So YOU wanna be an MTV VJ?! Want to scream “Spring Break” in mid-autumn? Wanna toss to ironic ads for Stridex pads? Want to drink Budweisers with Fred Durst and, um, Carson Daly once a week? Personally, I’d never given the concept much brain space, except to wryly chuckle at it while searching in vain for 120 Minutes re-runs. Not that I haven’t got some experience: in college I was a bona fide college-radio nerd. Once a week I (sexily) muttered my thoughts on the latest Broken Social Scene releases into a microphone, and listeners in the Lehigh Valley called our request line to ask if we carried any early Zappa. It was awesome.
Maybe that’s why I ended up schlepping to the most ad-plastered section of New York City to try my hand at the VJ game. Quite simply, I felt so gosh-darn flattered that they liked my picture and cover letter that I figured what the hey? And so, live from Times Square, I hereby present a minute-by-minute account of what happens when you stop being polite and start getting real, VJ-audition style.
[3:00]: The casting call asked me to dress hip, but not “older.” I’ve got to look like a kid in college, but one dressed to her indie best. I gingerly select a checkered dress from my closet and pull on my trusty cowboy boots. Yessss.
[4:30]: I make the painful commute from my home in Park Slope to the decidedly less chilled-out (and somehow less hip) Times Square. I’m early. Too early. I anxiously wonder how to kill 40 minutes among the throngs of consumers who’ve just flown in from the Midwest.
[4:39]: I huddle in a teen-packed Billabong store, pretending to be interested in their board shorts. The curmudgeon in me rears her grayed head. WHY AREN’T ALL THESE CHILDREN IN SCHOOL?
[5:30]: At last I elevate to the 25th floor of 1515 Broadway, easily the highest up I’ve ever been in Manhattan (I’ve lived in the city on and off for the last three years). The MTV offices are painted in bright splashy colors, and the entrance has offers a spectacular view overlooking the Hudson. I see a cruise ship leaving port, and I wish for a moment that I was on it. (What? This girl likes herself a nice geriatric holiday.)
[5:35]: I notice that there are framed photos of celebrities lining the walls. One of them is a sexy photo of Beck taken back in the day; another shows a skeletal-looking Gwen Stefani in a shot from the “Rich Girl” video. Oh Gwenny. I remember when you were “ska.”
[5:36]: I sit in one of two poofy leather chairs and stare out of the enormous glass window opposite me. Augghhhh! Blinding sun blinding me!! Apparently being in the stratospheric levels of Manhattan ain’t easy.
[5:37]: To relax, I stand for a moment, saunter over to my reflection in the glass, and suck in my stomach.
[5:45]: I’m called into the casting room by a bored-looking receptionist sitting at a desk five times larger than any I’ve ever inhabited. Jesus woman, try to look a little less interested. It’s the recession, and you work at MTV!
[5:45]: I walk down a long flight of steps where I meet a tall woman in bright yellow. She smiles briskly at me before asking if I’d like to follow her. Obviously, she’s been doing this all day.
[5:46]: The woman leads me past the MTV break room (which is more like a giant snacktime-themed play-place) and asks me if I’d either like something to drink or if I’d like to go to the bathroom before we start.
[5:47]: I wonder to myself if she’s ever had anyone pee themselves during an audition.
[5:48]: The woman leads me into a teeny green room with a lone camera balanced on a tripod. Cue cards litter the ground. I hand her my “Headshot” (One of my better Facebook pics self-printed at Kinko’s earlier in the afternoon) and my resume.
[5:48]: The woman cheerfully asks me to stand in front of the camera and talk about myself. What is my full name? What do I do for a living? What is my relationship to music? What are my thoughts on fashion, and are there any “causes” I’m passionate about?
[5:48]: I rattle off my answers and stare with a huge, plastered smile at the camera. “My name is Rachel, I’m a writer. I like Patsy Cline.” I point down: “Look, my cowboy boots reflect this. I also care a lot about gender equality.”
[5:48]: I’m asked to recite my “Video Tosses”. I had no idea what these were before yesterday. A “video toss” is, not unlike a radio prompt, where the DJ says something clever about the weather before moving into the next song on rotation. Despite the mountains of cue cards lining the floor, they ask me to make one up on the spot.
[5:49]: I resist the urge to make any “tosser” jokes. My words flow freely at first: “Hi guys! You’re watching MTVU! My name is Rachel and….it’s the first beautiful day in a long time here in…uh…bustling Times Square! Which is where we’re live in! Aaannnd…coming up next is a pastoral treat with beards….by the name of uh…Fleet Foxes!” ::Mentally:: “Ass Ass Ass!! I sound like an manic hipster cheerleader.”
[5:52]: After stumbling through the next two video tosses, they ask me to move on to an “Album review.” In less than 45 seconds, I must rant about my pick for the newest most awesomest indie release of like ever. I decide to go with the Dark Was the Night LP, featuring new material from Feist, Grizzly Bear, Antony and the Johnsons, and The National! Indie Galore. I can’t go wrong. After all, I’m a lovable ranter (unlike my boyfriend, who is just annoying).
[5:54]: “Hey guys! Welcome to MTV. My name is Rachel and I’ve got the hottest new albums under…uh…my belt. (that was awful) Ah! OK, anyway, there’s this new album out called Dark Was The Night and it features some sweet indie songs by Feist, Grizzly Bear…Feist and Grizzly Bear TOGETHER! All new songs…compilation …….can I start over?”
[5:57]: In less than ten minutes, my audition is over, and I’m shown out without being handed a business card or given a polite “we’ll call you in a week.”
[6:00]: I mad-dash home to peaceful Park Slope where my laptop and fellow freelance writer neighbors are waiting. Whew. It’s good to be back where I belong.