My Super Sweet 16 – the show that followed entitled teens on a mission to create a birthday bash that could rival a Trump casino for egregious displays of wealth and tackiness – last aired almost a decade ago, but a brand new season is set to air next month.
When the show was in its peak there was both an American and a UK version. On the US version, teens spent weeks throwing tantrums and practising sexually-inappropriate dance routines to perform on the night. Then, on the night, they'd get huge stars to perform at the party or be their "date" (Rihanna, Kanye West and Nicki Minaj have all been booked for parties on the show), and round it all off by being gifted a sports car worth more than Scotland.
In comparison, the British version was basically rubbish. However many times MTV tried to get a kid to drawl "This is gonna be the best party evuuur," they could not make places like Litchfield look like places like Los Angeles. In America, wealth is always something to brag about, even if you're the President, but in the UK, if you're genuinely minted, you're also likely to have learned an aristocratic etiquette that will stifle any urge you have to appear on television at a Disney-themed party that you paid for with your own money.
This meant that the kind of people who did appear on the show had loads of money, but not enough to buy out a Hilton hotel for the night, or to pay Beyoncé to rock up for a sing-song. Plus, a lot of them weren't actually turning 16, but somewhere between the ages of 13 and 18. The UK show tended to offer disappointment rather than opulence: spotty teens swinging around offy bags full of WKD bottles to "Heartbroken" in a decked-out under-18s venue.
But what's it like to be publicly-shamed on a reality TV programme when you're still basically a child? I asked some of the poor souls who appeared on the show to share their stories.
Andre Spence was 18 when he appeared on the show for a party which saw him hand out invites on an army tank. He took glamour model Danielle Lloyd as his date, who was likely there as part of her PR rehabilitation after being accused of making racist remarks on Celebrity Big Brother.
Andre danced with some dwarves dressed as angels; did an ill-considered DJ set, in which he played the entirety of "Dr Beat"; and was given a Rolex and a BMW by his mum. It was one of the better episodes of the series, purely because of how much of a dick Andre appeared to be to both his doting mum and the venue manager. But Andre, now 27 and the owner of his own social engagement company, tells me over the phone that he didn't have a good night.
"The thing is, that was my third 18th birthday. I had one in January, one in April and one in September. For that one, there was a lot of pressure, just because of filming and having to deliver," he says. "Basically, on the day of my party, I was going to run to Paris – I was going to go to France because there was so much pressure."
At one point, Andre asked the venue manager, Nathan, who he perpetually wound up, to get sheep for his party "because they're white", and to then spray them with perfume so they didn't smell. Andre's still convinced he was chosen to be part of the show for his outlandishness rather than for how much money he had to splurge.
He says, "To be honest, it wasn't that I really wanted sheep, it was more because you're just in that element, so there's things you've got to say." He also regrets his choice of attire. "I'm just looking back at it now and I'm laughing my head off. Myself and my mum had matching Burberry on too, but I've changed."
He did other weird shit for the camera, too, like getting a stick-on of his face for his family's black cab in the run-up to the party. However, Andre claims, a lot of his worst behaviour on the show was encouraged by its producers. At one point, he was unsure if he should buy some exclusive Louis Vuitton sunglasses for the night, so called a producer for advice.
"He just said to me, 'Andre, is it better to get the sunglasses or feed a child in Africa?' And I said to him: 'Feed a child in Africa.' Then he said: 'No, there's too many of them, buy the sunglasses.' Instantly I went straight to Harrods and I bought them."
At another point, when Andre's mum calls him from the venue on the night of the party, it looks like he ignores her while she repeatedly shouts his name because he's busy moisturising his hands. But he says that was another effort to make him look as spoilt as possible. "That was annoying, because I'm not actually disrespectful to my mum," he says. "But the reason why I said that to her is because they wanted me to say something naughty instead. So then they edited it to make it look like I was ignoring her."
Since appearing on the show, Andre's presented events for MTV and has had a blog on their site, so he doesn't regret it because, as he says, "It opened doors, but now and again people are like, 'Oh, you're that guy.' Like, bruv, keep telling me I'm that guy – I'm not that guy any more."
Hayley Grossman was also 18 when she appeared on the show. Her party included a dessert-only buffet and an N-Dubz performance, and at the end of the episode she was given her own flat.
Now 27, she works as a yoga instructor after selling off the PR and events company she founded. Hayley says she's convinced it's being manipulated by the show's producers that has given her an edge in the business world. She tells me: "We were promised that we weren't going to be seen as spoilt brats, and it was only really once the contract was signed and it started to play out that we actually realised what was going on. But, by that point, it was too late and we didn't have any rights," she says. "I've never not read a contract at least three times over since."
Aside from having an MTV crew in her house for a few days a week for a couple of months, Hayley also found the backlash after the show difficult to handle.
"Even within my own community there was a fair amount of ridicule that I received, and to be honest, still do to this day," she says. "If I'm out in a crowd, boys that I'm not particularly friendly with – but who would have seen the show or would have had friends that came to the party – will take the piss."
At one point in the episode, Hayley really wants Amy Winehouse to perform at her party, but finds out she's "too busy", so Hayley's mum asks her to sing an Amy Winehouse song instead. She agrees, but only if she can prerecord and have her voice auto-tuned, and, to be fair, everyone at the party seems to be pretty impressed and at least pretends for the camera that they hadn't even realised she was miming.
However, according to Hayley, the whole thing was something she'd actually never been comfortable with. The reason that Amy, who had been a family friend of Hayley's, couldn't perform was because she was going through a rough patch at the time. So, instead, a producer hauled her along to a studio so she could record herself singing "Valerie".
"It's not something I would have chosen to do at the time, or something I would choose to do now," she says.
A post shared by Hayley Grossman (@hayleygrossman1) on Jul 8, 2016 at 10:45am PDT
Jayde Fleming-Smith was only 14 when she appeared on My Super Sweet 16 in the run-up to her 15th birthday. Her party was extremely 2008: T2 performed, the dress-code was silver, she arrived in Katie Price's actual wedding carriage and received a Vauxhall Astra from her dad, despite being two years off being able to legally obtain a driving licence.
But, speaking to Jayde, who's now in her mid-twenties and the owner of a party and events planning business, the extent to which she claims she was taken advantage of by the creators of the show is actually quite saddening. "They asked me to repeat things so many times in a different way with a nastier tone behind it," she claims.
While she accepts that this is what reality TV is like, she found it pretty shocking that the same rules would be applied to someone who wasn't even 15 yet. "I didn't think someone would exploit me in that way, ever. Even now I struggle to come to terms with that," she says.
Something that makes Jayde's episode stick out among the others is that her step-mum comes across as quite mean. Aside from telling Jayde, on TV, that she might divorce her dad because of Jayde's behaviour, she also tries on a red dress for the party – even though Jayde's already told her that all guests have to wear silver. Jayde ends up in tears, telling the cameras her step-mum's an "idiot".
However, according to Jayde, that scene was also manufactured by the producers. "It looks like I'm crying about the fact that she's done that, but I wasn't. I was crying because she'd just told me that she'd been asked to do that," says Jayde. "There was no fall-out… she just explained to me that it made good TV."
Some stuff was real, though, like a scene in which Jayde arrives late and leaves early for a GCSE exam because she's getting prepped for the party. "A teacher actually came into the exam to get me because there was a limo outside blocking everyone from getting into the school," she says. "I think I got told off for being late, but because everyone was talking about it being on TV the teachers just went along with it. They all loved it. Apparently they still talk about it now."
At one point during filming, Jayde's dad confronted her to make sure she was OK for it to go ahead, after realising that the point was to make her look like a demon child and him a pandering parent. "Looking back on it, I think there's no way you could have talked me out of it. Even if you told me everything I'm telling you now – no way," says Jayde.
"To me, being 14 and having all your friends on the TV is the best thing ever. I don't think anyone would say no to that, would they."
When asked to comment on allegations in this piece, MTV responded: "My Super Sweet 16 UK first aired in 2010. MTV maintains editorial control throughout the creative process and is satisfied that all parties were at the time content with the final production of the show when it broadcast more than six years ago."
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