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.
"It was just basically mainstream Wisconsin culture I was living in. And then I go to BYU for three years, and I'm living this mainstream Mormon culture. And so then to be thrown in a situation where there's so much diversity," she said. "But it was great. It opened my eyes. I saw so much. I learned so much in four months that I've never even known about.
"I'm grateful for that because it opened my eyes. Life is not always beautiful. Life is not always Zion. And if you live thinking that it is that way and just saying, 'Yeah, I know about bad places,' but you never have actually seen what it's about, I just think that's dangerous.
"I've made it clear to these people that not all BYU students are the way that they seem. And I think I'm a shining example of that." Julie said. "But I will not deny the fact that there is an overwhelming stigma about our university of these sheltered, they-don't-think-they're-closed-minded-but-they-are kind of people. And I think I was more that way before I came here, and this place has opened up my eyes to a lot of things."
In the end, Julie said she both influenced her roommates and was influenced by them.
"Obviously, the way I live shocked my roommates," she said. "This whole experience has made me re-evaluate my beliefs and just the way I think about things. But it's been in a very positive way, because I walk away from it no longer just believing everything written on paper or everything told to me. I have strong convictions in what I believe and in what I don't believe. I can say that I have learned a lot of things from myself, and I think that's the most important thing. And I wish more people at BYU and more people in general would just open their eyes and get away from what they've always known, and figure out who they are and what they believe.
"Don't get me wrong. There are so many open-minded people. There are so many people at BYU that are not sheltered like I was. But at the same time, there are a lot of people who are."
She's not exactly sure what she wants to do with her life post-"Real World," although she's not angling for a regular TV gig. "I'm not here for fame. I'm not into the whole ego-driven, MTV thing so much. I'm not trying to be a veejay," she said with a laugh.
She'd like to go back to BYU, but she hasn't heard yet whether she'll be accepted back. She's a bit worried, given that her living arrangements in New Orleans weren't quite up to what the school's honor code requires. (Sharing the mansion with men.)
"It will be interesting to see if BYU lets me back into school. I think it will be all right," Julie said.Comment on this story
According to BYU spokeswoman Carrie Jenkins, officials at the school who, not surprisingly, weren't particularly familiar with the show will be watching to see what it's all about and what happened to Julie while she was in New Orleans. No decision has been made on whether Julie will be re-admitted.
Julie didn't tell school officials what she was doing until just a few weeks ago. They tried to return her call, but when told that they had to agree to have their phone conversation taped for "The Real World," they declined.
Whatever happens, Julie said she has no regrets."I think that this is the best experience. I wish that everyone was afforded this kind of an opportunity," she said. "I really am so thankful. I really think this is a blessing in my life. And it is going to afford me the opportunity to touch a lot of people, and I'm thankful for that."