It’s only fitting that the March 24 premiere party for the new ”bonus” season of MTV’s The Hills would feel like it took place somewhere far removed from reality. The ballroom of Manhattan’s Gotham Hall was decked out for a glamorous, high-society affair, yet it was inhabited by throngs of tristate tweens in prom dresses. Presidential daughter Barbara Bush made a surprise, under-the-radar appearance. Show villain and wannabe pop star Heidi Montag was absent (as was partner in crime Spencer Pratt), but she sent a video message from her recording studio. And Mariah Carey’s ”live” 11 p.m. performance was actually taped hours earlier — around 8:15 p.m.
But who really cares about all that? As fans can attest, authenticity didn’t turn the show into a pop culture phenomenon in the first place. It’s the pure, unadulterated fantasy of it all, and the return episode — filled with gorgeous shots of Paris and the Rockies, designer duds, and elegant hotels — didn’t disappoint, no matter how questionably natural it all seemed. ”You know, like, it’s real,” says Audrina Patridge. ”Sometimes we have to reenact a certain situation. If something happens when the cameras aren’t there, we have to recap and talk about it to catch our fans up.” By now, though, they’re all aware that their lives have become less than typical. ”It’s pretty insane,” says star Lauren Conrad. ”It’s definitely an odd experience to have someone come up to you and think they’re your friend and ask for advice on their personal life.” Adds costar Whitney Port, ”I was saying to Audrina and Lauren, ‘Where have the past three years gone?’ Honestly, I do not know how I got here, other than [exec producer Adam DiVello] watching a videotape of me interviewing for Teen Vogue. It’s so surreal.”
So how much longer can the party last for MTV’s top-rated series? The network hasn’t officially renewed the show for a fourth season, but hopes are for it to be back this summer. Conrad, meanwhile, is a little more coy when it comes to plans for another go-around. ”I have no idea,” she says. ”At the end of every season, I kind of accept that it’s done and I’m ready to move on, and then they want to do another season. We’ll continue to do [the show] as long as it’s convenient at MTV.” But once The Hills eventually ends, the channel may have its next reality star in Carey. As the party faded and the cast departed, the diva lingered to watch her performance on the ballroom’s Jumbotron. Even one of the most successful recording artists in the world just couldn’t resist the lure of instant televised fame.