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USF grad's humor tickles 'Real World'

Thanks to her "hysterical" video, a woman who grew up in Valrico is cast for the reality-based MTV show set in New Orleans.

By BABITA PERSAUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


Tuesday night, Valrico makes its mark on the pop culture stage.

Melissa Howard, a University of South Florida graduate who grew up in Valrico, will be making her television debut as a cast member of MTV's Real World New Orleans.

Howard, 23, was picked from 35,221 hopefuls after she sent in a videotape of herself talking about her life, her parents and growing up biracial (her mother is Filipino; her father is African-American).

"What is it about Melissa? It is, what isn't it about Melissa," said MTV producer and casting director, Andrew Hoegl. "Her videotape was hysterical."

On it, she calls herself a "half-black, half-Filipino Chris Rock."

"I think this season is one of the funniest," said Hoegl. "And a lot of it has to do with Melissa's humor."

Late last year, Howard sent in the self-made tape because "I'm a fan of the show, very much. I thought Hawaii (last season) was absolute eye candy. I loved to sit there and watch Amaya and Colin talk about Ruthie."

In January, she was off to New Orleans to spend 124 days with six other MTV-selected strangers -- camera crews following almost every move.

There's Melissa walking into the St. Charles Avenue mansion -- the one filled with $293,442 worth of art. Melissa clubbing on Bourbon Street. Melissa going to Mardi Gras. Melissa having late night talks with Danny, her roommate, who reveals he's gay .

And then, there's Melissa hooking up with Jamie, a "prep" from a wealthy Chicago suburb.

The show wrapped up production in late May. Howard is planning to go to Los Angeles to pursue acrylic painting, an interest she developed while in New Orleans.

"This is a very unique opportunity," said Howard during an MTV open house in New Orleans. "And I accept this opportunity as something that a very small club of people do."

Who's who:

Jamie, 21: Cornell University grad from a wealthy Chicago suburb. He is also a Web-based entrepreneur.

Kelley, 22: Movie-star looks, from Fayetteville, Ark. She says she has to work double time on the intelligence front to make up for her looks.

Danny, 22: Has on-camera relationship with another man, who is in the military. (His face is concealed "for fear of repercussions that would result from his being identified as a gay in the military," states an MTV press release.)

Julie, 20: A Mormon who comes from a sheltered upbringing in Milwaukee.

Matt, 21: Looks punk, but doesn't drink or smoke. He attends Mass every Sunday.

David, 21: Into bodybuilding.

Melissa, 23: "A firecracker of a personality," states MTV.

At a glance

Real World New Orleans, one-hour premiere, 10 p.m. Tuesday on MTV. Series continues Tuesdays 10 p.m to 10:30 p.m. on MTV.

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