Since MTV's inception in 1981, a startling number of people have made a name for themselves introducing music videos to the masses.
On Aug. 1, 1981, a cable network called MTV started appearing on television sets…well, not everywhere, because households weren't as digitally plugged in as they are now.
But whomever was watching at 12:01 a.m. ET was treated to footage of the Columbia space shuttle launch countdown that had occurred earlier that year, as corporate visionary John Lack intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll." That was followed by an astronaut planting a fluorescent-pink flag stamped with the acid-green MTV logo on the moon (in case you ever wondered why the physical MTV Video Music Awards are moon people)—a mash-up of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing and pop culture history.
The first music video ever played on MTV was the already two-year-old "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Bugbles, which had premiered on the BBC's Top of the Pops but, prior to the launch of Music Video Television, had just been sort of floating in space, without a planet to call its own. Then came Pat Benatar's "You Better Run," and the kids started flocking.
Soon enough, "I want my MTV" was more than a brilliant marketing slogan.
And since any foray into new territory benefits from a wise shepherd, so did MTV provide guides into this fun, young, subversive world in the form of video jockeys—veejays, or VJs for short.
The network started with five and over the years dozens of people have cycled through that universe, some more memorable than others, but all picked because they were deemed the best ones to deliver the goods and represent the culture the network was selling at any given moment in time.
With the 2020 MTV VMAs coming up on Sunday, the existence of the virtual ceremony itself representing its own unique notch on the timeline of how MTV has rolled with major changes (in viewing habits, in how people listen to music, when big gatherings like award ceremonies turn into potential super-spreader events in a pandemic…) through the years, we're checking in on what four decades' worth of MTV VJs have been up to since:
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One of MTV's original five VJs when the network first launched, Blackwood and her fellow trailblazers spent several years literally just talking about the videos they were playing, before the programming was divided up into shows.
"I envisioned it to be like a really, really cool FM station, only on TV," she recalled to WNYC's Soundcheck in 2013. "I didn't go there wanting to be 'Miss TV Star' at all. I really thought that video music was going to catch on. I thought combining two of America's favorite pastimes, music and TV, would probably work."
Blackwood was correct. After leaving MTV in 1986, she went on to host her own syndicated music show, Solid Gold, and has been helping to tell the story of 1980s music culture ever since. In 2003 she was a member of a touring production of The Vagina Monologues, and she's now a DJ for SiriusXM's '80s on 8 channel along with fellow O.G. MTV VJs Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter.
As far as her old stomping grounds go, however, "I really hate to say this, but when I turn it on, I can't watch it," Blackwood told interviewer Gary James in 2009. "I like VH-1 Classic because there are a lot of documentaries on there. They have a classic album show about the making of a classic album. It's not just '80s, it's any classic album, basically. I like stuff like that. I'm more of a musicologist."
Moreover, "I'm not much of a pop music person," she said. "I'm more of a rock music person. But you got Madonna, who became a force of nature, and unfortunately of all the other people who follow in her path, the Britney Spears of the world that I could do without, but that's my opinion."
He was supposed to be the first of MTV's five inaugural VJs to introduce himself when the network launched on Aug. 1, 1981, but due to an editing snafu, he was the last.
In addition to his brass-tacks music video duties, Goodman went on to host The Week in Rock, 120 Minutes and MTV's first-ever syndicated special, MTV: The Top 20 Video Countdown.
Commenting on how all five of the original VJs had left the network by the end of the decade, Goodman told WNYC's Soundcheck, "Whether the five of us stayed or didn't stay, MTV made a decision in terms of their future, and that was: We will not grow old with our audience. This is what our demo is. This is what we will do to superserve them… They probably would have gone in the same direction, and maybe we would have been behind the scenes, or maybe we would have been in the news department, or more than likely we would have been out."
Goodman is still celebrating the best of the '80s and its hidden gems, still with Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter, on SiriusXM's '80s on 8.
One of the original five VJs, Jackson would often go by "Triple J" in his heyday. After five years at MTV, he returned to his L.A. radio roots and remained a fixture on those airwaves, hosting The Beatle Years for Westwood One until his death from a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 62.
The O.G. five member still plays the best of the 1980s on SiriusXM's '80s on 8 with Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman.
The member of the original five auditioned for her first-ever on-air job by riffing about Earth, Wind and Fire for a few minutes—and she was hired, first through 1986 and then she returned in 1989, staying at MTV until 1992. Not only did she have a grand comeback, but Rolling Stone readers voted her the best ever MTV VJ and Allure call the 1980s on MTV "the Martha Quinn years."
She collaborated with Hunter, Goodman and Blackwood (and co-writer Gavin Edwards) on the 2013 tell-all VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave.
On the personal front, Quinn married musician Jordan Tarlow in 1992 and they have two kids.
MTV's resident morning person hosted Rude Awakening, which aired at 6 a.m., while the kids were getting ready for school. In the 2000s he hosted Cash in the Attic but Sencio mainly turned to producing after leaving MTV. A two-time cancer survivor, he's directing a documentary about his journey called Thryvor.
The Cuban-born TV presenter and model made history as MTV's first Latina VJ, signing on with both the U.S. network and MTV Latin America. That led to her run as the host of House of Style and these days she presides over a name-brand empire of clothing, eyeglasses, fragrances and hair care.
Fuentes is currently host of A New Leaf, which connects people with their roots with the help of Ancestry.com, and she's an active fundraiser for breast cancer research.
She's been married to Richard Marx, her second husband, since 2015.
She was MTV's youngest-ever VJ, getting her start as a correspondent at 15.
The L.A.-born musician hosted Headbangers Ball from 1989 until 1993 and then became a local legend as co-host of KROQ-FM's Loveline with Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky (until some sort of issue among the three prompted Rachtman's departure in 1996).
He's been an actor, a correspondent for World Championship Wrestling, a nightclub owner, a skateboarding entrepreneur, an avid motorcycle rider (his Riki's Ride is an annual charity event) and, always, a music man and raconteur. He later popped up on VH1 commentating on the various I Love the [insert decade] specials as host of the Rock of Love and Rock of Love Bus reunion specials, featuring his friend Bret Michaels.
Rachtman hosts the Cathouse Hollywood podcast, named after his since-shuttered but legendary club of the same name, and lives with his longtime girlfriend, tattoo artist and model Lea Vendetta.
The Cheetah Girls singer co-hosted MTV's New Year's Eve coverage and MTV News Presents: Top 9 of '09, flexing her hosting muscles a few years before she joined The Real, sharing the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host with her co-hosts in 2018.
Recently she enjoyed an impressive run as the Flamingo on The Masked Singer.
In 2016, she married Israel Houghton and is stepmom to his four kids.
After starting out on the radio, he made his debut on MTV in 1997 as the host of Total Request Live, interviewing pop princesses, boy bands, alt-rockers, actors and more for the show—an after-school must-watch for so many—until 2003.
He went on to host the late-late-late-night NBC show Last Call with Carson Daly from 2002 until 2019, when he handed the keys to that time slot over to Lilly Singh, and he's been hosting The Voice since 2011. He's also been hosting NBC's New Year's Eve coverage since 2004 and, in 2013, Daly joined Today as its social media correspondent and has since become a go-to fill-in host.
Daly married Siri Pinter in 2015 and they have four children together. He was still doing morning radio and hosting a weekend countdown show until 2017, when he stepped down to have more time with his family. "Today is my very last day on AMP Radio…," Daly explained in his farewell message on Instagram. "The truth is… The reason I'm going to stop doing radio for now is that I just want to have breakfast with my kids… I want to thank you guys. It's been really incredible."
The aspiring journalist began working with the network in 1997, hosting Hot Zone and appearing on TRL, as well as contributing to their rather robust news coverage at the time, presiding over specials about violence in schools after the mass shooting in Columbine in 1999 and reporting on Aaliyah's untimely death in a plane crash in 2000.
She left the network in 2001 to host The Ananda Lewis Show, but that only lasted for one season amid the crowded daytime talk landscape. Then it was on to work for BET, interviewing celebs as a correspondent for The Insider, and competing on Celebrity Mole: Yucatán in 2004 with the likes of Dennis Rodman and Angie Everhart.
Lewis is mom to a son and she's an experienced carpenter, posting tutorials on how to change your locks and other home-improvement tasks on Instagram.
He may have been runner-up to Jesse Camp on MTV's first Wanna Be a VJ competition in 1998, but the network hired him anyway, bringing him on to host 120 Minutes, Real World reunion specials and Say What? Karaoke.
After leaving MTV in 2002, he hosted FX's DVD on TV for 10 seasons and has been a frequent contributor across the cable lineup when a pop culture talking head is needed. In 2016, he published Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs, chronicling his experience coming into his own and "fumbling toward self-acceptance" and these days he's an editor at large for Esquire and curates his own newsletter, "The Dave Holmes Diet." The pandemic has put a stop to live shows for now, but he has also hosted The Friday Forty with The Walking Dead executive producer Scott Gimple since 2003.
Before his acting career took off when John Singleton cast him in his 2002 drama Baby Boy, before he became a member of the Fast and Furious family, before he became a dad to two daughters… the Black Rose artist was supplementing his music career as a host of MTV Jams in 1998.
The actor and comedian started out hosting MTV Beach House in 1993 and presided over specials like MTV Spring Break: Panama City Beach and MTV Rock 'N' Jock Basketball VI. Over the years he's appeared in films including Love Jones, The Brothers, How to Be a Player, Getting Played and Any Given Sunday, and he hosted two seasons of NBC's Last Comic Standing from 2007 to 2008. Bellamy has remained a fixture on the comedy special circuit and his gigs have ranged from filling in as a guest host on Rachael Ray to making appearances on longtime friend Tiffani Thiessen's cooking show Dinner at Tiffani's.
In 2018, Bellamy appeared on several episodes of HBO's Insecure and in 2020 he was in the Emmy-nominated miniseries Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker with Octavia Spencer.
He's been married to wife Kristen since 2001 and they have two children.
The One Tree Hill star got her start on MTV, appearing on TRL (her scripted TV debut on Dawson's Creek was playing herself, thanks to her MTV fame) and joining the revolving door of hosts after Carson Daly left.
Since her run as Peyton Sawyer ended in 2009, her TV work has included White Collar, Castle, Hallmark Original Movies Naughty or Nice and Surprised by Love, and an arc on Fox's Lethal Weapon.
Burton has two children with longtime partner (turned husband in 2019) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and in 2020 she released a memoir, The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm.
Not to be confused with comedian Julie Brown, "Downtown" Julie Brown hosted Club MTV from 1987 until 1992 and remains one of the personalities most associated with the network's cool AF heyday.
The Welsh entertainer went on to dabble in acting, popping up on the likes of Burke's Law and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and more recently she had a cameo in the 2017 Adam Sandler comedy Sandy Wexler and has been a familiar face in a couple of the Sharknado movies.
Brown has also kept busy as a regular in TV specials chronicling any sort of cultural history, and she is a host and producer of the series A Year in Music. She's been married to Martin Schuermann since 2001 and they have a daughter together.
After starting out as an MTV News correspondent he branched out into MTV Fashion for a Day, VJ for a Day, TRL and The Real World Chicago Reunion—and joined Hilarie Burton on the same episode of Dawson's Creek, playing "Male VJ."
He hosted the CBS dating show Cupid in 2003 and the first season of The WB's Beauty and the Geek in 2005. In more recent years he was in Portland, Ore., as a morning and evening news anchor until 2017—and it appears he'll be back in front of the camera soon.
In July 2020 he shared a photo of himself at a taping, writing, "One chapter closes, another begins! It's been awhile and I can't thank you all enough for your support. So happy to be back doing what I love!" And in the meantime, he's a proud dad to son Dane.
The author, businesswoman and actress formerly known as La La Vázquez got her start on TRL and Real World/Road Rules Challenge reunion specials before becoming an ubiquitous host on VH1 reunions (Flavor of Love, I Love New York, For the Love of Ray J, etc.). It was only a matter of time before she scored her own shows, La La's Full Court Wedding, when she married NBA star Carmelo Anthony in 2010, and La La's Full Court Life.
Anthony, who's mom to son Kiyan, has been in films such as Think Like a Man, Baggage Claim and the Spike Lee-directed Chi-Raq, and enjoyed recurring roles on the Starz drama Power and Showtime's The Chi. She also played "Brian Austin Green's" pop star wife Shay in the 2019 meta-reboot BH 90210.
The Massachusetts native rotated in as a TRL host from 2002 until 2007 and has since been a writer-producer-voice actor on Family Guy and a DJ on L.A.'s 104.3 MYfm.
Fahey's been married to wife Grasie Mercedes since 2013.
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery first became known simply by her middle name as host of 120 Minutes and Hangin' With MTV in the mid-'90s and was ubiquitous on the network throughout the decade. She had a regular spot on Hollywood Squares and was a guest expert on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire before eventually becoming a Fox News pundit and go-to guest host on the likes of Outnumbered and The Five.
She was a host of The Independents on Fox Business Channel and has presided over Kennedy since 2015.
The mother of two has been married to David Michael Lee since 2000.
The inaugural winner of Wanna Be a VJ in 1998 beat out more than 5,000 applicants, including Dave Holmes, and went on to host MTV Rocks Off and rotate into the hosting mix on TRL. He released an album, Jesse & the 8th Street Kidz, in 1999 but the true height of his MTV-fueled fame may have been his bit part in the Britney Spears film Crossroads, as "Audition Applicant."
Still culturally ubiquitous, Camp's Instagram is full of photos of him with luminaries including John Travolta, Larry David, and then-presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and his profile pic is himself with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The former MTV News Unfiltered anchor did a tour on TRL before moving onto CNN and her role as a correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning. Her MTV fame led to roles as herself in 2002's Queen of the Damned, posthumously starring Aliyah, and 2001's Josie and the Pussycats.
The actor from Scary Movie 3, 4 and V first came to fame (on safe-for-work TV) as a TRL host and then as a member of the casts of the WB series Jack & Jill (with Sarah Paulson and Justin Kirk) and What I Like About You, starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth as sisters.
In 2005 he teamed with Mickey Avalon on the first of several albums, and released his solo eponymous (for his alter ego) debut, Dirt Nasty, in 2007. Since then he's been a self-referential machine, churning out movies and albums, and he now hosts the podcast Nervous Rex.
The actress and veteran TV personality formerly known as Vanessa Minnillo hosted TRL from 2003 until 2007 (pausing to co-star in the 2006 video for future husband Nick Lachey's "What's Left of Me") before moving on as a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and host of Wipeout and True Beauty.
Over the years she's been on the big screen in Disaster Movie and on TV starring in the series Dads and Truth Be Told and in the Lifetime Movie A Twist of Christmas, as well as taking guest spots on How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Psych and Hawaii 5-0. She played the unfaithful publicist wife of "Jason Priestly" in the meta-reboot BH90210 and made a splash hosting the breakout 2020 hit Love Is Blind on Netflix.
Vanessa married Nick in 2011 and they have three kids, sons Camden and Phoenix and daughter Brooklyn.
Born Benjamin Quddus Philippe, the Uptown Girls actor (he played "Party Guy") was a TRL host from 2001 to 2006 before moving on to host TV One Access and Nickelodeon's Dance on Sunset and appearing on CSI: Miami, Half & Half and Girlfriends. He is the founder of the social justice campaign Ally Now.
Pinfield began his MTV legacy in an episode of the first season of The Real World, conducting interviews, before becoming the host of 120 Minutes in 1995. He joined Columbia Records as an A&R executive in 2001 but was never far from the music television orbit, returning as host of 120 Minutes on MTV2 in 2011.
In 2016 he published All These Things That I've Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life and has been a DJ on terrestrial and satellite radio.
The 2003 Miss USA winner cut her hosting teeth on MTV Spring Break: Cancun 2005, TRL, and Real World and The Challenge reunion specials while she also got into acting, appearing on House of Payne and in movies such as The Heartbreaker and More Than Stars. In 2010 she co-hosted the NBC reality series School Pride and, while in quarantine in 2020, she filmed a horror short called The Tribe.
Castillo has been married to Matthew Leslie since 2006.
The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards are on Sunday, Aug. 30, starting at 9 p.m. ET. Scheduled performers include BTS, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, the Black Eyed Peas and Da Baby.
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