New reality show focuses on single life in Louisville

Sex and the River City? Southern Belles: Louisville, a new SoapNet reality series, aims to highlight Lexington's neighbor to the west in the same way HBO's Sex and the City made New York a character right along with Carrie Bradshaw and her pals.

The 10-part series, which premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday, focuses on five young, single women looking for love in Louisville. Three of them have ties to the University of Kentucky.

"I thought it was a joke at first," said Emily Gimmel, a former WKYT (Channel 27) reporter who attended UK, as did her Southern Belles castmates Kellie Frey and Hadley Hartz. "A reality show in Kentucky? I was like, 'What?'"

Gimmel's story line focuses on the tug of war between her ambitions to be a broadcast reporter and her family's desire to keep her close to her hometown of Louisville.

Gimmel, 25, is no stranger to the media. She began working part-time at WKYT in 2002, when she was an 18-year-old freshman at UK, a hiring decision that drew criticism because some said she was too young for the job. She was again thrust into the Lexington news in 2006, when she was arrested for driving under the influence.

But, she said, she's up for the scrutiny that comes with being in the spotlight. Southern Belles was too good to pass up, she said.

"Anytime you are successful there is going to be scrutiny," Gimmel said. "I've never claimed to be perfect. I don't think anyone is. ... I'm just learning as you go."

"The goal going in is so people can get to know me as a person, not just as a reporter," Gimmel said by telephone from Las Vegas, where she works part-time for, an entertainment news Web site that produces online video for several newspapers.

So why Louisville? Southern Belles evolved after Louisville native Bruce Romans, the show's consulting producer, approached the production company Endemol USA about doing a program about his hometown. One part of the equation was what it's like to look for love in the South, where some consider women in their late 20s or early 30s without a husband to be entering "old maid" territory. Endemol USA is the company behind such reality TV hits such as Deal or No Deal and Big Brother.

For her part, Gimmel said, she's proud to tell a story of her home state, often ridiculed as inferior fly-over country.

"I am happy and excited to be breaking a lot of the stereotypes that people have about us," said Gimmel, who also said people ask her whether as a Kentuckian she wears shoes.

The show should also do a good job letting nationwide viewers see how beautiful Kentucky is. In the opening credits alone, scenes flash through the best of the Bluegrass State with fast horses, beautiful women and lush scenery.

Though the women of Southern Belles are billed as tight friends at the beginning of the show, Gimmel said, they were more like acquaintances who ran in the same social circles. But now, after taping 10 one-hour episodes, they are really close, she said.

Despite the tight friendship, as with all reality shows, there is drama.

In Thursday's episode, Shea Johnson, the show's resident rich girl, criticizes Gimmel's flashy style of fake eyelashes and faux hair.

Gimmel said she's always liked a little something extra when it comes to her look but that her style is considered tame in Las Vegas.

"Yeah, I wear fake eyelashes and fake hair," she said. "Hair is one of my vices. I've gone through a lot, and when you want to change something about yourself, your hair is often the easiest thing to do. I'm never fully satisfied."

Gimmel's hair is even part of a pivotal future plot point on Southern Belles, according to press materials.

But, whether she's in Farrah Fawcett bangs or a slamming bob, Gimmel will seriously pursue her broadcast dreams while remembering to laugh at herself.

She's hoping Joel McHale, who lampoons reality TV clips on the E! network's show The Soup, will become a Southern Belles fan.

"I can't wait for him to make fun of me," she said. "That's when you know that you've made it."