July 21, 2004 -- FIVE people who've never even watched TV seem des tined to become television's next reality stars.
In "Amish in the City," a new reality show debuting next week on UPN, five Amish youngsters are plucked from their rural homes and put up in a glitzy Hollywood hills mansion.
They share the mansion with six city kids in very close quarters. Then sit back and watch the fireworks as the two cultures meet.
UPN shot the series in secret — announcing its existence only after taping had already ended and the Amish kids had been sent home.
On arriving at LAX airport, one Amish youngster admits that he has never been on an escalator before as he gingerly steps on. "I'm freaked out!" he exclaims.
Another city kid marvels when one of his new roommates admits she had no idea what an avacado is.
The Amish kids are going through a religious rite of passage called "rumspringa" in which Amish teens leave their homes to explore the outside world — before deciding if they want to return to the Amish lifestyle.
"The Amish don't see the inherent value of being on a TV show," says Daniel Laikind, one of the show's co-producers. "For them, getting the chance to live in the big city, to make a decision in their life . . . was a big part of being on the show."
The Amish, a strict Mennonite sect that first settled in Pennsylvania in the late 17th century, reject nearly all things modern. They refuse to use electricity in their homes or gas-powered engines — using horse-drawn buggies to travel.
The show was kept under tight wraps because some Amish leaders expressed concern that it might exploit their brethren.
The show has generated a lot of buzz among TV insiders who predict its unusual premise will turn the Amish kids into overnight — if unlikely — celebrities.
The people who are really surprised are the worldly teens, who only know they are going to be in a "Big Brother"-type show. They were not told they would be shacking up with a group of Amish youngsters.
"Absolutely not! Absolutely not!" says Nick, a 21-year-old busboy from Boston upon first seeing his new Amish housemates.
Reese, a city kid from Mississippi, is more succinct: "They are going to change [their clothes] before they go out with me in Hollywood," he says.
In one episode, the Amish kids and their real-world roommates switch clothes — to see how the other half lives — for a trip to a go-cart park.
In another, the Amish youngsters hit the California beaches for the first time.
Miriam, one of the Amish participants (she's 21), says she's using this experience to see if she wants to be a part of the world outside her Amish community.
"I don't want to be a part of the Amish community just yet," she says. "I want to see other things. It'll be an experience of a lifetime."
"We didn't want to bring in a bunch of people who would just be pleasant, cordial and unchallenged," said series co-producer Jon Kroll.
"There are lots of different points-of-view here and lots of interesting discussions."