shift in strategy worked. Meehan ended up taking second place overall, just like her Latter-day Saint predecessor, Neleh Dennis, who was on a 2002 season of the show.

Reflecting back, Meehan explains, “Being on Survivor and representing my family and my faith was a complicated, yet incredible, experience. I am far from perfect, but I hope people feel that I was able to represent some of the best traits we as Latter-day Saints exhibit.”

Dawn Meehan wears a swimsuit during her time on Survivor. Photo courtesy of Monty Brinton/CBS.

America's Got Talent

The Duttons, a family of lively country musicians originally from Missouri, were the first group of Latter-day Saints to appear on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Finishing among the top 10 in the second season of the show in 2007, they were also the first group that former judge Sharon Osbourne ever voted “yes” to.

Since then, more Latter-day Saints have made a debut on the America’s Got Talent stage for various impressive acts. The now-famous “dancing violinist” and YouTube star Lindsey Stirling made her debut on the show in 2010. Stirling, who was voted off the show in the quarterfinals, quickly turned any disappointment into determination to improve. She has since found phenomenal success thanks to YouTube and continues to thrive, giving sold-out shows around the world. She was invited back as a special musical guest during the 2014 season where she performed “Shatter Me,” a song from her recent album.


Lindsey Sterling: Still Creating

Lindsey Stirling is not only a brilliant violinist, she designs her own costumes and creates visually stunning music videos as well.  Since her time on the show, Stirling has released two albums, "Lindsey Sterling" and "Shatter Me," the second of which hit number 2 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. 

--> Watch Sterling's music video, "Shatter Me."


Two more Latter-day Saints made an appearance in the 2014 season, including the One Voice Children’s Choir with young Latter-day Saint Lexi Walker as the featured vocalist. Josh Wright, a concert pianist, literally added a splash of color to the ninth season with an impressive live version of his “exploding piano” video, which included paint and fire. Wright, who received four “yes” votes from judges during his audition, was not selected for the Top 48.

Reflecting on his experience on America’s Got Talent, Wright shares how his faith influences his performances: “Being on such a show, with all of the competitors being so nervous and so upset if they don’t move on, makes you realize how insignificant and silly the quest for fame is. It’s such an empty goal. I’m grateful for my family and my membership in the Church, for it allows me to see what truly matters in life—cultivating relationships and talents to edify as many people as possible.”


Josh Wright: Still Composing

Within three weeks of its release, Wright's debut album, "Josh Wright,"  topped the Classical Billboard charts in 2011.  After his colorful appearance on America's Got Talent, Josh Wright decided to concentrate less on competitions and get back to composing.  His latest album, "Josh Wright: My Favorite Things," blends classical music with current popular hits to create a one-of-a-kind style.

--> Check out Wright's lastest album at deseretbook.com.


Photos courtesy of Deseret News; Youtube

Project Runway

16 Mormons on Reality TV Who Stood for Their Standards

Though not a contestant on the show, Church member Tristen Seal was one of eight Project Runway fans to win a makeover on the hit fashion design competition—and she became a powerful example of modesty in the process.

Seal was paired with designer Justin LeBlanc. When he asked her what she would like in an outfit, she immediately requested a knee-length dress with a modest neckline and sleeves, explaining, “I am [Latter-day Saint], so modesty is important to me.”

Many designers would have balked at such “limitations,” but LeBlanc respectfully obliged. And instead of criticizing the design for not being “sexy” or “modern,” the judges loved the dress. Zac Posen, a well-known designer who serves as a judge on the show, praised, “I applaud you. You made a personal, beautiful black dress, and Tristen is glowing.”

-->Read more about Tristen's experience here

Photo from mylifetime.com
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