THE FIRST REALITY TV CAST
AFTER 29 YEARS, THE ORIGINAL SEVEN STRANGERS WHO KICKED OFF THE REALITY TV REVOLUTION RETURN TO THE LOFT WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
In 1992 seven strangers, all aspiring artists, moved into a New York City apartment to have their lives taped – and reality television as we know it was born. Now the original cast of MTV’s The Real World – Eric Nies, Julie Gentry (née Oliver), Heather B Gardner, Kevin Powell, Norman Korpi, Andre Comeau and Rebecca Blasband – have returned to that same apartment for The Real World Homecoming: New York. Shooting the reunion series “was trippy”, says Jonathan Murray, who created the show with his production partner, the
late Mary-Ellis Bunim. “What’s so cool is they all have their essential essence, the thing that made us choose them for this first social experiment.”
With their reunion comes a rehashing of some of the frank conversations – and arguments – about issues such as race that became a hallmark of the early days of the long-running series (which has run for a whopping 33 seasons and counting). “We are still talking about the same things,” says Gardner. “While we were there, a Black Trans Lives Matter march went past the loft. To be next to Norman, who came out on television at a time when it was not cute, and Kevin, who had been about Black Lives Matter, it was powerful and crazy.”
THEN: The commercial artist gained fans as one of the first openly gay stars on TV. “I still have like 25 boxes of these long, touching letters from people that didn’t have a voice,” he says. NOW: Although he’s currently helping family in northern Michigan, Korpi, 54, typically lives with his partner, Bill, in Rancho Mirage, California. He has made several patented creations, including an adaptive computer stand. “It’s hard if you’re not super funded,” he says. “Shark Tank has reached out, but once they find out who I am, they think it’s an unfair advantage.
I’m like, ‘Oh my God.
I spawned this whole reality genre!’”
THEN: The wide-eyed 19-year-old dancer was eager to experience the world outside her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. “I just wanted to go and do things and meet people,” she recalls. NOW: Now back in Birmingham, Gentry married restaurant owner Joshua Gentry in 1998 – Gardner was a bridesmaid! – and has two children, a daughter, 17, and a son, 19, who recently moved into off-campus housing for college. “It’s all kids who don’t really know one another,” Gentry, 48, says. “I was like, ‘[You’re] getting to create your own Real World situation, at the exact same age I was.’” In addition to teaching dance, Gentry is the vice president of College Choice Foundation, where she helps lowincome students attend college.
THEN: Blasband, who went by Becky on the show, famously had a romance with one of the show’s directors, but she was mostly focused on her music career. “I thought it’d be just enough publicity,” the 53-year-old says of joining the show. “Little did I know.” NOW: “I was in a quiet mode here in Taos, New Mexico,” says Blasband of getting the call for Homecoming.
“I had finished an album, and I had finished the first rewrite of my book, and I was coming out of that creative cocoon.”
Her latest album, Here, is a “collaboration with the spirit of John Lennon”.
THEN: The outgoing model hosted MTV’s The Grind shortly after The Real World. “My life just completely went crazy,” he says. “It was a dance party wherever I went.” NOW: “It’s been one long, 29-year spiritual healing,” says Nies, 49, who spent years training under a Vietnamese martial arts grandmaster and is now a health and wellness facilitator. “When I first walked into the loft, I felt like Jasmine from Aladdin – I even said this was a whole new world – but now I feel like the genie. I kind of play that role in people’s lives: I’m a spiritual guide, and I assist people in liberating themselves from their own suffering.”
THEN: The oldest cast member, a writer, educator and activist, he frequently clashed with his roommates, especially during heated conversations about race. NOW: “My life is definitely public service,” says Powell, 54, who has run for Congress in New York twice and is preparing for the release of his 15th book, a biography of Tupac Shakur. “I’m as angry as I was back in the ’90s,” he says. “But I realised my role now as a writer, as a leader, as an activist, is to be a bridge builder.”
THEN: Called the “embodiment of gen X slackerdom” by The New York Times, the longhaired musician loved to sleep and perform with his band Reigndance.
NOW: In addition to working for a music publisher in Los Angeles, Comeau, 50, is releasing a hard-rock album this month. “Back in the ’90s I was often singing other people’s songs,” he says. “I don’t do that anymore. I’m the sole writer of all of my music now.” But Comeau’s top priority remains his wife, Erica, and 4-year-old daughter Sophie. “She’s all over the new show,” he teases. “She’s a little monster, and she’s just bursting with personality.”
Heather B Gardner
THEN: The outspoken rapper was recording her album The System Sucks. NOW: Gardner, 50, lives in New Jersey with her husband of nearly 20 years, Horse, a producer, and has been working in radio – with the company SiriusXM on Sway in the Morning and on her own show The Happy Hour with Heather B – for more than a decade. She admits she hesitated to move in with her former roommates again. “None of us have big families in our adult life,” she says. “I thought after about two days, things could get a little funky.”