About to get 'Real' up in this 'World' (again)
It's summer in Chicago. Expect steamy hookups, heated arguments, and simply one hot mess. Especially if MTV films the "Real World" in the Windy City this summer.
RW Productions got city zoning approval in June to set up a seven-bed temporary residence in the two-story building that once housed the Bon V nightclub on Randolph Street in the West Loop. When contacted, MTV said it "can't confirm anything at this time."
West Loop building at 1100 W. Randolph St. Photo by Hilary Higgins for RedEye
The last time MTV came to Chicago was the summer of 2001, when cameras followed the roommates inside their Wicker Park loft while residents outside protested the neighborhood's gentrification.
Viewers watched the cast go to Northalsted Market Days, ride the "L," work at Humboldt Park and Daley Plaza and react to the TV news footage of the 9/11 attacks. Of course, MTV showed off the city in scenic shots of the lakefront, Michigan Avenue and the Hancock Center.
The Chicago Tribune reported at the end of June that filming would likely begin in August for 12 weeks. Much has changed since the Chicago season aired in 2002. For starters, the cast grew up. Chicago got a new mayor. Barack Obama, who was then a state senator, became president. Millennium Park opened. Lollapalooza came to Chicago and is held in Grant Park every summer and other music fests like Pitchfork and Riot Fest also came to Chicago. The Sears Tower was renamed the Willis Tower. The White Sox won the World Series. The Hawks won the Stanley Cup twice.
The show was on before there was a smoking ban, before gay marriage was legal, before the Iraq war, before there were iPhones and Facebook and even before the RedEye was published. RedEye rewinds to the 2001 season, brings you up to speed on the show's new Chicago neighborhood and suggests some jobs for the Chicago cast.
RedEye made a faux audition reel for "The Real World's" casting call. Want to send us one of your own? Upload your video and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. **There might be something in it for you**
Then: The Wicker Park building at 1934 W. North Ave. was once home to the neighborhood hangout Urbis Orbis cafe. It was converted to a loft for the show. Currently, it is a Cheetah Gym located across the street from Piece Brewery and Pizzeria.
Now: RW Productions recently received zoning approval of a special-use application for the West Loop building at 1100 W. Randolph St. The two-story shuttered building used to house Bon V, a nightclub that was partly owned by Casey Urlacher, the brother of former Bears player Brian Urlacher.
For the cast, the show was a snapshot of a moment in their lives. Some appeared on more MTV shows and others used the opportunity to catapult their careers.
Remembered for: Being the naked exhibitionist of the house and having short-lived drama-filled relationships with women she met in Chicago. Now: She is still on the roster of the "Real World/Road Rules" challenges. Based on her Twitter feed, she's living in Pennsylvania.
Remembered for: Her Sarah Jessica Parker-esque hair, her struggle with being single in the city, body-image issues and hookups (including a guy from a band). Now: She is married, has a 4-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter, and lives outside Philadelphia. She works for B. Makowsky, a handbag and shoe designer, selling merchandise on QVC.
Remembered for: His model looks, level-headedness, being a recovering alcoholic and venturing into Boystown. Now: After the show, he stayed in Chicago to help with the installation of the Dale Chihuly glass art exhibit at the Garfield Park Conservatory. He modeled and toured on a public speaking circuit about his addiction and wrote a book about his sobriety. He lives in Manhattan and is an artist with a studio in Chelsea.
Remembered for: Being the Southern belle that built up sexual tension and a flirtatious relationship with housemate Kyle. Now: Some Facebook snooping showed she is married and has a daughter.
Remembered for: Being the roommate who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, went to an Ivy League college and took his roommates to his family's lake house. Now: He appeared on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives." He produces, writes and hosts for CBS Sports Radio, CBS Sports Network and Showtime. He's married, has a son and lives in Orange County.
Remembered for: Wearing a shell necklace, partying, bonding with a teen in Humboldt Park during his summer job and being the son of a pastor. Now: He lives in Dallas with his wife, 8-year-old son, and 6-year-old daughter and works as a human relations executive for Target.
Remembered for: Hogging the phone to talk to her boyfriend, being sick with kidney infections and preferring to stay home alone than go on trips with her roomies. Now: She went on to do a number of "Real World/Road Rules" challenges and reportedly settled a lawsuit in 2012 against MTV claiming she was sexually abused by two cast members of a challenge. According to her Facebook page, she is a self-employed photographer living in Washington.
Most seasons of the "Real World" have required the cast to work. We give suggestions to MTV on what jobs the cast could have in Chicago this time around.
Then: Theo, Aneesa, Cara and Tonya worked with children in a Chicago Park District program to design murals for Humboldt Park. Meanwhile, Chris, Keri and Kyle were lifeguards that summer. In the fall, they all performed at Daley Plaza in a storytelling tent for Halloween.
Now: Well, we can only guess. If they work for the Park District again, they can help clean up after Lolla. They could run errands for Mayor Emanuel, clean bathrooms at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular Field, fill potholes, serve drinks at Castaways or valet Divvy bikes.
Then: By the time the "Real World" came to Wicker Park, it was a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. The gritty, affordable, artistic community was transitioning into a neighborhood that became a magnet for trendy boutiques, delectable restaurants and rising rents. As new condos have popped up since, the neighborhood has evolved into a vibrant destination but still retains its bohemian character with mainstays like the Double Door, Empty Bottle, Rainbo Club and Myopic Books.
During filming, a number of protesters shouted outside the "Real World" house in opposition of corporate media giant and MTV's parent company Viacom invading their neighborhood and its overall gentrification. Cast members found red paint splattered on the front door and messages such as "I am not an actor in my neighborhood" that were written in chalk outside the building.
But the show also gave publicity and buzz to businesses, including Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, which opened across the street the same summer that the show filmed.
"For us, it was obviously a good thing but also quite challenging from an operations point of view because we were just opening up," said Piece owner Bill Jacobs.
He picked that location because there was no pizza joint, brewpub or sports bar nearby. "It was still a little sketchy, but we've really seen the development of a strong market," he said.
The cast often went there to eat, Tonya worked as a server and Cara as a hostess for a couple weeks. The cameras followed. "It was great and drove a big crowd wanting to get a look at these kids," Jacobs said.
Now: Even without the "Real World," much attention is already being paid to the West Loop with Forbes Travel Guide calling it "Chicago's hippest neighborhood" in April. In the past few years, the West Loop transformed from abandoned, dilapidated warehouses into pricey lofts and a foodie haven with well-known chefs like Grant Achatz, Curtis Duffy and Paul Kahan setting up shop. And don't forget "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard, who opened the popular Girl and the Goat and Little Goat restaurants on Randolph Street.
"It's growing faster now than I've ever seen it before in [the] last 20 years," said Dan Krasny, owner of Vivo restaurant on Randolph Street since 1991. He said he's all for the show taping in the West Loop because it will bring more recognition to the idea that production is still happening in the neighborhood where Harpo Studios sits.
Some residents worried that the problems Wicker Park neighbors faced in 2001 when the show filmed would shift to the West Loop. Patti Mocco referred to the protesters spilling into the street and gawkers trying to get on TV.
"We want people to come and enjoy our restaurants, enjoy our stores. We don't want them to have to worry about the craziness," said Mocco, a board member of the Neighbors of West Loop. She said she can't see how the show would have a positive impact on the adults who are buying homes and moving into the neighborhood.
"The consensus is we didn't want the West Loop to be labeled with this kind of crazy debauchery thing of these young adults," Mocco said.
Residents and business owners voiced their concerns at a community meeting earlier in June. MTV assured them they would be monitoring the show's cast, said Martha Goldstein, executive director of West Loop Community Organization.
Several area businesses also have expressed interest in getting involved with the filming, she said. "It seems to me as long as they're good neighbors and respect the community, we're pleased to have them here," Goldstein said.
CATCHING UP WITH THE CAST
RedEye reached four cast members to reflect on their time in Chicago.
What do you remember most about your season in Chicago?
Kyle: 9/11. We were inside an empty Wrigley Field that morning doing a photo shoot when the news broke. I had loved ones in Manhattan and couldn't reach them because we weren't allowed to have cell phones. One second I was living out a childhood dream of running around that ballpark, the next second it became one of the worst moments of my life. Wrigley hasn't felt the same to me since.
Theo: I still say 9/11 because it really made what we were doing there so unimportant to me. It really humbled, I think, all of us.
How do you think you were portrayed?
Kyle: They're not worried about making you look cool, they're about making good TV. You know what's good TV? People making fools of themselves and looking stupid. ... So no, I don't think I came off well on the show. But it wasn't because it was skewed and edited. It's because I was 22 and terrified.
Cara: It's no secret I had a very difficult time with how I was portrayed on the show ... I sowed my wild oats on national TV and it was very difficult to watch even though I did nothing wrong.
What's your advice to new Chicago cast?
Cara: You have to be able to stomach it all and ignore the good and the bad (feedback) and know the people who love you, love you. The point is try to stay as true to yourself as you can and try to enjoy it. It's a fun four months.
Chris: To enjoy each day. Explore the city and get out there.
Theo: Soak it in. Take advantage of it. Utilize the opportunity because you're going to blink and it'll be over.
On being on the show:
Cara: There was a while where I was embarrassed by it and (thought) "What have I done?" Now being 14 or 15 years removed from it, now I think of it as a quirky, unorthodox thing I did.
Chris: It was a really vulnerable time in my life because I had just gotten sober. I really absorbed all of the city ... One challenging thing for me, some people may have thought it was coming out nationally, but it was not fully understanding the nature of addiction.
Theo: I thought that neighborhood was awesome. People were nice. There were hole-in-the-wall restaurants we could go to. We could hop on the train right there. It was a really great neighborhood.
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