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MTVu 'Stand In'


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MTVu Show Sends Celebs Back to College

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Marilyn Manson

The door to a Hunter College lecture hall opens, and in steps Madonna. There's no tweed for this professor-for-a-day; she wears a black dress and form-fitting boots that stretch to her knees. She's the latest participant in "Stand In," one of MTV Networks' hottest features, particularly given its brevity and relative lack of visibility.

The MTVu network, a spinoff seen primarily on college campuses, invites celebrities to be surprise lecturers. Since Jesse Jackson inaugurated the series in January 2004, "Stand In" has featured Bill Gates, Shimon Peres, Tom Wolfe, Kanye West, Ashley Judd, Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg, Sen. John McCain and Sting.

MTVu had envisioned a series where colleges would compete to hear a celebrity speak. But that proved too time-consuming to organize. "It brings the class to life in a way that few would ever imagine," said Stephen Friedman, MTVu's general manager. When the show's second speaker, Marilyn Manson, nailed his appearance at Temple University, MTVu knew it had a better format.

Manson walked into a class on art and politics in full makeup, writing "Mr. Manson" on the blackboard and setting down a bottle of absinthe before the startled students. He then led a discussion on the role of provocative art in society, saying "art to me is a question mark. I don't think it should ever be an answer."

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Bill Gates

Gates, the one-time computer geek turned world's richest man, surprised a University of Wisconsin class on introduction to programming. McCain requested a visit to his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, to talk politics. The students' reaction is key; most episodes someone with mouth agape at who has just walked into their sleepy classroom.

Participating colleges and MTVu try to keep the secret by telling fibs to students who may wonder about the cameras when they show up to class. At Hunter last week, a film class was told it was screening Madonna's new documentary, "I'm Going to Tell You a Secret," and discussing it with the film's director. With an endless stream of adults walking in and out of the room during the movie, smart students figured out what was happening.

"Since there were security guards all lined up I figured she was coming," said Pinar Noorata, a junior film major. "That was kind of a dead giveaway. But I think everybody was still surprised. It was kind of surreal." As the students stood and applauded Madonna, about a half-dozen pointed their cell phone cameras in her direction so their friends would believe them later.

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Madonna

They lobbed mostly softball questions about the film, Madonna's interest in kabbalah and her two-decade journey through different musical incarnations. "I don't feel like I'm trying on personas," she said. "What I always hope to do is change and evolve. I have no regrets because that's life and life is about change."

She looked back at students who weren't much younger than her when she made her journey from her home in Michigan to New York City, hoping to make it first as a dancer, then as a singer. She counseled self-confidence and tenacity. "The biggest mistake that any of us can make is to believe what other people say about us," she said.

For the celebrities, the appearances offer a dose of hero worship in a carefully controlled environment, before a youthful audience many of them need to court. The white-suited Wolfe seemed genuinely juiced to stand before a class that was studying one of his novels.

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Cameron Diaz

There's also the chance to promote a pet cause, like on Thursday, October 20, when actress Cameron Diaz jolted awake an 8 a.m. Stanford University civil engineering class. She appeared with architect William McDonough to talk about building designs that protect the environment.

"I was expecting like 10 kids to show up," Diaz told The Associated Press later. "It's exciting. A few of the kids came up afterward and said, 'This is so great, this is something I'll remember.' Hopefully, it's something they'll be thinking about when they are sitting down trying to create."

"To make it more meaningful, you really have to have the right class," Friedman said. "What makes this work is the setting of the right person in the right class." Sting brought his band to an advanced musical composition class at the University of Illinois-Chicago, offering one thrilled student the chance to add a flute solo to "Every Breath You Take."

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Sting

Seeing much of the "Stand Ins" is a challenge, though. MTVu leaves most of the appearances on the cutting-room floor, boiling each down to a four-minute sound bite. MTVu is available only on television systems in dorms and dining halls at 730 college campuses around the country.

This fall, MTVu became the first MTV Network streamed continuously on the Web. Past appearances are archived and can be viewed through the station's Web site. MTV is considering giving "Stand In" some exposure on the main network, Friedman said, and is also mulling making extended versions of the appearances available on the Internet.

For Hunter College senior Ruomi Lee-Hampel, it turned out to be one class definitely not worth skipping. "Hearing a director speak about his work was my purpose in coming," he said. "It was just an added bonus to see Madonna in fishnets."

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Melissa Etheridge Surprises UCLA Students

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Melissa Etheridge lectures UCLA Cancer Biology Class.

On a typical afternoon, 300 UCLA cancer biology students shifted in their seats as they waited for class to begin on Wednesday, October 5. Then came a loud knock on the door and in walked a surprise guest professor cancer survivor and rock star Melissa Etheridge.

"Good afternoon," said the popular musician as she smiled at the undergraduates. Some students gasped, others clapped.

For an hour, the 44-year-old singer delved into her emotional, year long battle with breast cancer from the rousing performance she delivered at the Grammy Awards in February to hating chemotherapy and having to tell her children she might die.

"I've been a rock star since you were very young," said Etheridge, 44. "But I've never encountered anything as powerful as cancer."

The visit, filmed for MTV's college network mtvU will air October 17. Etheridge's teaching duties followed a musical special Etheridge recently filmed for the Lifetime cable channel. "We're all a big fan of hers. We're looking for icons," mtvU's Stephen Friedman said.

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Guest Professor Melissa Etheridge

Mostly female students queried Etheridge, and her frank responses drew laughter and tears. "Were you afraid to die?" asked one student.

"I don't fear death. I have a lot more to do," Etheridge answered.

Of what it was like to go through chemotherapy and surgery, Etheridge pointed to her scars and said even her ears hurt during treatment. "I couldn't turn music on, which broke my heart," she said.

Student Kasey Fries, 21, walked away from the experience inspired by Etheridge, who she said "had such a positive attitude." Fries added, "It was great not only to get a breast cancer survivor's experience, but to hear from someone who showed that in front of the whole world."

Other guest professors from MtvU's "Stand In" series have included rappers Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, Israeli Statesman Shimon Peres, Author Tom Wolfe and Musician Marilyn Manson.

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Cameron Diaz Surprises Stanford Class

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Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz surprised a class at Stanford University when the "Charlie's Angels" star helped lead a lecture on environmentally friendly design. Diaz's appearance Thursday, October 20 came as part of taping for an mtvU program called "Stand-In" in which celebrities teach a class. On Tuesday, October 18, Madonna lectured students at New York's Hunter College.

A champion of environmental causes, Diaz served as a sidekick for friend and renowned environmental architect William McDonough, a consulting professor at Stanford. "He's very charismatic, captivating," Diaz said of McDonough, who Time magazine once called "Hero for the Planet." "Bill is one of those people who is thinking big, but is also producing."

Students gasped and giggled when Diaz interrupted the class during McDonough's lecture, and later lined up to snap pictures with the actress on their cell phones. Diaz, 33, stars in the recently released "In Her Shoes."

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