LOS ANGELES — Pioneered by shows like “American Idol,” the reality competition genre follows a well-worn blueprint: Find amateur performers, put them on camera, have an esteemed panel scrutinize their performances and see if they sink or swim.
The new internet series “Sex Factor,” which premieres Thursday on the adult streaming video site xHamster, is another show in the now-venerable genre featuring a group of reasonably attractive young people living in a house with the unstated purpose of getting them to cavort and mingle. But in this case, they’re being judged on exactly how well they do that mingling — and if it’s good enough to get paid for.
On the show (warning: it’s not safe for work), eight men and eight women with adult film careers that ranged from limited to nonexistent — former financial analyst Veronica Vain had the longest resume of all the contestants — went through a series of explicit sexual challenges, judged by actual porn stars, to determine if they had the skills to make it in the industry. After all, porn is the only industry where sleeping your way to a job doubles as the most meritocratic application process.
Keiran Lee, a veteran adult performer and one of the show’s judges, told International Business Times that he had plenty of initial concerns about the male contestants and doubted that any of them had the goods.
“They were like little frightened kittens,” he said. “Some of these guys couldn’t even raise a hand, let alone a hard-on.”
He wasn’t blown away by the women, either, saying that only Blair Williams, a 21-year-old college student, really had everything he looked for in a porn star. Williams, who had never filmed a sex scene before the show, told IBT she was emotionally ready to let loose when she signed up for the show, but the first time she had to have sex in front of the judges was still nerve-wracking.
“I was really nervous,” Williams said. “It was with a guy I had never met before. But it was a time in my life when I hadn’t had a lot of sex and I was more sexually hungry. It was an exciting thing to do in front of people.”
But soon, as in any job, the initial excitement and adrenaline fades, and best practices and good work habits make the difference. Williams said the thing people not in the industry underestimate most is the physical toll it takes. Contestant Buddy Hollywood, 25, told IBT that he went from a skinny guy who didn’t exactly open up the gym to someone who makes sure to eat a healthy breakfast and run two miles to get his body ready to shoot a scene.
“I’ve dug ditches in 120-degree heat,” he said. “And porn is probably harder than that. It’s a very difficult job, mentally and physically.” Hitting the gym is important, but being a workout warrior alone is not enough. Pro sports is littered with physical specimens who dominate practice and disappear during big games, and that same "je ne sais quoi" applies to pro sex, Lee said, using a French term meaning a pleasant quality that his hard to describe.
“You’ve got to kind of have a little confidence — a little arrogance with it,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to block out everything that’s around you. You could see that at the start with the contestants on the set. All they were aware of was the judges judging them, instead of focusing on the female talent in front of them.”
Hollywood and some of the others eventually figured it out. In the past nine months, he’s shot 90 scenes. He actually credited Lee with giving him a key pointer that, he said, really helped him put it all together.
“Focus on the girl, nothing else, and go to your happy place,” he said.
Williams said she’s paid off all her college loans and is now working closely with Alexis Texas, currently one of the biggest stars in the industry.
“I’m living the dream,” she said. “I’m getting to have amazing sex with men and women and get paid for it. I feel blessed.”
While the show’s series of sex competitions helped the contestants hone their skills and pick up tips, Lee said if there’s one thing aspiring porn stars need to focus on to make it in the industry, it’s simply to have the attitude and work habits of a professional. At its core, the job is really about performing a physical feat in order to avoid wasting a bunch of other people’s time and money. Getting good sleep and eating right certainly helps, but there’s a lot you can’t teach or achieve through hard work. To a large extent, stars are still born, not made.
“There’s performers and there’s actual performers,” Hollywood said. “Who are reliable 95 percent of the time. We’re not robots and we all have bad days, but if you have too many…”
Its first season alums are still learning the ropes, but Lee said “Sex Factor” is a rare opportunity for new male talent to get the visibility and tape they need to break into the industry. And another advantage: They can get in the game without having to come up through the minor leagues, or so he says.
“When I got into the industry I was working with 40- and 50-year-old women and learning the hard way,” Lee said. “These guys get beautiful women right away.”