By Jennifer Velez, 17, Venice HS
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Jennifer (center) and Mi TRL host Carlos Santos (right) talk to Amaury Nolasco about his roles in Prison Break and Transformers.

Courtesy of MTV

As I walked into the television studio it was filled with so many bright lights that I felt like I needed my shades to see everything clearly. After taking in the cameras, the audience and the energy, I turned to a huge window looking out at Times Square in New York City, a setting I had seen only on television. Dressed in a black, short-sleeve blazer, a peach American Rag top with jeans and a pair of gold Steve Madden heels, I felt like a star. I had never imagined that one day I would be about to introduce Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco to Mi TRL’s audience and to America!

This adventure started in May 2007 when I grabbed a pile of homework on the table and turned the TV to MTV Tr3s (tres), a music network that fuses my favorite types of music: Latin, indie rock and hip hop. I saw a commercial with Carlos Santos, the host of Mi TRL, a Latino version of the MTV show TRL, announcing the Mi TRL/Acuvue VJ for a day contest. The winner would get a trip to New York to co-host the show. Just thinking about it gave me goose bumps.

I had been watching MTV Tr3s, the first bicultural/bilingual music channel, like crazy since its launch in September 2006. For the first time there was a channel that represented Latino youth. Now I wouldn’t have to flip the channels to see a Julieta Venegas video, which is rarely on mainstream American TV, and then flip back to see a Modest Mouse video. What I like about MTV Tr3s so much is that it breaks the stereotype that Latinos only listen to one kind of music. It broadcasts indie bands from all over Latin America that have songs in Spanish or in Spanish and English. Having the opportunity to work with people who promote Latino diversity would be an honor.

To enter, I first answered 10 questions on the MTV Tr3s website. These questions varied from who would be on my perfect Mi TRL guest list (Julieta Venegas, Shakira, Zoé and Alejandro Sanz), to what I believed made me stand out in the crowd. (I wrote that I’m not easy to stereotype as someone who listens to only a certain genre of music by the way I dress.)

Did I have a chance at winning the contest?

Once I clicked the “submit” button, I realized that I really wanted to win. This channel introduced Latino diversity to white people and also to me. MTV Tr3s opened my eyes to Puerto Rican culture, which I learned was a lot like my Mexican heritage. But after two weeks passed without hearing anything I gave up.

A few days later someone from MTV called and told me I was one of 15 finalists. I jumped up and down and quietly said “Yesss!” The next step was to send a video of myself introducing two of my favorite artists and saying things like what was in my iPod and what I did for fun.

At the kitchen table my mom, sister, brother and I planned where to shoot the three-minute video, which had to make me stand out from the others. We decided to film at La Placita Olvera (Olvera Street) because it is an amazing cultural part of Los Angeles.

I chose to introduce Julieta Venegas because I love her unique look and music and Zoé because that’s one of my favorite bands. I kept messing up my lines so we did more than five takes for each section. I felt really stupid saying my lines over and over again in front of people who stared at me. We wanted people in the background to capture the busy, culturally rich street scene of La Placita Olvera.

Several days after sending in the video I received a phone call from a lady at MTV. My heart began to race. She called to tell me that I had won! My heart stopped and I jumped up and down as I hung up. I ran through the house screaming. I told my family and they began to scream too.

I left Los Angeles at 9 a.m. on May 14 and arrived in New York around 6 p.m. The first thing my mother and I did was go to Times Square. It was my first time in New York City and I walked for hours. The next day I woke up at 8 a.m. to get tutored for four hours. Then I met Jessica, the person who would be in charge of me, in the hotel lobby and we walked to MTV studios.

Everyone at MTV treated me so nicely

We arrived at the Viacom building where the studios were. I had never seen anything so tall. Jessica told me that I was going to a live taping of TRL to see what my job would be like. I couldn’t stop smiling as I wondered who the celebrity guest would be.

I was introduced to several people who worked for MTV Tr3s. They all seemed very excited to meet me with their big smiles, warm hugs and lots of questions. Suddenly my mouth dropped. There in front of me was Enrique Iglesias, one of the most talented and good-looking people in the world, saying “hi” to me! I was so astonished that I couldn’t even say “hi” back. He must get that a lot since he just smiled and waved bye. He was promoting his new album on TRL. Growing up, I heard his songs on the radio and loved hearing his Spanish accent. I knew he was good-looking but never really had a crush on him until I saw him in person.

When the show started, the audience got pumped up. All the bright lights added to the energy. It was so cool seeing TRL taped and learning what goes on between commercials—backstage, Mi TRL host Carlos Santos was hanging out with the celebs appearing on the show. During breaks he made everyone laugh with his jokes. Once the show was over, I got a tour of MTV studios. The studio is much smaller than it looks on TV.

Then I had to practice my lines, which varied from introducing the videos to telling the people at home what number to call so they could vote for their favorite videos. Carlos and I began practicing our lines, acting as though we were in front of the cameras and audience.

Hola, mi gente” (hello, my people). Carlos spoke his line that I remembered hearing every time I watched, except this time it made me nervous since I was next to him.

“Today we have a special guest all the way from California, please welcome your Mi TRL Acuvue winner, Jennifer Velez.”

I was so into listening to Carlos that I forgot that was my cue to enter. It was weird saying my lines in front of the producers and acting like Carlos and I were on stage. But as soon as we started the video countdown it was cool.

“All right, so our first video comes from a crowd fav,” I said, barely believing I was actually saying this. “Here is Daddy Yankee!” I couldn’t wait to say something similar in front of the real audience.

As we rehearsed, Carlos and the producers edited the script. We practiced for an hour until I finally got the feel for it. Leaving the building, I couldn’t wait until the next day.

The next morning (after doing some French and Algebra homework) I practiced my lines in front of the mirror while I brushed my hair and even pretended like the brush was my microphone. Mom was my audience.

When we got to the studio I was surprised at how excited the MTV Tr3s family was for me. I did not think a big company like that would make me feel as if I were around my family and friends.

Before I got started, I had to do an interview with a local New York newspaper. On the way I saw 50 Cent. He was walking around the studio with his bodyguards and entourage. After the interview, I practiceed once more with Carlos. Then I got to the most exciting part, the dressing rooms. When I stepped inside there were several outfits to choose from. I loved them all and was sad I could choose only one. There was one with a cute hat and black Jessica Simpson pumps, there were a lot of shiny accessories that matched the colorful tops and there was even a dress. Right after picking my outfit I got sent to hair and makeup. One hour until show time.

Coming out of hair and makeup I felt almost like a celebrity. Everyone was so excited for me, told me not to be nervous and said I looked very nice. After a few touch-ups I was lead to the studio where we would have a practice run before the big show.

I couldn’t believe I was about to interview and meet Amaury Nolasco from Prison Break, Judy Reyes from Scrubs, and talk to Paulina Rubio through a webcam.

The camera people walked me backstage and told me to wait until Carlos announced me. That was my cue to walk into the studio. While waiting to come out, I thought to myself “Whoa, I’m actually here, how crazy.” It was worth the difficulties, like missing school and even rescheduling my AP exams. My mom and my counselor were very supportive because they understood this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

I fed off the crowd’s energy

“All the way from Los Angeles, please give it up for Jennifer Velez,” I heard Carlos say and that’s when I stopped thinking and walked out into the lights and cameras. I literally ran into the crowd, high-fiving the audience across the rows until I reached Carlos. It was amazing how I could feel their energy. I got introduced to the audience and everyone watching at home. As I began to speak I got nervous.

“Hey Carlos, I’m so excited to be here,” I said and suddenly I wasn’t so nervous anymore because all the energy from the crowd pumped me up.

My VJ job finally started when I introduced the number 10 video by Daddy Yankee. After introducing another video, it was finally time to introduce Amaury. I got the honor of introducing him and asking him a few questions. The fun didn’t stop there. Since he was there to promote his new movie Transformers, he and Carlos played a game to see who could transform their Transformer first. I got to referee and announce the winner.

“And Amaury wins!!!” I shouted as the crowd went wild.

When the segment ended, there was a commercial break. Once the show began again I got to introduce Judy Reyes and Carlos interviewed her while I was backstage. Everyone kept telling me that I was doing such a great job, including Amaury and Judy, who told Carlos what a natural I was while she was being interviewed. I had not seen my mom since makeup and wondered what she thought. This lady told me that my mom was so proud she almost cried when I was introduced. This made me happy and also proud. Before I knew it, it was time to talk to Paulina Rubio, a huge Latina pop star, through a webcam.

I asked her about her tour and things of that sort. The interview went by really fast and soon enough it was time to announce the number one video and say goodbye. With a shoutout to my friends and family, we ended the show. By this time I was so energized that I didn’t want it to end.

Afterward I was sad that it was all over, but at the same time amazed at all I had done. My TV dream had come true and I had done something I never thought I would be able to do. It was harder than I imagined. While practicing in my head I would tell myself not to be nervous so that I could say my lines correctly, but during the taping I could not help it and even stuttered saying my lines once or twice. Carlos, being a pro, makes everything look so easy but being in front of all those people, lights and cameras makes it hard not to get nervous. I was so happy that MTV Tr3s had given me this opportunity and experience and had no way of thanking them. I was so glad I actually went for the contest because if I hadn’t I would have missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.

Other stories by this writer …

From safe to dangerous. After a student was fatally shot at Venice High School, Jennifer, 16, says that many now consider her school a violent place. (Summer update 2006)