In 1993, 18-year-old Jon Brennan was an aspiring country singer when he was scouted by an MTV producer to join the second season of The Real World: Los Angeles. While he was a student at Belmont University, he was pitched the idea of the show about the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start being real. Country music singers like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw were blowing up the charts at the time, so MTV wanted to find a country singer to join the cast. Also, since he is from Kentucky, they liked the storyline of a small-town country boy who was sheltered. Brennan did not watch the first season and had no desire to be on reality TV. He wanted to stay in Nashville and play country music and not move to L.A. He finally agreed to do the show, making him the eighth reality star ever, when he realized the exposure from it could help launch his country music career. He told his parents he was dropping out of college to be on a show on the channel they had blocked in their house. They told him to go and make a great opportunity into something. His mother still has all the VHS tapes and loved his time on the show.
While on the show, the producers found out quickly that Brennan was a likeable guy compared to the people he was living with. He was portrayed as the sheltered kid who did not drink, or hook-up. He was the main character of the season to see how he was going to handle living in Los Angeles. He lived in the house for 22 weeks and made $200 a week, getting paid less than $5,000 for 22 episodes that have aired for over 10 years. The final shot on his season of The Real World showed him in the airport walking to a gate for a flight to Nashville, which was true. After the show, since there was no social media or texting, he would only talk to the roommates once a year on the phone. They didn’t re-connect until Facebook came around.
When he came off the show, he immediately had success in country music and had a fan base. He opened for artists like Alabama, George Jones, Clay Walker, and Kenny Chesney. He spent all of the ‘90s on a tour bus playing shows all over the country. Wynonna Judd’s manager at the time was managing him and he got signed to a major record, none of his songs ever got released to radio though and he was then dropped when they signed Trace Adkins.
There are 40 seasons of The Real World now and while they were premiering the 3rd and 4th season, they would play reruns of his season all the time, so it took a while for his The Real World success to wear off. Being seen as a reality star made it hard for him to break through the country music scene and be taken seriously. He would explain to people he was put on the show because he was a country music singer, but at the time, people couldn’t make the leap to see who he truly was. He thinks the industry was confused about what to do with him, but he just wanted to make a record, be on the radio and go on tour. He couldn’t make the transition from reality star to singer, especially since there was no social media at the time, so he could never show people his true life.
After he got dropped from his record label, no one else signed him. He eventually went back to his hometown in Kentucky and started leading music at his church and was in the ministry for 20 years. He was doing music on Sunday’s and was a Youth Pastor throughout the week. The whole time his goal was to come back to Nashville and continue making country music. What brought him back was when MTV producers called him a few years ago asking if he’d be interested in having a homecoming with the same exact roommates in the same house in California from season two. They moved back into the house for three weeks and he thought it would be his next big break to get back out in public. It wasn’t as big as he thought it would be though. He finally moved back to Nashville to record some new songs and be “all in” pursuing his country music dreams. Nashville is where he feels comfortable and where his goals are.
Brennan is now sharing his story of how being on The Real World hurt his country music career, but appreciates that it did give him a platform. Nowadays, reality stars get paid a lot of money and become famous from their time on the show, but since reality TV was so new when he did it, he never got the perks from it. Brennan was also on the first seasons of Road Rules and The Challenge, making him a huge MTV star, but all he ever wanted to do was sing at the Grand Ole Opry, which he finally got to accomplish in July 2022! When he came out on the stage, he explained that before there was Survivor and The Kardashians, there was him on MTV. That’s when the crowd realized who he was and gave him a big applause.
“True Story” is Brennan’s new song that he co-wrote about the true story of his parents, and it includes the tagline of his time on The Real World. He’d proud of the song and it’s doing well on Positive Country Radio and the song will be featured on the Country Top 30 Countdown as the Spotlight Artist Song of the week.
Brennan now hosts a podcast with The Real World’s Beth Stolarczyk, called Getting Real with Jon and Beth, where they talk about reality TV, what it was like then versus now, music, current events and they interview reality stars. You can listen to it now on iHeart Podcasts.
You can follow Brennan at JonBrennan_com.