It's 3 p.m. Friday. I meet Steve Cooper, a third-year College student, at the Bank of America on the Corner. He's dressed to impress in a fitted, gray, Armani Exchange shirt and Abercrombie cargo pants. Patterned socks to match, leading into his Adam Derrick shiny black shoes.
"I'm not dressed up," Steve says. "It's what I think looks fly."
I have to agree. The boy looks good. Most guys at U.Va. wouldn't be able to pull off the fitted Armani.
"I work out every other day," Steve says. "I want to look good. Nobody works out because they want to be strong, unless they play sports. It's all aesthetics."
While we wait for the photographer to arrive, Steve and I chat. He notices me eyeing his blond-tipped hair.
"I do it myself. $8. Loréal La Petite frost," he explains.
If there's a reason why Steve doesn't look like a typical U.Va. student, it's because he isn't one. After playing basketball for a year at Columbia University in New York City, Steve transferred to Emory University in Atlanta. After a year there, Steve sought out U.Va.
"It's better for my majors, English and music, and closer to home," he explains.
Home, for this "Real World" hopeful, is Silver Spring, Maryland.
When we arrive at the Biltmore at 3:15 p.m., Steve picks up an application and gets a red ink number on his hand. He's number 379. The guy at door calls for number 200. We sit down while Steve fills out the paper work and the photographer does her thing.
"THE THING THAT SCARES ME MOST IS..." Steve writes "losing my parents."
"If I ever sign a lucrative record deal, the first thing I would do is ship my parents out to Hawaii," he writes.
Steve has recorded several CDs of the electronic music that he creates on his keyboard.
From what I've seen, this guy is perfect for "The Real World." I decide I am never watching MTV again if Steve Cooper doesn't make the show.
The street outside the Biltmore isn't as crowded as I would have imagined. The range of students and locals waiting to try out is diverse. It's a welcome change to see black leather and spiked hair outside the bar, rather than the weekend standard of flannels, black pants and miniskirts.
While Steve fills out his questionnaire, I talk to Natanya Mitchell, a fourth-year College student from Brooklyn. Her friends have always told her that she should try out for the show.
"I'm straightforward. They say I'm a Lauryn Hill lookalike. I've got the urban edge," Mitchell said.
Being on "The Real World," she says, is something she has always wanted to do.
Steve finishes his application. An MTV crewmember calls number 211. Like the rest of the hopefuls in the street, we sit and wait. Unlike most of the others lining the sidewalk, Steve is sedate. He looks deep in thought, perhaps considering what it would mean to spend four and a half months with six or seven strangers in some remote location or trapped in an RV.
"It seems as though opportunities open up for you after the show," he reflects. He mentions Rebecca Lord, a fourth-year College student who appeared in the Seattle cast, who went on to model for Abercrombie & Fitch. Steve is hopeful.
"A record deal would be great," he says.
Alice Ours, a third-year College student from Cleveland, Ohio, just finished her group interview with Jerome Singletary, the Executive Coordinator for Bunim-Murray productions, the agency responsible for casting the two MTV programs.
"He asked me all of these sex questions," Ours says. "I was uncomfortable talking about them in front of my fellow classmates."
Steve, however, isn't fazed.
"I hope they ask me if I'm a virgin, because that's a big 'Yes'," Steve says.
Unlike Alice, who doesn't want her parents to hear about her personal life on national television, Steve doesn't mind sharing his.
"Secrets are stupid," he says. "I have none. I don't think there's anything I won't answer."
Should Singletary or one of the other interviewers ask, he's willing to tell all about his own sex life.
"I'm pretty selective," he says. "I'm not going to toss [my virginity] for no reason."
Alice is beginning to look tired.
"I turned 21 yesterday," she says. "My grandmother called me at Coupe's to wish me a happy birthday."
Steve has a different view of alcohol.
"I don't do it," he says. "I have plenty of spontaneity and craziness without drinking."
Like the other 500 people who will try out here before the end of the day, Stevie Garfinkel, a fourth-year College student, is hopeful. He thinks "it'd be fun" to be on "The Real World."
"I could live in a cool place," Garfinkel says. "Really, I just don't know if I want to go to law school next year."
Though Stevie thinks he'd be a good cast member, he is worried about his interview.
"I was out late drinking last night," he says. "I don't feel good." He's also concerned about being exposed in front of millions of viewers, should he make it.
"I don't want my grandparents to see me smoking," he adds.
It's 4:17. Garfinkel, number 311, goes inside. Steve gets more excited about his shot at fame.
"It's six weeks of sheer stardom," he reflects. "Really, how bad could it be?"
Third-year Engineering student Chris Seacord is more reserved.
"I hope my parents don't watch," Seacord says. "My mom is pretty clueless about what I do down here."
At 4:45 I meet Adam Popp, president of Offscreen, an independent on-Grounds film society. He and Meghan Eckman, president of U.Va.'s Film and Media Society, are serving as production assistants to the visiting crew from Bunim-Murray.
"It's great," Eckman says. "We get to meet a lot of people."
Inside the Biltmore, MTV's Singletary is easy to spot in the crowded bar room wearing blue overalls and a loud striped shirt. His face is animated beneath a head full of dreadlocks. While I am waiting for an interview, Jerome tells his assistant to go downstairs and pull any remaining people who "look interesting."
"Number 379," I add, as the assistant walks away. "Go get 379."
The next group of candidates pushes past me up the narrow stairs.
"Jerome, Jerome, my man with a plan!" one shouts.
"Do I know you?" asks Singletary.
"Not yet!" the student exclaims.
Everyone laughs. Singletary loves this excitement.
"We want dynamic, artistic, opinionated, talented people," Singletary says. "I don't have to like you or want to sit down and have a beer with you. If you challenge me, that knocks my socks off every time."
Hopefully, he'll be impressed by Steve's non-conformist views.
Singletary takes offense to some accusations that the drama on his shows is staged.
"Rubbish," he says. "Absolute rubbish. If...you put six or seven diverse, strong-willed people together...you can never quite be prepared for what might happen."
Singletary and his staff are hosting 16 open calls around the country for the upcoming season. Besides Charlottesville, they've planned stops at Syracuse University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and George Mason University, among others. Overall, he expects to interview over 15,00 people.
Singletary is especially pleased to visit Charlottesville, it being home to the national headquarters of Kappa Sigma, the fraternity he pledged in 1991 at New Hampshire College.
He says he doesn't know where the cast will be living next year.
"You don't know or you're just not saying?" I ask.
Singletary laughs. "I'm just not saying."
At 5:10, Jonathan, the Coordinating Producer of "The Real World," brings seven more people upstairs. There's Natanya, the self-described Lauryn Hill lookalike. Bringing up the rear is my man, Steve. It's been two hours since we got here.
Jonathan asks everyone what they did this summer. Erich, from Connecticut, learned to surf in San Diego. In a heavy southern accent, Kate says that she won the Miss Mechanicsville pageant in her hometown. I'm a little worried about Steve. He's barely said a word.
Jonathan asks Kate about the pageant. She says that her talent is singing. Pretty soon, Kate is belting out "Someone to Watch Over Me" in the middle of the Biltmore. Jonathan is clearly impressed. I wish Steve had his keyboard with him.
At 5:23, the interview is over. Steve doesn't think it went well.
"I felt restricted, like I didn't get to open up," he says. "I would have liked more personal questions."
Jonathan doesn't give Steve an extended application to fill out, so we assume he wasn't called back. If it were up to me, Steve would be the first pick.
Summer McCoy and Laurie Gay, both first-year College students, aren't selected for callbacks, either.
McCoy has a few more years before she is too old for the show, so she remains hopeful.
"I know everyone is going to laugh when they read this, but it is my destiny to be on "The Real World," she says. "Those houses are so cool!"
It's been a long day, and Steve is disappointed. I try to cheer him up.
While it would be nice to be on MTV, being the subject of a full-length feature isn't such a bad consolation prize.