Off My Chest: The REAL Apprentice Is Back—And So Am I

Randal Pinkett, Ph.D., arguably the most impressive Apprentice candidate to date, and the only African American to win the competition.

Finally, the real Apprentice–or at least as real as reality TV ever gets–is back. The latest installment of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice premiered last night at 10:00pm EST/9:00pm CST on NBC. The 2010 version of the series returns to its roots as a competition of entrepreneurs and business professionals, not celebrities (and we’re not talking A-list), with a twist: to be in tune with the times, the 16 “job candidates” are all trying to jump-start business careers disrupted by the recession by competing for a 1-year, $250,000 job in the Trump organization.

When the first edition of The Apprentice debuted in 2004, I was among a group of experts recruited by USA Today to provide a weekly assessment of the candidates’ performance, Trump’s decision making, and the tips, issues, strategies and lessons on leadership that could be gleaned from the show. In addition, I began a weekly post at BlackEnterprise.com where I delivered my own assessment of the candidates’ performance, including who I would have fired each week (often disagreeing with Trump), with a particular focus on the black candidates and the issues that black professionals must deal with in a predominantly white business environment. The first season of The Apprentice, driven in large part by the drama of the now famous/infamous Omarosa Stallworth and the polished and affable (maybe to a fault) Kwame Jackson, also inspired me to write a feature story for the May 2004 issue of Black Enterprise magazine, “Make-Or-Break Leadership Lessons From The Apprentice.”

Evans is the best-performing black female from the non-celebrity versions of The Apprentice

Enthusiasm for the show and the business and professional discussions it provoked proved so popular with the Black Enterprise audience that I continued my weekly posts for each of the first six editions of The Apprentice. Along the way, I’ve met and learned a great deal from most of the black businesspeople who’ve competed on the show, and established relationships and come to admire many of them, including Jackson, Stallworth, Roxanne Wilson, Tara Dowdell, Stacie Jones Upchurch, Marshawn Evans (the most impressive black female competitor to date and a guest blogger for BlackEnterprise.com), and of course, Dr. Randal Pinkett, the only African American to win the competition. (I’ve actually known Pinkett since his junior year as an undergrad at Rutgers University, also my alma mater. Also, I would be remiss not to note that a black man, Timothy J. Campbell, also won the first United Kingdom edition of The Apprentice.) One of the three black candidates on the 2010 edition of The Apprentice is another young professional who has earned my respect, Kelly Smith Beaty, an outstanding member of Black Enterprise’s summer 2005 internship class.

Kwame Jackson, runner up in the first season of the business competition reality show.

But the most enjoyable and exciting aspect of doing my weekly performance reviews on the show was the passionate conversations, observations and arguments that took place with the commentary on the posts each week, as we debated real and perceived descrimination, sexual and racial stereotypes, and what it takes to be successful in business. I was astonished, at first, to be bombarded by e-mails from viewers who could not wait to read what I thought about how Stallworth may or may not have cost Jackson the job in Season 1, or how Trump would never have asked Pinkett to consider sharing the apprentice job he won going away with the white female runner up had he not been black. However, once the show went “celebrity,” featuring entertainers, actors, athletes and others competing on tasks to raise money for charities, I stopped following the show, because I felt that it had moved too far beyond the reality of an authentic business competition, and thus offered little in the way of lessons for the entrepreneurs and professionals who comprise the Black Enterprise audience. (While I did not follow it closely, I did root for Holly Robinson Peete to win the most recent competition earlier this year).

The one and only Omarosa: Did she cost Jackson the victory in Season One?

So, I’m glad to see The Apprentice return to it’s original premise as a competition for non-celebrity business professionals and entrepreneurs. And I will again post my weekly performance reviews after each episode. Each week, I will offer expert advice on what was done right or wrong by the candidates, provide a performance assessment of each of the black candidates, identify the business lessons that you can apply to your own business and career, and–before Trump makes his decision in the infamous board room–I will tell you who I would have fired and why. I will also carry the discussion and debate over to Twitter and Facebook.

I’m looking forward to you following along and telling me what you think each week, so check in with me with comments and discussion on my posts. It will be interesting to see if Trump’s “16-week job interview” can recapture the magic of its first several seasons, especially as other reality shows, most notably ABC’s Shark Tank, have raised the stakes. I’m looking to have big fun–and learn a lot–each week as I follow the 2010 edition of The Apprentice. I hope you’ll join me.

Alfred Edmond Jr. is the editor-in-chief of BlackEnterprise.com