Unlikely path: BYU to MTV

Published: Friday, June 2 2000 7:14 a.m. MDT

Julie, a 20-year-old student at Brigham Young University, didn't exactly grow up dreaming of appearing on MTV's "The Real World." The cable channel was off-limits at her LDS home in Wisconsin.

And that didn't change a whole lot when she got to BYU.

"I don't have much exposure to MTV at all. I'd seen a couple episodes of 'Real World' at a friend's house, but that was it," she said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "I mean, I really didn't know what I was getting into."

What Julie (they only use first names on "The Real World" to provide some tiny privacy protection) got herself into was MTV's most popular program — the story of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives videotaped for six months. In this case, the house — a Greek revival mansion decked out in IKEA's best — was in New Orleans, which (not surprisingly) turned out to be a far cry from her student apartment in Provo.

If the thought of a BYU student on MTV comes as a surprise, well, Julie shares the feeling. She said she never really thought that, of the 35,000 hopefuls who auditioned, she'd be picked. What she was really after was a free trip to Los Angeles for the audition finals.

"And when I went to L.A., it was just life-changing. I got out there, and I saw a whole new world that I've never seen before," she said. "I met some really cool people, and I realized, if this experience could be this cool in a couple of days, imagine four months in a new place with new people. I just wanted to meet new people, see new things, see what I wasn't seeing in Provo."

She didn't have to look far. Her roommates included four men and two women. Two were members of minorities, one was a gay man, most had a considerably different set of moral standards. (Most, but not all. One young man, a staunch Catholic, proudly proclaims in the first episode his intention to remain a virgin until he's married.)

Not surprisingly, Julie's religion is a major playing point in this year's "Real World." And some of the reactions to it are laughable.

"I've gotten hit with so many Mormon myths, you don't even know," she said. "I've been dispelling a lot of them."

In the first hour, one roommate actually asks her if she's married — he's under the illusion that all Mormons marry at the age of 15 or 16. The question of whether she can drink Coke comes up. Later on, people assume Mormons have prohibitions against dating, dancing and even makeup. Julie didn't hesitate to answer questions, but she's at least a little bit uncomfortable with the thought of representing the LDS Church.

"I went into this saying that I was not going to represent Mormonism," she said. "I recognize, though, that it being my religion, that I am a representative of it. And I think I have handled that responsibility in a good way because I've been true to myself throughout. I haven't tried to be a bad representative, I've just been myself."

And being herself includes not only a commitment to her set of values but a sense of humor. In that first episode, she teases her parents about how she's sharing a room with a guy (she doesn't) but that it's OK because they share a large bed. You've got to wonder, however, if viewers are going to understand that her father is joking when he talks about coming down to New Orleans and building a "wall of Jericho," or if they'll see him as a religious zealot.

And she didn't exactly get a lot of support from her family or friends. Her parents were decidedly unenthusiastic about her taking part in "The Real World," and there are hints that her father comes to New Orleans to try to talk her into leaving. (She can't comment as per MTV's prohibitions against giving away "plot" points.)

Growing up in smalltown Wisconsin, Julie was used to being in the minority as a Mormon. But living in New Orleans — which she described as "a bit of a sin bin" — was indeed the culture shock she was expecting.