Gaydar alert: Sharif plays it straight

The shows keep getting wackier, but that doesn't seem to deter a slew of locals who've signed up to immortalize their names in reality TV history.

The latest to join the reality madness? UVA grad Sharif, a 25-year-old musician, actor, model– and now a contestant on Fox's new reality show, Playing it Straight, airing Friday, March 12, at 8pm.

He follows in the wake of Anse Clinard, an actor and Orbit Billiards bartender who was one of the first to be booted from The Bachelorette earlier this winter. Before that, a local couple, Eric Hurt and Kristin Cobb, put their love to the test in Temptation Island's third season, while back in 2001, third year UVA law student "Tempting Tom" Ritchie served as a "spoiler" on that show's first season.

The mono-monikered Sharif, who prefers to keep his last name private, is no stranger to the spotlight. He released his first CD, Broken Light, in 2000 and followed it up with Kiss the Moon in 2002. His latest effort, Surrogate Lovers, an eclectic mix of folk, rock, even country, should be out sometime in April. Like his first two CDs, Surrogate features Richmond vocalist Regan, and this time Sharif also has some big names behind him: Whiskeytown's Mike Daly and ATO Records star David Gray play back-up. Sharif says he's hoping to hold a CD release party at Starr Hill, as he did for Kiss the Moon.

In the meantime, however, Sharif fans can get their fix on Fox.

The Playing it Straight concept is simple: Give a girl 14 hunks to choose from. Just as she's getting excited about her hot prospects, drop the bomb: Some of these guys are gay, and she'd better be able to eliminate them. If she picks a straight guy as her favorite match, the two of them will split a million dollar pot and maybe find love. If her "gaydar" is on the blink and she picks a homosexual, he takes the million and goes on his merry way, while she goes home alone and empty-handed.

Oh, the drama!

What was it like for him to live among 13 other guys whose sexuality he didn't know?

"It got to be stressful," says Sharif, who's forbidden by contract to discuss his gender preference. No one had "any idea of who was real and who was not," he says, and back-stabbing and gossiping were rampant.

Sharif– who splits his time between Norfolk, D.C., and Charlottesville– said at first he had no idea about the show's concept.

He did an early interview with show producers in Virginia Beach and soon after was flown out to L.A.

It wasn't until his first day on the set, a ranch in Elko, Nevada, that he and the other men learned their fate. But Sharif says he wasn't upset by the concept of having his sexuality highlighted on national TV.

"I've never had any issue" with people's sexuality, he explains, "be it guys or girls, gays or straight."

As on other reality shows, each episode ends with an elimination ceremony. On Playing it Straight, star Jackie sends two men she believes may be gay home each night. After her decision is made, each reveals his sexual preference.

To ensure the show's outcome remained a secret, all the contestants were sequestered during the three-and-a-half-week shoot.

Sharif says he's hoping attention generated by the show will help his music career and draw visitors to his website, But he has no idea what the future holds.

"Whatever happens, happens," he says. "I'm just ready for it to come out."

Will Sharif "come out" too? We'll just have to watch and see.

Straight or gay? Sharif tries to fly below the "gaydar" on Fox's Playing it Straight .