Reality ingenue

Lauren Conrad on MTV's The Hills
By ELLEE DEAN  |  August 13, 2007

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REAL LOVE: Conrad is just herself and that's why we can't stop watching her.

An internship at Teen Vogue, a job at Bolthouse Productions, fake breasts, fake noses, and a rumored purple engagement ring: the stars of MTV’s The Hills are not typical 20-somethings. But then, they’re not atypical, either. What is it about unhappy, affected, poor-little-rich girls? Or, what is it about MTV’s top-rated reality show The Hills, premiering its third season August 13th? Perhaps it’s just one girl.

Like her loathsome contemporaries Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, Hills star Lauren Conrad hasarrived with furrowed brow on the covers of tabloids and Teen Vogue. Her feud with Hills co-star and ex-best friend Heidi Montag is reminiscent of the Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie breakup: just last week, she vouchsafed “Her Side of the Story” to UsWeekly. Conrad has found her audience — but is it congruous with the slop-following crowd? Unlike Hilton or Richie, when the camera zooms in on Conrad’s heavily mascaraed eyes, I like to believe I see a glimpse of mind and heart.

The 21-year old, cat-eyed blonde began her career on MTV, vying for friends, boyfriends, and prom dates on Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County — the series that turned Beverly Hills 90210 and TheO.C. into reality TV. As a high schooler, Conrad exhibited a reserve and a notion of right and wrong that her classmates didn’t yet possess. (At least, if she ever did do anything with heartthrob Stephen Colletti while he had another girlfriend, she remained politely mum.) Charity runway shows and broken heartsprepared viewers for what would later become Conrad’s young adulthood in The Hills. Cue the black convertible driving from Laguna to L.A. to the tune of Natasha Beddingfield’s everygirl song “Unwritten.” Unlike other characters on Laguna (not to mention Paris, Lindsay, and Brit), Conrad had done nothing to embarrass herself. So began her own show.

Conrad’s adult role on The Hills, became less romanticthan life in Laguna, though. The Academy of Art University dropout morphed into a West Coast action hero: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising student by day, Teen Vogue intern by night. And underneath her signature greasy sweep of hair, her expression seemed curiously ambitious for a girl who could have easily decided she already had it all. Of the obstacles she faced in season one, none left viewers more aghast than her decision to forego the summer in Paris for the summer in Malibu with bad-boy boyfriend Jason Wahler. And for an eerily felt, downcast moment in Wahler’s arms — on the porch of the yet-empty beach rental — Conrad seemed, well, real.

Similarly, on the job at Teen Vogue, if Ashley Paige asks that a wick be dug out from a “magic candle,” Conrad dutifully pokes at the red wax. Suddenly she doesn’t seem so spoiled (though she is wearing a Marc Jacobs jumper). Rather, she is the intern experience in all its humbling unglory. Respect for her higher-ups makes Conrad almost role-model worthy. And even in the presence of nemesis/ex-roommate Heidi Montag (who’s supposedly launched a sex-tape smear against her former best friend), Conrad retains her poise.

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