Inside '90s House, MTV's new show where contestants live with pre-1999 technology
Hey, remember the ’90s? Want to party like it’s 1999? Good news: Premiering Tuesday, the network’s new reality competition series, 90’s House, does its best to honor the decade by placing 12 millennial contestants together in a house to compete in era-appropriate tasks — all without the cold comforts of modern technology.
What to expect from the show? We asked the hosts, Lance Bass and Christina Milian, to give us the 4-1-1 (that’s what people in the ’90s used to call for information; think phone Google) on the new series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is it an immediate yes when MTV asks you to be part of a show that let’s you step back in time to the best decade?
LANCE BASS: Best decade ever! They asked me to do it last spring and immediately I was like, “Uh, yeah that sounds amazing.” When we were in the ‘90s I was like, “There’s no way this decade will ever come back in style, it’s terrible,” but now I look back and it was a really good decade!
CHRISTINA MILIAN: Once I spoke to MTV and they explained everything and that it was a homage to the ‘90s, I was like, “This is cool.” Plus, I had a relationship with Lance – I’d toured with him in the ’90s.
LB: Yeah, I’ve know Christina forever. She used to be our opening act in, I think, ’99 so we’ve known each other for a very long time. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-host.
Tell us about the show. You put these contestants into a house and take away everything that was invented after ’99, right? So — shock, horror — no smartphones?
LB: Yes! We take their cell phones away, they get AOL dial-up, and they have a Bop It to play with. They unplug from the world. I love social experiments like this. Big Brother is my favorite show and this really reminded me of it. Just a few days in, they really started getting into this game and they didn’t even realize they didn’t have cell phones on them. That was really encouraging to see; they actually had to talk to each other. It was great to see just the relationships that formed because of that situation and, of course, when you’re stuck in a house for a month you have to form relationships and a lot of them became best friends and then a lot of them hated each other, but that’s life!
CM: Right, there’s no cell phones, no social media. They can have a pager and they have regular phones that are hooked up to the walls. They have AOL chatrooms, but who wants to sit there and wait for dial-up? Dial-up takes forever.
Those were the days. So then you set them ’90s-centric challenges? How does that play out?
LB: Each episode, there’ll be a couple of challenges that are very ‘90’s. We bring in amazing cameos like Salt-N-Pepa and the cast of Saved by the Bell and Nickelodeon stars. There are so many great cameos that walk through this house and they all — as great experts of the ‘90s — help the contestants with whatever challenges they’re doing. Whether it’s shooting a music video or an opening to a sitcom, they’re there to help. Then Christina and myself judge the outcomes and we decide who leaves that week. Basically, we’re not just looking at who did the best in the challenges, but also whoever acted the most ‘90s. You have to do the clothes, the lingo — if we hear you talk about Ariana Grande or Justin Bieber that counts against you.
And the contestants are too young to really remember the ’90s, right?
LB: They’re all 21 to 26 years old. I think they all thought they were going to go on a show like the Real World. I know that casting definitely picked people who thought that they were experts on the ‘90s and thought that they knew it very well, but really they were just children – a lot of them were born in the early ‘90s and late ‘80s.
CM: Yeah, they’re ‘90s babies so they’re too young to actually have experiences like a teenager would’ve in the ‘90s. They can sound cool and label themselves as ‘90s babies all day, but did they truly experience it? No, they were too young. So it’s really like a history lesson of the ‘90s and why it was so special, and that’s what so special about the show; it’s not only an homage, but it’s like, this is what we did back then and here’s what that translates into now.
Nostalgia and throwbacks have been a trend for a few years now, but why do you think there’s so much emphasis on the ’90s specifically right now?
CM: Every era ends up repeating itself and coming back. As much as we want to think that we’re that original, that every 10 years there’s something new, it’s really just a repeat. Things are just constantly regurgitated in a cooler way and adapted to the time. The ‘90s was a super cool time; there was something for everybody and that’s what made it so special. There were great things happening in music and fashion and people were really finding themselves in unique ways and breaking labels. We finally found a way to talk about a lot of different things in the ‘90s that we hadn’t before.
LB: I’m just glad I’m finally ahead of a trend for once. I think just because of what the temperature is like in the political world, everyone is just feeling a little uneasy at the moment, so I think people are just excited to think back to when times were a lot easier for them. It felt a lot safer then and in the ‘90s, especially with the teen pop explosion, it was a nice innocent time and I think people just really want to be reminded of that innocence again.
What’s your big standout memory from the ’90s?
LB: The ‘90s was definitely an interesting decade for me because I went from a little kid in Mississippi at the beginning of the decade to being part of one of the biggest bands on the planet. I definitely had to grow up very fast but the thing about the ’90s, for me, is that it really was all about the music. Maybe because I was a teenager and music really influenced the way you look at the world, but from Seattle grunge to Spice Girls, it really did influence the way you felt. I think bands particularly had an amazing run in the ‘90s — and let’s not forget about Vanilla Ice and M.C. Hammer.
CM: A standout for me was TLC’s Left Eye putting condoms on her eye, but there are so many different things that were very typical of our time, in a very cool way.
Let’s go through some of your favorite things from the ’90s. If you had to pick a TV show, which would it be?
LB: Will & Grace was my ultimate. I’m so excited it’s coming back. I have to go to a taping of one of those and I have to somehow figure out how to get a cameo. I’m finally out now so I can do Will & Grace!
CM: In Living Color was pretty epic. It was the really cool, modern version of SNL and you had the Wayans brothers, Jim Carrey — all these great comedians on there. That was another great example of the variety of people and characters in one spot. It was a really great show.
What about a movie?
LB: Clueless was amazing and Armageddon – I’m a big space nerd so I was really into that.
A song or favorite group?
LB: Ace of Base because that helped start the whole pop explosion and I was obsessed with it in 9th grade. It was the only song I would listen to on repeat on my tape player. I’m still a big Aerosmith fan too.
CM: TLC were great. They came in the ’90s and it was such an awesome time for them and for girls and their messaging was so cool. I really loved their FanMail album. There was a variety of so many different things all at once when it comes to music in the ’90s. In past decades it be, like, just rock music for a while but we had a real mix. Then it was also the ’90s when we took pop music and added rappers onto it and that was a big deal.
Was there a gadget you had to have?
CM: I was all about my pager. You had to figure out the codes like, 143 and everybody had their own codes so you knew who was writing you.
LB: Yes, two-way pagers! Those were really amazing. I loved those because they were kind of the first SMS-ing, but you only knew like five people who had them so you could only talk to them and, of course, everyone had to have a Tamagotchi.
And a fashion item?
LB: I loved [Nike] Air Force Ones or a G-Shock watch. In the house, Christina and I have to dress in ’90s clothing. Just you wait, basically I looked like Screech and Chucky had a baby and that was my style. I looked like a tool bag, but Christina comes out in all of her ‘90s outfits and looking just banging.
But so comfortable, right?
LB: Oh, yeah, like wearing pajamas.
CM: And it’s legit ’90s clothing we’re wearing. We’re not wearing current clothing to look like we’re in the ‘90s – it’s literally ‘90s clothing from thrift stores, so that it feels like we’re living in that time. It was cute. It had so many different elements: one second I’m Spice Girl vibes, next I’m more Clueless and then there are some things that are more grungy and Janet Jackson. I got to play around a lot with hairstyles and clothing and shoes – some of the shoes I cannot believe we wore, like Mary Janes and flat platforms? But my favorite is style is a plaid shirt, wrapped around your waist with denim jeans with holes in them. I still do it now, it never stopped. I never got over it.
Is there a catch phrase that sticks with you?
LB: We were definitely an abuser of the word “phat” and thank God that only lasted for a couple of years because that really is one of the most ridiculous things to say.
’90s House premieres Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET on MTV.