The MTV talent scouts arrived at Taft High School about noon on a spring day with an open invitation to instant, if fleeting, fame.
All the students had to do was ditch.
Teen-agers from the Woodland Hills campus mobbed recruiters, who were seeking contestants for the new dating game show "Singled Out."
MTV driver Patrick McGee joked that he felt like a stranger offering candy to school kids.
Seeing the commotion, Taft Assistant Principal Elois McGehee put one foot in the van and a hand on the door as she asked the students to return to school.
She didn't have a chance.
"We're taking these dynamic, energetic young people and putting them on TV," said Annie Wood, a production assistant. "MTV rocks. Let's go."
Minutes later, the vanload of aspiring talent sped down the Ventura Freeway, rocking to the beat of the Beastie Boys en route to a Burbank television studio.
They spent the next four hours taping the show, finally leaving in a state of youthful euphoria, rewarded for their ditch day with armfuls of souvenirs like T-shirts, baseball caps and gift certificates.
Marcia Schiebel, a Taft senior who stood swaying to Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" on the sound stage, called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
It is ironic, McGehee said, that the music network would take students from the campus after years of trying to mitigate its sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll image with public service features and ads urging teen-agers to graduate, stay off drugs and prevent violence.
"MTV says, 'Stay in school,' and then they come to campus and pull kids out illegally," she said.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin agreed.
"I'm shocked," Eastin said. "It's a contradiction to . . . rip them out of school for the benefit of a TV show."
MTV spokeswoman Linda Alexander called the incident "a fluke." It is not the practice of the popular network's contestant coordinators to recruit from high schools, she said. The Taft teen-agers, she said, never told recruiters they were supposed to be in class.
"We would never pull kids out of school--no way," Alexander said.
But on that particular day last month, the coordinators needed more teen-agers for the show. The taping was just hours away when recruiters met a Taft student at a music store on Ventura Boulevard. The student told them that Taft seniors were excused early that day.
So the green van swung by the school, and the rest was easy.
Taft administrators suspended two students for their actions.
* RELATED STORY: A1