Photo: Liivi Sandy

Student would drop out for VJ spot

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By Liivi Sandy

In a few months, second-year Radio and Television Arts student Mike Bishop could be Much Music’s newest VJ. But he’s going to have to make it through the interview first.

“I think I’d quit school if I got the position,” he says.

Bishop seems relaxed as he walks out of the interview. He says he was a little nervous when he walked in but claims everything went smoothly. He sits down and watches VJ Namugenyi Kiwanuka in a live broadcast of VIBE. The camera crew surrounds her. Nam’s energy carries into a music video sequence but she continues an engaged conversation with the artist and a break dancer.

Bishop glances at her curiously with a DVD copy of his television show, Deafplanet.com, in his hands. It’s an interactive series and Web site in American Sign Language about Max, an earthling who goes to space. Bishop plays Max, the animated character who stares up from the cover. Max looks more groomed than Bishop.

“I think a lot of people spent a lot of time getting ready this morning. I haven’t showered or shaved,” he says laughing about his rugged, bed head appeal.

Bishop did not originally plan to audition for the MuchMusic VJ position. His roommate woke him up early in the morning and dared him to go. Now he is sitting in the Much environment on a Sunday morning among a handful of other hopefuls who think they’ve got what it takes to get hired.

Once every two years, MuchMusic has a national VJ search and broadcasts the candidates’ live auditions to the public. Right now, MuchMusic is travelling across Canada, encouraging people to try out. They are accepting demo tapes and questionnaires until Dec. 22. The semi-finalists will be flown to Toronto in January to complete a live, on-air audition.

Open call searches are done regularly at MuchMusic. Producers are always looking out for people with something dynamic to add to the station. Bringing in a fresh face helps them keep up with emerging trends.

“Everyone thinks it’s about the looks,” says Bob Pagrach, the line producer and one of the judges for the VJ search.

Pagrach says a combination of high energy and vast knowledge is the only thing that will get you through the first step. There are several more interviews and screen tests after the first round.

Pagrach says there is a certain aura around those who qualify.

He says Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts and Journalism students come in with an advantage because of their television background. However, this does not mean people with no experience aren’t equally considered.

Take pop culture reporter Hannah Sung as an example. Although she was taking a course at Ryerson during her audition, it was not broadcast-related. She was taking a freelance writing course to compliment her Arts degree from the University of Toronto. Like Bishop, she attended an open-call interview after hearing about an ad in the paper.

“It was like a boring job interview,” says Sung about her first encounter with the producers.

“I had no idea what they wanted from me.”

She waited a month for a call-back and another two months went by before she was hired. Producers would call her up intermittently and ask her to think of newsworthy stories to cover. Or they would take her out with a camera crew to do an interview with a celebrity.

Pagrach says Sung’s lifestyle was impressive before she was hired. While she had charisma, her understanding of pop culture was visible. During her interview, Sung was freelancing for The Toronto Star and Chatelaine. She had interned at Eye magazine and was part of a youth panel on CFRB 1010. She had previously tried out as a VJ when she worked at Much as a receptionist, but didn’t get the job.

Although in disbelief when she got the position the second time around, Sung says the high only lasted for a few months. The demands of the job forced her to climb a steep learning curve.

“Those lessons are hard to learn when you’re doing it in front of the country. They toss you right out there,” she says.

During his interview, Bishop was drilled on pop culture trivia. He even had to do an introduction for a Britney Spears video.

“I felt like I was on Papstars,” he says.

Pagrach says the candidates in Bishop’s lot were prepared and gave it their all. Now he just has to wait and see if he made the cut.

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