When MTV location scouts visited Norman Korpi’s
Brooklyn loft to see if it would make a suitable
Real World locale, they suggested that Korpi,
a commercial artist, audition for the show. There
was just one problem: Korpi, then 23 had never
informed his parents that he was gay. He ended
up telling them prior to the show’s premiere—he
says they were supportive—and went on to
become one of the first openly gay stars on MTV.
"All of a sudden on TV is this average, dorky
kind of person who was gay—no the stereotype,
" he says. "People were refreshed."
As were his new roomies. "I call Norman a
magnet, " says castmate Heather Gardner,
who has remained a close friend. "He draws
[together] all these different people—white,
black, gay, straight." Korpi’s likability
helped him recruit nine former Real Worlders for
his directorial debut, a comedy called The Wedding
Video, about two men who marry (Korpi starts as
one of the grooms). Although the independently
financed film does not yet have a distributor,
Korpi says the experience of working with fellow
Real World alums such as Gardner and Julie Gentry
has been a source of closure. The show "kind
of held me captive for 10 years, " Says Korpi,
who is now 34, single and living in Los Angeles.
"Doing this film puts it all behind me. I
feel free again."
Preparing to set foot in The Real World’s
SoHo loft for the first time, "I had a plan,"
says Heather Gardner, 30. "I told myself,
‘I am not going to get caught up, I’m
not speaking to anyone, I will just be me and
get my money.’"
So much for that idea. By the time the show wrapped,
Gardner had traded her loner scheme for a tight
bond with castmate Julie Gentry. "I knew
she’d never met anybody like me before,
and I’d never met anyone like her,"
says Gardner, a Jersey City native, of her country
pal. The pair roomed together for several months
after the show ended, and in 1998 Gardner served
as a bridesmaid for Gentry.
Friendship wasn’t the only thing Gardner
got out of her Real World experience. A rapper
who’s nom de mike is Heather B, she used
her TV exposure to promote her 1995 single "All
Glocks Down," which became a radio hit. Still
living in Jersey City, Gardner is in a "serious
relationship" with her boyfriend of four
years and has a new album due in
August. And though she had lost weight since her
Real World days, she laments the sleekness of
subsequent cast. " I was 5’8"
and 160 lbs. when I did that show," she says.
"Now the girls are a size 2."