Weekly Wire
NewCityNet I Want My (Face On) MTV

By Tony Peregrin

APRIL 19, 1999:  "Hi! Welcome to MTV! Are you excited," chirps Paige, the intern who is guiding MTV VJ wannabes to one of nine audition "stations" inside a huge, circus-sized tent on Michigan Avenue. Of course they're excited. If they're wacky enough, funky enough or crazy enough it could be their chance to land themselves a coveted spot in front of the cameras in the alternate universe that is MTV.

The crowd is packed full of pomaded and pierced punksters, pretty-boy Abercrombie & Fitch "dudes" and the assorted tattooed, platform-shoe wearing freaks, geeks, and even a few meeks - kids so ordinary they're actually quite shocking.

The hopefuls who've come from far and wide - Oklahoma City, Austin, Texas, Wheaton - begin lining up at 6 pm the previous evening. The less ambitious who roll out of bed and into line well after sun-up will have to wait a whopping seven hours before their audition.

But the "event" kings at MTV provide plenty of distractions to keep the wannabes occupied: Jerry Springer cutting the red ribbon that signaled the official start of the interviews. Jesse Camp - the human car alarm who won last year's contest - posing for MTV's cameras with anyone loud enough to grab his attention. He doesn't hang around long, though, as it has started to rain. Undeterred, the wannabes huddle together for warmth, clutching bright yellow envelopes that contain summations of their life stories, waiting eagerly for their turn in front of the camera.

First stop: the makeup tent. You sit in a director's chair while someone sweeps powder over your face, adds color to your eyes and lips and makes you look like you haven't been waiting for hours in the rain. Someone else reminds you to smile and snaps a Polaroid of the new, MTV-you.

The auditions come off as relaxed and informal: You sit in a chair in front of a camera and a production assistant asks you questions like "What are the five CD's you just couldn't live without?" A guy with soap-opera good looks - who thinks he's scoring ultra hip bonus points in an electric blue thrift store suit - has to be reminded repeatedly to "look into the camera" as he narrows his selection down to the required five. The production assistant makes a valiant attempt to not look bored.

Clutching my "Wannabe a VJ Too," T-shirt as I'm ushered toward the back door, I notice six or seven individuals lounging quietly on a large circular sofa. "Oh, they're just some people that we want to take a second look at," my press guide says cryptically.

Which means they're finalists, the ones with "talent." Studying their faces to see if I can spot this year's version of Jesse, some of them look bored and few of them look like they're trying very hard to look bored. But mostly they beam with the secret knowledge that while thousands shuffle through looking for a shot, they are among the "chosen" - at least for a second look. Requests for interview are denied.

But the end, all of them - even the ones still standing in line outside, even the ones who won't make it to that couch, even the "crazy" homeless guy with the red comb sticking out of his hair - all of them radiate that cry for attention that is more politely described as "star-quality."

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