The latest to join that rich tradition is Toni Braxton, the Severn native who was one of the highest-selling artists of the 1990s but has seen her sales droop to dramatic lows, just 145,000 units for last year's "Pulse."
The singer says "Braxton Family Values," which premieres Tuesday on We TV and revolves around her life with her sisters, is an attempt to take ownership of her media narrative and return to the spotlight she has ceded to younger stars.
"My sisters kept telling me, come 2011, you have to start telling your story. Everyone knows about your financial woes, your bankruptcies, but they don't know what really happened," she says. "In the end, I'm glad I did it."
The jury is still out on the impact of reality TV on a flagging music career. The path to a comeback is littered with stars who didn't fare much better than a token slot on "Celebrity Apprentice" or "Dancing with the Stars." Tellingly, Braxton's already done the latter. She placed sixth in 2008, bested by Cloris Leachman.
Makeba Riddick — the recently Grammy-nominated Baltimore songwriter who worked on Braxton's "Pulse" album — says it's her best bet.
"It's just where we are. Everything is reality TV," she says. "I think with Toni, it's helping her to get her audience back, to keep her relevant."
Advertised as an intimate look at Braxton's life, "sibling rivalry, man drama, bankruptcy, a DUI and much more," the show delivers on that premise.
In the first episode Traci, Towanda, Tamar, Trina and Evelyn, the family matriarch, squabble, sun-tan, toast champagne, and lounge on the private plane they've rented to fly to the Bermudas.
Tamar shows herself to be a student of the genre. She shrieks and pouts and generally plays the part of histrionic diva better than Countess LuAnn de Lesseps herself.
We TV, which has taken a page out of the Bravo handbook, has been building up its reality TV programming and was looking for a follow-up to their just-finished Joan and Melissa Rivers show.
John Miller, a senior vice president, said the network was attracted to the show because of the backstage dynamic of the sisters.
"Our series showcase women in real-life situations with all the raw emotion and chaos that comes with it," he wrote via email.
Mainly set in Atlanta, the show is less interested in the music. When Braxton does sing in the first episode, it's a modest coda after an hour of the typical sturm und drang of the genre.
It finds the singer far from the stratospheric heights of the '90s, when she was a musical supernova, on par with Madonna and Mariah Carey at dominating the radio waves.
Guided by mega producers L.A. Reid and Babyface, she created a unique blend of R&B and pop that broke through the pop-dominated charts of the time.
"Whitney was doing straight pop. Then you had other artists, like Mary J. Blige, who was straight R&B, very urban," Riddick says. "Toni bridged those two."
The new sound was combined with her voice, a sultry, almost hushed alto that lent songs like "Un-Break my Heart" a quiet drama, but that also surprised listeners by hitting sky-high notes.