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Reality check

Achieving celebrity status is the new hallmark of the American dream

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"I have looked through the craft and programming categories and have not found his name or the title listed anywhere. According to my records, he did not win an Emmy," she says.

Asked about the award, Jaxson is unclear. "I just know what they told me," he says. "I really don't make a big deal about the award." The plaque, he says, was also lost in the fire.

This fall, Jaxson says he took a stab at radio stardom, doing spots on WZNY-FM in Augusta and its sister station in Louisiana, interviewing celebrities for their morning shows. But the program director for WZNY says that simply isn't true. He was interviewed on air one time after he cold-called the station and told them his story, something he's honed to an art form. Similar calls have led to profiles in local newspapers like the Marietta Daily Journal and INsite and the national magazine The Advocate.

When he first contacted Creative Loafing in October, Jaxson said he was filming a TV show pilot for Viacom's new gay network. Later, he pitched a fundraising event slated for early December at Marietta's Theatre in the Square with a guest appearance by Mariah Carey. Neither endeavor came to fruition.

But before you completely write off Jaxson as an opportunistic teen who stretches the truth for the benefit of his own reputation, consider his claims that can be proven.

For example, after meeting Tina Spence on the set of "TRL," he used the connection to talk Da Brat into coming to the backwater town of Helen, Ga., for a fundraising concert for AIDS education.

"My accent was bad then," he says while watching the tape of Da Brat rapping to a frantic crowd in Helen's A-Club. It's true, the boy on screen betrays his northeast Georgia roots with an audible twang. In person he has an accent that's harder to nail down, a little flat that doesn't show much emotion.

More proof of Jaxson's celebrity hobnobbing hangs on the wall of a spare bedroom in his house. Framed black-and-white glossies fill this none-too-subtle shrine to celebrities, with autographed shots of Missy Elliot, Da Brat, Mariah Carey, Carson Daly and O Town. Another large frame features photos Jaxson took at MTV's Video Music Awards.

To Jaxson, celebrity seems to be something you can catch if you just hang around with folks who already have it, like a cold. A section on his website called "Jon and other celebrities" shows the teen posed with Samantha Mumba, Mandy Moore, BBMak. Considering this penchant for pop stars, it's no surprise that he spent two days last month camped out on the street waiting to try out for "American Idol." He went with a friend and didn't intend to audition himself, he says, but he wound up performing for the judges anyway.

"I'd had like no sleep and I was all crappy looking, so I thought there's no way I'm going to make it."

But he did make it -- almost. More than 1,000 tried out, and Jaxson's charm boosted him to round two. "I guess I kind of have the look," he says, after making the first cut.

A couple of days later, Jaxson returned and sang his way through to the third round of auditions. He came out of the room crying, thinking, "I'm a winner. I made it."

Though he didn't make the final cut, Jaxson remains unfazed by this, just another small brush with fame.

"Honestly, I didn't think I would make it. I did this whole thing on a dare," he says. "This is the biggest shock of my life so far. It's odd because it's out of my realm."

He was disappointed, but sums up his feelings with his pet phrase: "It is what it is."

Citing Umberto Eco on realityblurred.com, Andy Dehnart notes that although reality shows are fake, they've become our reality. Shows like "The Real World" and "Survivor" have altered what it means to be a celebrity, he says, at least in the immediate sense.

"Even the most famous reality TV personalities of the past two years -- Richard Hatch, Darva Conger, etc. -- have faded from the cultural radar screen," he says. "Then again, so has Madonna, relative to her celebrity in the 1980s and 1990s. If anything, reality TV has just accelerated the process. You're unknown, you're famous, you show up on some crappy shows, you disappear."

When asked what it means to be a celebrity, Jaxson hesitates.

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