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MTV pits friends against lovers
By Jessica Turco

Trendy, hot and unconventional -- MTV. Could they be looking for you?

MTV is launching a special involving the jealousy-filled triangles of couples and competing best friends. Chosen threesomes will spend three days in the Bahamas for a shot at fame. MTV headhunters recently hit the streets of Miami Beach, offering open auditions to find the dynamic trios.

"We're looking for three couples, and the concept is, 'Who knows you better, your best friend or your significant other?'" said MTV casting director Michele Giunta at the South Beach auditions.

The game show will tentatively air July 11 at 7 p.m. to promote the opening of a new flick, "The Wood," starring hotty Taye Diggs. The movie's plot opens with a groom's pre-vow jitters, which spin into a nostalgic journey back into the '80s with his two best friends.

MTV casting directors, Giunta and Stacy Dimm - both in beached-out clothing, were sent from the New York City MTV studio to comb every crevice of the Beach for fresh personalities. "I've been in Miami for five days so far, looking for dynamic couples, and I'm still searching," Giunta said.

Casting directors travel to different regions of the country searching for the right people to appear on the networks' programs. They specifically invited some locals to attend the audition and welcomed all others.

"Michele came into my club Saturday night and told me to come down here," said Darren Goldman, 24, a new resident of South Beach.

Auditions were from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 29, to Friday, July 2.

On Wednesday night, there was a fluctuating number of around 20 curious hopefuls who trickled into the audition site, The National Hotel on Collins Ave. in Miami Beach.

Contestants were greeted by the ambiance of the lavishly restored establishment. After being directed through the refurbished '30s lobby and out alongside the strikingly long pool, contestants found themselves secluded amid a tiki bar, palm trees and the edge of an ocean's beach.

Stacy set them up with application forms to fill out, then left them to lounge around ... and wait. Lit cigarettes glowed everywhere as the applicants nervously eyed their competition. Darting eyes, fidgety body language and the aura of excitement could be seen and felt. As the interviews started, a buzz of chatty small-talk became louder and louder, periodically broken by the ring of a cell-phone and Dimms saying, "Please turn your cell-phones and pagers on vibrate."

A lot of people were surprised when they arrived and joined the small, mellow crowd waiting to audition.

"I expected a lot more people to be here. But I like the fact that it's laid-back," said Dominique Bouchard.

Tom Rausch, 24, didn't know what to expect before he reached the audition area. "I thought it was gonna be one of those dance things." His friend Darren nodding in agreement threw in, "Yeah, now that I know it's a show, I'm more interested because I want to get into acting," he said.

Although the show wouldn't be a huge resume builder for an aspiring actor, a performer's persona never hurts. "They're definitely looking for personality people, not people who'll be shy in front of the camera," said Andre Morgan, auditioning with girlfriend Dominique and his best friend Alex.

One group after another took their seats in front of the camera. They were informally asked a few questions such as, "What was your wildest and craziest date together?" Or questions causing a little steam like, "What do you know about your friend that their partner doesn't?" After about 10 minutes of revealing group dynamics, they'd get up and dance in front of the camera for a minute or so.

The trios really seemed to release a lot of that pre-camera tension after a few minutes on tape.

"At first we were nervous, but then the adrenaline kicked in and we were just being ourselves. When you're out there on TV its like the whole world is looking at you ... and you're just being you," said exasperated Maria Ampuero, 25, just after finishing the taped interview with boyfriend Cesar Pepen and best friend Carole Lorenceau.

The three chosen trios will stay in the Bahamas July 6-8. MTV will foot the bill for the flight and hotel accommodations.

"The Wood" will be in movie theaters July 16. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, it is about three best friends who grew up together in Inglewood, Calif. When Roland (Diggs) ducks out of his wedding just two hours before, friends Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) track him down.

They all start reminiscing about their days growing up together in the '80s with hip-hop music, Jheri-curls, and chasing girls down in Inglewood. As they revisit some of their old hangouts, they know that two big words uttered later in the day will change their friendships forever.

"Inglewood is a middle-class community where people care about their families and want the best for their kids, just like any other city. It has suffered from a lot of misconceptions," says Famuyiwa.

The director was inspired with the plot a few years ago when a friend announced his plans to marry. He and his friend found themselves reminiscing for hours about the days growing up.

"The Wood" is the most recent of several collaborations between MTV Films and Paramount Pictures. Other productions include the box-office hits "Beavis & Butthead Do America" and "Varsity Blues," the critically-acclaimed "Election," "Dead Man On Campus" and "200 Cigarettes."

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