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Life-altaring TV

A Detroit couple’s wedding-day jitters debuts on national TV

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Published 6/17/2009

America, you are cordially invited to witness the wedding of Miss Jaénelle Burnette and Mr. Nykolas Jones of Detroit at 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, 2009, at the Belle Isle Conservatory. RSVP not required. Gifts are optional, since the actual marriage took place 10 months ago. But what a receiving line that will be!

"You see, that part I'm not prepared for," muses the newly minted Mrs. Jones, responding to a suggestion that total strangers around metro Detroit and elsewhere will begin approaching her like they were in her bridal party once the story of her nuptials is broadcast on Wedding Day, the new summer reality series launching at 8 next Tuesday on TNT. "Because it seems like, outside of the people I know, I just assume that the people I don't know are not going to see the show. I don't know why I feel that way, but I don't even think about other people seeing the show and stopping me in Kroger or whatever, but I guess there's really a possibility that could happen."

Believe it, Jaénelle: TNT will be less than pleased if only your friends and immediate family tune in to see you and Nykolas, because they've clearly layered a lot of quality into this effort. Produced by Survivor savant Mark Burnett, who seems to have a series on the air every two hours these days, Wedding Day is like Extreme Makeover: Holy Matrimony Edition. The 10-episode show selects engaged couples whose marriages had to be put on hold for some reason, often tragic, and helps them design the lavish wedding of their dreams.

Another Michigan couple, Holli and Steve Holdwick of Saginaw, are featured in the heart-rending premiere episode next Tuesday, and a couple from Clawson receives the full Wedding Day treatment July 14, both chosen from thousands of hopeful applicants. ("There's good people in Michigan," a TNT flack chirps. Yeah, and given the economic landscape, probably a lot of financially strapped ones too.) But circle your calendars for June 23, to keep up with the Joneses, because rarely will you see Detroit look so resplendent or be touched by a story as genuine as in this entrancing hour.

Nykolas, an underground lineman for DTE Energy, has been in love with Jaénelle since the two were in grade school together; because he was younger, she didn't know he existed. After many years they finally began dating, he won her heart and they had a daughter together, Anayah. (Men, pay attention: This is called perseverance.) But their wedding had to be delayed when it was discovered that Anayah had a nonfunctioning kidney that needed to be removed — an especially upsetting diagnosis for Jaénelle, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Anayah's great now, thanks, but the medical bills set the couple's plans back a little. Good fortune stepped in when Jaénelle's co-workers tipped her off to a mass e-mail about Burnett's national search for engaged couples with a story to tell. "I looked it up and thought, 'You know what? We might have a chance,'" Jaénelle says. "So I decided to send an e-mail in and never thought twice about it. But then I got a return e-mail and I started getting excited."

For the wedding, which took place 8-8-08, Wedding Day recruited the couple's family and friends to help erect a fairytale castle setting on Belle Isle for the ceremony and a 5,000-square-foot reception tent nearby. They were assisted in the task by Anna Richardson and her staff from Exceptional Events, which receives a tremendous in-show plug as "the premier wedding and event design company in Detroit." What? You never heard of them either? 

The Wedding Day co-hosts, "celebrity event planner" Alan Dunn (TLC's For Better or For Worse) and "celebrity wedding designer" Diann Valentine appear knowledgeable, if a bit insipid. "Everybody was so polite and so nice, it almost felt like they were our friends rather than doing a job," Jaénelle says. "We were just really comfortable, and after a few times being interviewed you're no longer nervous. You don't even think about the camera being in your face anymore."  

Perhaps the show's biggest disappointment is seeing Jaénelle and her maid of honor, the comical Doraine Swift, being flown off to Chicago to purchase her trousseau. What? You never heard of Somerset? But watching the Joneses on Wedding Day will renew your belief in — what? The sheer glory of Detroit? The power of love? The compelling magic of a great story, skillfully televised? All that, and more. "We have not seen anything," Jaénelle says. "We will get to see it the same night as everyone else." Well, take my advice, go to Costco or Sam's Club and buy the jumbo multi-pack of Kleenex. You'll need 'em.

Jim McFarlin exchanges vows far too often in the blue wash of a television screen. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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