As the co-captain of the North Texas Dancers, Melissa Rycroft ('05), a marketing major, participated in many events for UNT. Now she's danced her way to winning the all-stars edition of ABC's Dancing With the Stars.
Rycroft, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, appeared on The Bachelor in 2009 and placed third on Dancing With the Stars that same year. She returned for the all-stars edition this fall, competing against past winners such as Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith.
"It was incredible!" says Rycroft, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "I really never expected to win. There were so many powerhouses, that I underestimated what (partner) Tony Dovolani and I were capable of doing. It was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life — it felt like everything was going in slow motion. Even thinking about it brings a smile to my face!"
Since her first reality show appearances in 2009, Rycroft has appeared as a correspondent on Good Morning America; been the focus of her own CMT reality show, Melissa & Tye, with her husband, Tye Strickland; and wrote a book, My Reality, which was released this year.
As part of the North Texas Dancers, Rycroft had many memorable experiences, including going to the New Orleans Bowl. Her time as co-captain taught her a lot about being a leader.
"I grew a lot as an individual while dancing in college," she says. "As the leaders, we were responsible for everything — music, routines, choreography, costumes — and it gave me an outlet to channel my creativity. Honestly, I never thought I would continue dancing after North Texas Dancers, but I've also learned to 'never say never' in this world!"
Rycroft is among several UNT alumni who have made a splash on reality TV recently.
- Joe Kirkland, who attended UNT from 2005 to 2008, made it to the knockout round of the NBC singing competition show The Voice before he was eliminated.
- Vanessa Macias (ʼ01) made the finals of Season 20 of The Amazing Race on CBS.
- The HGTV program Living Abroad, which profiles Americans living internationally, featured Jeremy Wilson ('11 M.M.) when he worked as a trombonist with the prestigious Vienna Philharmonic.
- Nick Marino ('10) appeared on the dating reality show 3.
- Alan Palomo, the lead singer of Neon Indian who attended from 2006 to 2008, visited an Austin bar with host Anthony Bourdain on The Travel Channel's No Reservations.
- Sisters Van ('05) and Ngoc Nguyen ('09), who own N.V. Cupcakes in Corinth and Denton, participated in The Food Network's Cupcake Wars.
- Jonathan and Thomas Tapp, who attended from 2008 to 2009, told about their lives as identical twins on the TLC show Twinvention.
And Mark Cornelison (ʼ92) lost 101 pounds on NBC's The Biggest Loser — but he also gained a new perspective on life. He and his wife, Cathy Cornelison (ʼ91), founded SweatCor, a program that promotes health and fitness through his church in The Woodlands, where he serves as a youth pastor.
"I am not the same person I was before," he says. "It was more than just a physical transformation. It was largely spiritual and mental as well. I am completely refocused as to what really matters. It's become more than just making healthy choices and exercising. This change has become life for me …and I love it."
Learn more about UNT alumni reality stars:
- Dancing With the Stars winner Melissa Rycroft keeps active Facebook and Twitter pages, as does The Biggest Loser contestant Mark Cornelison, Facebook and Twitter.
- Find out more about Joe Kirkland on The Voice's website and follow him on Twitter.
- Watch Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo show Anthony Bourdain around Austin on No Reservations.
- Van and Ngoc Nguyen, who appeared on Cupcake Wars, have a website for their bakery, NV Cupcakes.
- Jeremy Wilson, who has accepted a position as associate professor of trombone at Vanderbilt University, described his experiences when he lived in Vienna on his blog.
- Learn more about Vanessa Macias' journey on The Amazing Race.
- Jessie Pavelka, Lifetime network's healthy living expert on DietTribe, started his journey as a trainer while he was a UNT student.
- UNT alumna Shirin Askari pitted her designing skills against 15 others on hit show Project Runway.
- Hospitality management grad Blythe Beck was at the center of a hit Oxygen network reality series, The Naughty Kitchen with Chef Blythe Beck.