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Summer 2001

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."

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