Jon Brennan on “Real World” Los Angeles in 1993, and today, on a Mission trip in Uganda.
“Real World” casts of late may get their kicks closing down bars, but in 1993, the show featured a young man whose goals didn’t stray off the straight-and-narrow. When 18-year-old Jon Brennan, a good Christian with a heart of gold, moved to Los Angeles for the series’ second season, he had dreams of being a country music star; today, he still loves the guitar and is doing nothing short of God’s work (literally). Below, see what Jon told Remote Control about life nowadays (he just celebrated his 20-year “Real World” anniversary!), plus follow him on Twitter and tune in to this weekend’s “RetroMTV: Real World” marathon starting Friday night at 8/7c!
How did you first end up on the show?
I was 18-years-old in my first semester of college. Country music had taken over the music scene and the production team really wanted an aspiring country music personality. They came to Nashville and were like, “We’re looking for someone just like you.” I wasn’t a big MTV fan; being raised in the church, we had it blocked from our TV screens. Long story short: I thought it was cool, so I applied.
What was it like in the house, and was it hard to have to defend your traditional Christian views?
I was so young and the age difference made it a little hard — everyone else was 23 or 24. Irene was married — I literally called her mom! But you’ve just gotta let things go and be yourself.
I was scared, honestly, that I’d be made to look foolish for the things that I stood for, but I never was. I was represented fairly and I felt appreciated.
Are sobriety, virginity and those values still important to you?
After all these years, I think I still have the same convictions.
Beth has been painted as a villain, but you two had a solid friendship. Why is that, and do you keep in touch with anyone?
Beth got into a lot of arguments — a lot of which she brought on herself — but she was always a good friend to me. I haven’t talked to her in a lot of years, but she’s the type you could pick up the phone anytime and call.
Oddly, I keep up with a lot of the other season’s casts more. I talk to Coral, and I’m a huge wrestling fan and talk to Mike “The Miz.” I watch WWE all the time and then I’ll text him like, “Dude, that was awesome!” And he’ll be like, “Thanks, man!” I know he’s super busy, but we’re buddies and I’m really proud of his success.
What was the response you got from the show, and how did it affect your music aspirations?
When the show started airing, it was a nutty amount of fame, and MTV used to show rerun after rerun. When I got back to Nashville, Capitol Records signed me and I started touring. I opened for Alabama, Tim McGraw and these big, huge stars. It was great. Capitol never released my album and ended up parting ways with me. I tried and tried and tried, but there were a lot of circumstances that caused my music career to fall apart.
Then I started playing in churches in Kentucky, but they’re really contemporary. They have a whole band and very high energy.
How are you working in the church now?
When I was a pastor in Birmingham, I was part of a group that started a nonprofit organization that took volunteers to different places, one of which was Uganda. And we met these children who were abused and neglected in this orphanage, and we basically started a program that houses and raises these children called Sozo Children. We have close to 80 children that we’re raising and educating in Ugandan culture; our goal is not to make them Americanized, but make them leaders and educated men and women. I’ll be over in July again.
I’m still a youth pastor working with teenagers and trying to direct them toward the Lord. I live in Florida now, and am part of a church camp that’s really growing. That’s my calling — I’m involved with music still, but my focus is on pastoring sixth-through-twelfth graders.
Have you watched any recent seasons?
It’s kind of like looking at old pictures of myself. I can’t — not because I don’t like it, but because it gives me this weird vibe.
+ Has it been a while since you’ve seen Jon’s season? Download full episodes of the “Real World: Los Angeles” on iTunes now!
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Photos courtesy of MTV and Jon Brennan