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Washed up?

Mark de la Vina San Jose Mercury News

Vanilla Ice is cool again. And he has company. The former pop star whose career was reduced to a punch line after the public tired of him and his 1990 hit “Ice, Ice Baby” has found renewed fame along with other has-been artists, thanks to reality TV.

Joining all those aspiring apprentices, survivors and top models, four new reality series featuring yesterday’s pop stars will made their debuts this summer, beginning Thursday with the premiere of “Being Bobby Brown.”

Other shows starring Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and the surviving members of Australian ‘80s hit-makers INXS and the hip-hop trio TLC will follow.

But it’s the latest reality rave, “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” that has given Vanilla Ice the lift he has sought for more than a decade.

On a recent episode of NBC’s weekly battle of over-the-hill music acts, he received 42 percent of the online votes and more than 200,000 hits to his Web site ( www.vanillaice.com), which crashed as a result of the renewed attention.

He also credits the show for helping to generate 150,000 pre-orders of his latest album, “Platinum Underground,” scheduled for release Aug. 2.

“Exposure is the No. 1 way to get your name out there and for people to recognize you,” Ice said during a break in a Dallas studio from recording the song that helped him win, a cover of “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “Reality TV is just another way to do it.”

“Hit Me Baby One More Time” (9 p.m. Thursdays) has become such a hit, NBC has ordered two additional episodes. Vanilla Ice will face off against fellow winners Arrested Development and Irene Cara in this week’s episode.

Prior to the advent of reality shows, semi-retired pop stars didn’t have many options: They could embark on a nostalgia tour, play the state-fair circuit or hope that an old hit was picked up for a TV commercial. Reclaiming their sanctified place in the spotlight was about as likely as a Beatles reunion.

Older music acts are now beginning to figure out what younger artists have long realized: Added attention can only help a career and work as a springboard for other opportunities, such as acting jobs, endorsement deals and developing their own clothing and makeup lines, said Karla Hidalgo, executive producer of several VH1 retrospective series, including “I Love the ‘90s.”

“Reality TV is part of the business now,” she says. “It’s also multimedia because you can now play your music on the show, have them log onto yours or the show’s Web site, and have them download your music. It’s no longer just about getting a demo to a record producer or radio disc jockey to see if they play it.”

And it’s more than just nostalgia or curiosity that has attracted viewers. Many of these music acts are gobbling a hefty slice of humble pie by appearing on these programs, says senior associate editor Dave Itzkoff of Spin magazine.

“By merely participating in something like this, the performer is passively, if not explicitly, acknowledging that they are washed up, that their best days are behind them,” Itzkoff says.

“It’s a way for them to be brought back down from the stratosphere. If you can’t be a celebrity yourself, you can at least make them feel like a celebrity who is not famous anymore.”

Ozzy Osbourne and his family are perhaps the best case study for music artists seeking a career revival through reality TV. The MTV series that chronicled the epithet-spewing clan of the former Black Sabbath lead singer starting in 2002 won over new fans while helping make wife Sharon a talk-show host and launching the TV and music career of daughter Kelly.

Jessica Simpson, whose fame once paled in comparison to that of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, parlayed the attention from her show “Newlyweds” into a budding movie career that kicks off with the big-screen adaptation of TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard,” coming to theaters Aug. 5.

Even the recently acquitted Michael Jackson, whose career seems irreparably damaged by his molestation trial, is the subject of a proposed six-episode reality series that examines how he, parents Joe and Katherine, and his eight siblings dealt with his November 2003 indictment and the media frenzy that followed, according to the Hollywood Reporter

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