Photo by Tenaya Hills"I don't even have cable," confessed Natalie #17, sounding a teensy bit defeated. "If I won, I'd probably never see it."
"Yeah," I sympathized, feeling a little defeated myself, and then joined her in a half-lie: I hadn't cared that much, anyway.
But the half-truth—actually more a three-quarters truth—was that I had cared, and as I stood in the South Coast Plaza parking lot last Saturday afternoon, my stomach in knots, my hands still shaking, joined by the other two dozen or so people who had shown up to MTV2's Local VJ try-outs, I couldn't help but feel bummed that I, well, had choked. Completely.
Everything up until the audition had seemed easy enough: I simply had to sign a waiver granting Viacom complete control over my image, likeness and soul—a breeze!—in exchange for a badge number and four scripts, of which I was to memorize one. Cake! If things worked out, I'd have a shot at maybe—just maybe!—someday introducing Something Corporate and Thrice videos to Cox Cable's Orange County subscribers.
After first sitting through a badly lip-synched mall act, I had taken my place in line between Marie #13, an Asian-American actress, and Stephanie #15, a waifish, bespectacled singer in a soul band.
"I'm nervous," Stephanie said. "I don't think I'm what they're looking for."
But glancing around at the other contestants—some clutched Louis Vuitton handbags; others sported American Eagle's fall line; there were a few unshowered hipsters, some even with Mohawks; and one brave boy wore a ruffled shirt he'd stolen from Liberace's estate tucked snugly inside a gold-sequined jacket—I wondered if the judges—a.k.a. network executives who would watch the tapes in New York and get back to us in four to six weeks about whether or not they felt we were a good fit for our fellow Countians—would even know what to look for.
Orange County's tough to pin down like that, you know, something that made it all the more interesting MTV2 and Cox Cable were attempting to localize their niche market in the first place. Never mind the fact that MTV2 has scaled back its music coverage, abandoning its videos on the doorstep of VH1 Classic and opting for picking up reruns of MTV's other, non-video programming; or even that many 18- to 24-year-olds—the age restrictions for prospective VJs—like Natalie don't even have cable. The problem was that MTV2 would most likely try to sell the OC the myths perpetuated by shows like The O.C. Stay tuned for Making the Video: Phantom Planet—a video by your favorite local band! Filmed right here in Orange County's own Hermosa Beach!—on next.
But enough about that. We had scripts to learn, and I chose No. 4, the shortest and, I felt, most impressive of the scripts. Apart from its somewhat boxy emphasis on "local"—"To find out where your favorite local band is playing, check out MTV2's local concert calendar or local website to get all the latest information!"—the script was easily memorized and even allowed me to plug my favorite local—there it was again!—band, the Image Bulletin. Surely that merited some bonus points, no?
Not quite. Once I took my place in front of the camera, thoughts of fame, stardom and—it pains me to say it, but it's true—a guest appearance on The O.C. painted over everything I'd just memorized. I fumbled. The cue cards blurred.
"My favorite local band is . . ." I stammered, ". . . is . . . theImageBulletin and I sawthemlast . . . at Avalon . . . righthereinCostaMesa."
Afterward, as a last resort, I even tried to butter up MTV2's cute-but-annoying head VJ, Jim Shearer, who was on hand—so far as I could tell—for little reason other than to be cute and annoying. "Hey, Jim Shearer!" I hollered. "That was a great Ted Leo interview you did a while back on Subterranean."
"Thanks!" he replied, sounding surprised that someone had actually watched MTV2.
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"And those commercials with you as a ninja?" I added, referring to the channel's promotional spots featuring Shearer spoofing as a damsel-saving ninja. "Rad!"
"Aw, the 'Save the Music' campaign!" he gushed, clearly buttered-up—if not a little frightened. "Yeah, well, you know," he continued, laughing uneasily, "if you've been watching lately, I think I lost the music."
Yeah. I knew the feeling.