On Oct. 29, MTVU visited the UC Irvine campus as part of a nationwide search for a new VJ. The MTVU crew set up a number of booths and a tent near the flagpoles on Friday morning, and all students were invited to take part in on-camera screenings between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Students were ushered to the event site through a walkway at the top of the stairs, where they checked in and received a wristband and ‘passport.’ They were then directed to visit five stations before their test screening with an MTV producer and a talent executive in a private tent. These were the judges who would pick one UCI finalist to compete against winners from nine other college campuses across the country.
MTVU publicist Jenni Runyan said that the judges were looking for, ‘Unique qualities in participants, a great personality and lots of energy.’
The event stations could be visited in any order. One station was a ‘video challenge,’ in which four competitors watched a video on a large-screen TV and were asked to identify the artist and song title. The ‘Impromptu’ station tested students’ improvisational skills. Participants spun a giant wheel divided into various headings such as ‘Greek/Geek,’ ‘Style’ and ‘Hot Damn,’ and then spent 15 to 30 seconds answering a question on camera relating to the selected topic.
These initial stations were intended purely for entertainment and student performances in these challenges had no bearing upon their final evaluation nor were any prizes awarded to individual contest winners.
However, a wide assortment of promotional items were available for free to all participants, including including ‘Green Day’ and ‘Papa Roach’ stickers, CDs featuring tracks performed by up-and-coming artists like ‘No Warning,’ and samples of Red Zone body spray deodorant.
Some students, such as freshmen Lauren Young and Michelle Lee, both undeclared, didn’t take the contest too seriously.
After being handed flyers plugging the event on Ring Road, along with a free deck of cards, the girls decided to stop by.
‘We’re just doing it for fun,’ Lee explained. However, she still maintained some semblance of hope, admitting, ‘[It would] be cool to win.’
Other participants, such as senior economics major Ryan LaGrotta, took the event very seriously. LaGrotta came prepared, decked out in Dolce & Gabanna, complete with his long blond hair spiked to perfection and a pair of large black shades. He hopes to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, particularly in a music-related field.
‘I’m all about it,’ LaGrotta said. ‘And I got free deodorant.’
Each student’s trip through the stations culminated in a private test screening in an enclosed tent. Awaiting eager participants inside were MTVU talent executive Vinnie Potestivo and MTVU producer Aaron Bourke, both visiting from New York where the network is based, along with an event staffer and a cameraman.
With the camera rolling, Bourke and Potestivo asked contestants a series of questions about their majors, long-term career goals, tastes in music and a host of other topics ranging from the mundane to the offbeat.
First-year biology major Marielle Reataza was even asked to sing an improvised song about why she wanted to be an VJ. Not to be deterred, she heartily belted out a song about why her talent made her the perfect choice.
The screening ended with contestants being asked to read a brief introduction to a music video as though they were announcing a video on the air.
UCI is the eighth stop on MTVU’s ‘Road Trip Tour,’ which will visit 10 campuses across the country and select a finalist from each participating school. The top 10 finalists will be narrowed down to five, who will be announced at an unspecified date some time in November. These five finalists will compete on-air on MTVU and will be judged by viewers, who will cast their votes on www.mtvu.com. The winner will be announced in late November.
According to Potestivo, UCI was selected as one of the 10 campuses visited on the tour because of the prevalence and popularity of cutting-edge music in Orange County.
Potestivo explained that producers wanted to visit a wide variety of geographical locations ‘in order to be exposed to the biggest variety of regional sensibilities.’
The tour included stops as far away as the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J., and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Stops are also being made at neighboring Cal State Long Beach and UCSD. Although it is a subsidiary of the same parent company, MTVU differs from MTV in that it plays nonstop music videos and features material that is less mainstream. It is geared toward college students and is broadcast at over 700 campuses across the United States in fitness centers, student lounges, dining areas and dorm rooms (Anteaters will be familiar with it from TVs located in campus eateries).
The winner of the competition, fourth-year mechanical engineering major Jessica Gurskis, was announced by host DJ Legacy before a small crowd of students at 6 p.m. Jessica didn’t expect to win and chose to attend the event on a whim.
‘I’m surprised,’ Gurskis said. ‘I heard a lot of people who were really good.’
She attributes her success to her unique personality along with her diverse athletic skills, which include snowboarding, surfing and martial arts. She also works as a costumed character at Disneyland, which provides her with unique experience.
Gurskis hopes to have a career in broadcasting, perhaps with MTV. She says she will actively pursue it soon as she graduates.
‘It’s a big possibility,’ Gurskis said. ‘And then I’ll have my mechanical engineering degree so nobody will be able to say anything.’
Anteaters should visit www.mtvu.com Nov. 8 in order to support Gurskis and vote for her as their VJ of choice. If she wins the final round, she will work as an official MTVU VJ during MTVU’s nationally televised ‘Spring Break ’05.’