By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The scene: behind Union Station, downtown, just west of the Hard Rock Cafe near those immobile trains, Wednesday, April 12 -- a cattle-call cavalcade of twentysomethings, all dressed as they think a budding MTV personality should dress, all jitters and nerves, consumed with the throbbing hope that they've got ample star power to sweep a bored MTV-watching nation off its collective feet. Some have been camping out since the day before; others flub it by showing up late -- 8 a.m. -- only to be informed that the 1,000 lucky auditioners have already been tapped -- and had been by 7:30 a.m. Damn.
The party line, courtesy of Tony Disanto, vice president of production for MTV: "This year we wanted to give a different feel to the whole veejay search and not just base it out of New York or LA. We wanted to take it across the country. So what we wanted to do was take three spots across the country, each with its own distinct feel and vibe, and we settled on San Francisco, St. Louis and Spencer, N.C. Each one of those cities brings a whole different visual aesthetic, feel, different kind of people, and they all work well together and complement each other. Spencer's got a small-town vibe; St. Louis and San Francisco are big cities, but with different feels. We'd also never been here to do a big event."
In line, frat dudes stand next to club kids, mullets commiserate with Madon-nabes, leopard-skin platforms mingle with Converse low-tops. Some contestants are dressed up, some dressed down, some barely dressed. They come from South Dakota and Detroit, from Toronto and Chicago, from all over this great land of ours, a land that promises $25,000 and a Kia just for standing in front of a camera and introducing a Korn video. Some have driven all day, all night, to get here. Some don't stand a chance; no mullets will be picked today, nor, probably, will any ugly fat people, former veejay Matt Penfield's success to the contrary. Gray hair? Uh, no.
"There's two things that matter, across the board," says Disanto. "Music knowledge is really, really important -- we're MTV. They have to know music, be a music fan. Another important thing is to be comfortable in front of the camera. And the last trait isn't something definable, but you know it when you see it. It's a charisma; a person has a dynamic personality that just pops and makes you really want to watch this person."
The lucky 1,000 are each asked to fill out a four-page questionnaire while waiting in line. The questionnaire, which "Radar Station" also fills out (They patronizingly offer us a chance to audition. We condescendingly -- though not without a nugget of hope -- agree), contains, in addition to a load of "favorite music" type questions, the following ones (our answers in parentheses): "How did you get here today?" (Horseback.) "What's your guilty pleasure?" (MTV.) "What's the worst thing that ever happened to you?" (Loss of innocence.) "What advice would you give existing veejays?" (Your days are numbered; accept that soon you will be on the Home Shopping Network.) "Describe your personal style." (Bland and conservative.) "If you were to win, what would you try to hide from Hard Copy?" (The murder.) "Each veejay has something they're known for. What would you like to be known for?" (The "scandal-ridden" veejay.)
Those lucky enough to finally reach the front of the line turn in their questionnaires and signed release forms, then scuttle through the "makeup" booth, which is there solely to make the contestants feel special -- the makeup lady makes one fake swipe across each face with seemingly invisible powder.
Then comes the make-or-break your-whole-life-has-been-one-long-rehearsal-for this-moment moment as the lemmings are led into the train cars (can you say "forced-labor camps"?) where the auditions take place. Inside are a dozen well-lit voting-booth-size spaces, two camerapeople/interviewers and the cherished MTV microphone. Sit, relax, hold up your ID number -- the whole thing is like a mug shot, actually -- and say your name and where you're from. It begins:
MTV: "What's your favorite video on MTV right now?"
"Radar Station": "Uh, I don't have cable."
MTV: "What was the last concert you went to?"
RS: "The Gunga Din, last night at the Side Door."
MTV: "How was it?"
RS: "Dude, it rocked my ass off, dude."
MTV: "What's the last record you bought?"
RS: "I don't buy records. I get them for free."
MTV: "What's your favorite record right now?"
RS: "A compilation of electronic music called Clicks and Cuts."
MTV: "Is it good?"
MTV: "Cool. Now. I'm going to hold up a cue card, and I want you to read it. OK? Ready?"
RS: "Do it."
MTV: "Here it is."