At home with MTV VJ Dave Holmes

Jill Bouffard

Dave Holmes was on his way to work in New York City, when a billboard caught his eye. No, it wasn’t one of those gigantic Calvin Klein ads that Times Square is famous for. This billboard was about to change his life.
“I was temping and waiting tables at the time, and one day I saw a billboard for MTV that said `Open call for VJs,'” said Holmes. MTV was advertising for its 1998 “Wanna Be a VJ” contest.
The competition was to be huge. 4,000 contestants filled Times Square, crowding the streets directly below MTV Headquarters. The prize? One lucky contestant would win the chance to be a VJ for the popular television station.
“I was 27 at the time,” said Holmes, “and I thought I’d come in and learn and get some experience. If I got the job, terrific.”
Holmes impressed both fans and MTV executives alike with his extensive musical knowledge and his poise in front of the cameras. Even though he was the first runner-up (Holmes lost to Jesse Camp), MTV was compelled to offer him a position.
It wasn’t long before Holmes scored his first on-air job. “It was strange, because I was doing a screen test, and they came in and said `Carson (Daly) is going to be out Friday, do you want to fill in for him?'” said Holmes.
“At the time, there was this thing on the air called `MTV Live,’ which is now `Total Request Live.’ It was 90 minutes of live TV,” he said. “I had never done anything like that before. I was scared to death. And they brought it up so casually like `Do you want a sandwich?'”
Holmes gladly accepted the offer. He calmed his nerves and psyched himself up for the task. “I had faith in myself,” he said. “It’s all improv. You have to get into the zone and get it done.”
Plus, Holmes felt comfortable in MTV’s laid back atmosphere. “This is not CNN. You get to have fun. If you mess up it’s like `Oh God, what the hell am I supposed to say?’ And it’s okay to say that. It’s not like you’re Peter Jennings,” he said with a laugh. “I knew I wasn’t going to burn the building down.”
Having a strong background in theater didn’t hurt either. Holmes studied psychology and theater while attending Holy Cross University in Massachusetts. “I’ve acted all my life,” he said. “And I did a lot of improv in college. I’d even write my own stuff.”
Since his MTV Live debut, Holmes has appeared on “Total Request Live,” “MTV & Billboard’s Top 100 Pop Songs,” “New Year’s Eve Live” and “Spankin’ New Music Weekend.” He most recently finished a long stint as host of MTV’s “Say What Karaoke.”
His favorite show to date has been “Video Cliches.” “I was the head writer for that show,” he said. “It was cool because we got to make fun of the artists a little. That was a blast.”
Holmes has also interviewed some major stars in the entertainment industry such as actor Tom Cruise, singer/dancer Britney Spears and pop group *NYSNC, who coincidentally debuted on MTV Live the same day as Holmes.
“They’re a really good group, and it’s funny, because when I was a finalist for “Wanna Be A VJ,” my first time on MTV Live was the first time they were on MTV as well”, he said. “Over the past three years I have seen them become the biggest thing in the world.”
Holmes, who grew up in St. Louis, Miss., said his interest in music came from his family. “I come from a musical family,” said the soon-to-be 30-year-old. “My grandfather was in a barbershop quartet. My older brothers went to college in the late 70s and 80s and listened to groups like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.”
“At age nine or 10, I fell in love with it,” he continued to say. “I never developed a talent for it, but I was a fan.”
“I’ll listen to anything; jazz, country,” he said. “Music is a condiment to life. And you really don’t have one favorite seasoning.” Holmes prefers a taste of everything.
What does Holmes’ schedule look like in the weeks to come? “I’m currently working on a new pilot, so I’ll be flying out to LA for that. Then after that we’ll be shooting more specials,” he said while snacking on a banana. “And Spring Break’s coming up, which is always really bizarre.”
Holmes plans to make the most out of his MTV experience. He even offers some advice to college students: “Be practical. A lot of people think that right away they’re going to be successful. Get that out of your head. If you get a foot in the door, and you’re willing to learn, you can go far.” He did.