Emma Gets Made
Emma Hamstra and I first met during her senior portrait session in October 2010. On the questionnaire I give all my seniors, one of the things she told me about herself was, “I am the goalie on the varsity field hockey and lacrosse teams, and enjoy the thrill of being shot at.” Apparently she’s very successful at preventing goals, too (in Emma’s senior year with Pioneer’s field hockey team, she stopped 88% of the shots she faced).
She may enjoy being shot at on the playing field, but I wasn’t too sure how much she enjoyed being shot at — with a camera. Emma blinked. A lot. So much so, it became comical, and thankfully Emma was quick to laugh at herself. Even with all the blinks (she holds the dubious honor of most blinks recorded in a single session — by far!), I enjoyed photographing Emma and getting to know her and her mom, Ruth.
Towards the end of our session, Emma told me about her audition for the popular MTV reality show, MADE, and how surprised and excited she was to have successfully survived several rounds of auditions. Each MADE episode follows a different teen in their attempt to achieve a goal far outside their comfort zone. MTV provides an expert coach and documents the entire process on video.
Several months later, I was thrilled to learn that, out of the huge number of kids who auditioned, Emma was among that tiny sliver who are actually chosen to be MADE. But I was also worried about the potential pitfalls. Reality TV shows are notorious for being, um … notorious. And putting a teenager through a crash-course transformation sets up the perfect storm for drama. I was nervous about Emma’s story being twisted and sensationalized for the sake of entertainment.
Emma chose to be MADE into a rapper. Specifically, she wanted to write and perform a rap about her recent past problems with bullies. The episode lets us peer into her progress with her excellent and empathic coach, P.L. (as of this writing at least, there’s way more info/songs/etc. at P.L.’s MySpace page). She faces some of the challenges that many of the kids on MADE face, such as a reluctance to be vulnerable in public. But Emma is also confronted in a classroom scene about her choice to rap, and the scene spirals downward. To her credit, Emma responds to this intimidation in her fierce and heartfelt rap, Bounce Back! (Here’s a link to the song.)
After Emma’s big rap performance in front of the entire school, we met for a quick photo session downtown to capture her rapper persona, Feminemma. She was still in wardrobe, hair, and make-up. You can see a completely different young woman on the surface. But there’s something else that the photos don’t show: Emma rarely blinked.
Emma, who is now a freshman and field-hockey goalie at UMass Amherst, answered some questions about being MADE. Thanks Emma! You’re my hero! (Here are links to Emma’s MADE episode and the Feminemma Facebook page.)
- How would you describe yourself before you got involved with the MTV MADE show?
- I’d say that before I was MADE, I was willing to stand up for other people who had been bullied, but I never actually stood up for myself. I think I was also a bit insecure and wasn’t comfortable or willing to dress all that sexy. I was a field hockey player who was just dipping her toes into the poetry slam scene.
- What inspired you to try out?
- I auditioned on a whim. A lot of my friends thought it would be really funny if I auditioned. So I just went for it.
- Describe the audition process:
The audition process is long and rigorous. First, an MTV talent scout interviews you on camera for about 15 minutes. You state your name and age all of that basic information and what your goal is. Then they ask you to display your talent. So I rapped for the guy. He just laughed at me. They also ask you why you can’t reach this goal on your own. I didn’t hear anything from MTV for about a month so I just figured that I hadn’t been chosen.
Three weeks later, I finally got a phone call from the head of the casting department. I had about three one-hour phone interviews with her. Then, over Thanksgiving, MTV decided that it was worth filming a “green light” (two days of being followed around by a camera, just to see who the kid is and if they’re interesting enough). During my green light they interviewed kids at school about me and had me rap. Needless to say, I was a terrible rapper. Again MTV didn’t call or email me for about a month and a half. But at the end of January, I got another phone call. This time from MTV’s legal department. I needed to get a permission slip signed authorizing me to work on camera. I also needed to get written permission from my siblings’ pediatrician to allow them to be on camera because they were under the age of 5. At this point I pretty much figured that I was going to be picked for the show. In February I got another phone call. This time MTV wanted me to take a full psychiatric test (I passed). This was a huge shock to my whole family! Just kidding.
In the first week of March, I got a phone call from my episode’s producer, Craig Johnson. It was official — I had been chosen to be MADE. Filming would start the week of Saint Patrick’s Day. The process to get picked to be MADE is long. I started my quest to be chosen on November 5, 2010 and didn’t begin filming until March 17, 2011.
- What are the odds of getting chosen?
- I think the odds of getting chosen are something like this. For ever 20,000 kids that MTV interviews only 20 are chosen. So I wasn’t expecting to even make it out of the first round.
- What advice or tips would you give to kids thinking about auditioning for MADE?
- The best advice I can give to kids auditioning for the show is to be yourself. You don’t want to be portrayed as a ninny to all of MTV’s viewers. The producers are also looking for kids who are genuine. So I didn’t stray away from my love of pearls and JCrew. I think those oddities actually helped differentiate me from all of the other aspiring white rappers.
- I understand you enjoy writing poetry…
- I love writing and performing my poetry. Jeff Kass was extremely influential in my development over the past 3 years. I think I took his Creative Writing class 5 times! I competed in the 2010 Skyline youth poetry slam but didn’t qualify for the city finals. In 2011, I competed in the Huron youth poetry slam and placed third. So I qualified for the city finals! That was a big moment for me. MTV even got to film the city finals — unfortunately there wasn’t time in the episode to show any of that footage.
- Tell us about your motivation to learn to rap:
- My biggest motivation in learning to rap was this emcee named Invincible from Detroit. Invincible is a white female rapper who raps about such pressing issues as teenage suicide. Jeff Kass introduced me to her music sometime during my junior year. At that time, I was bullied pretty badly. I would always stand up for the other girls getting picked on, but I never stood up for myself. I saw rap as a way to express all of my pent up frustration with bullying.
- What were your biggest challenges during the actual making of MADE?
- The biggest challenge in making the show was my grandpa’s illness. Throughout the audition process my grandpa was dying from renal cell cancer that had spread throughout his body. I was terrified that somehow this very personal family tragedy would be included in the episode. MTV was actually very good about this issue and never even asked me about him on camera. The hardest part of the whole process was the first day of filming. I woke up and learned that my grandpa had died in his sleep the previous night. I had to go to school (because I’d missed two whole weeks of school for field hockey tournaments and college visits). MTV was really empathetic and even sent me a card and flowers.
- We learn in the episode that not everyone supports your project.
- There was definitely blowback from some of the kids at school and a very controversial scene with a teacher. Being questioned by a class about my reasons for rapping was extremely uncomfortable. I don’t think anyone in the room was receptive to what I had to say. I think my anti-bullying message got lost in the racial issues. I think what happened was unfortunate and wish everyone the best. Since I chose to not go back into the class, I needed to have my final rap speak for itself. I like to think my rap encompassed all of the road blocks I had hit in the previous year: bullying, the loss of my grandfather, the uncomfortable situation in the classroom, and my journey in getting to know myself better.
- I really liked your coach. What was it like working with P.L.?
- Working with P.L. was really fun. P.L. was a kind, caring, earnest man. He wouldn’t let me to sell myself short. He was also very patient. It took us forever to write my rap — I remember one day he came over and sat with me for 8 hours! I can’t think of many teachers who would spend that much time on a single assignment. I also liked that he didn’t push me to change my image completely. On other episodes, the coaches sometimes make the kids wear huge chains and clothing that the kid wouldn’t have chosen. P.L. helped me cultivate my own unique style.
- How did your family — especially your mom, whom we see a lot in the episode — like the experience of making the show?
- My mom thought the process was interesting. It’s her take that if you open yourself up during a reality show, you can learn things about yourself. A lot of people get caught up in the process and don’t really enjoy the journey. I had a ton of fun during filming. I really loved my camerawoman, Anne Paas. It would have been a horrible six weeks of filming if we hated each other, as the two of us spent about eight hours a day together for six weeks. In fact, we got to be pretty close — we still text, and I love making fun of her because she’s a Yankees fan and I love the Red Sox.
- What has the response to the show been like?
- The response to the show has been mainly positive. I get emails from people telling me how they were bullied and that it was so inspiring to see me speak out about my experiences. I also get some very strange emails from guys telling me how sexy I am and could I please Skype with them (umm, not bloody likely). I think the most meaningful responses for me are the ones that manage to look past the racial issues and see that I had a lot of fun being MADE into a rapper and that I was actually able to reach my goal.
- How has this whole experience changed you?
- I think the show changed my uptightness. I think I am more vulnerable, more willing to take chances. I asked a boy to prom (thank God, he said yes). I’m also more willing to just get up and perform now. I even participated in a rap battle at my college orientation’s open mic night. My style of dress is also less conservative. People can even see me wearing Nike shoes now. And let’s not forget that I performed my rap in front of almost my entire school in a skin-tight, midriff-baring white get-up — that is definitely not something I would have been comfortable doing before being MADE!
- What’s on the horizon for Emma?
- Right now I just finished my first pre-season with the UMass field hockey team. I’m working on a few songs, but my recording situation isn’t ideal. I had to record a song in my closet using just a MacBook Pro and GarageBand. I’m hoping to perform some music at open mic nights in Amherst, MA. Maybe I’ll even stumble upon a cheap recording studio here. Keep your fingers crossed.
- Since I’m part of the Emma entourage now, do I qualify for deep discount pricing at Puffer Reds? (Just sayin’.)
- I think you will just have to go to Puffer Reds and ask.