Two months ago, Helia Gibb had never heard of MTV. The South African-born grandmother is usually more concerned with table manners and thank-you notes than rap videos and reality TV shows.
That was until the network at the center of teen culture came calling and turned Gibb into a "Made" coach.
"Made" is a reality show that transforms teens into what or who they want most to be — a BMX rider, ballerina or prom queen.
Last spring, an MTV representative left a message on Gibb’s answering machine, asking for a return call. Gibb thought the message was from a telemarketer and ignored it. MTV called back. This time when the phone rang, Gibb was teaching an etiquette class full of teenage girls, who clued her in.
There is a high school student in Gilbert, the MTV representative said, who is a bit of a tomboy. She wants to be made into a lady for her senior prom.
Gibb was thrilled — helping girls be more ladylike is her business. She and husband Clifford are the executive directors of the Academy of Etiquette in Mesa, which offers manners classes to East Valley teens and adults.
Gibb agreed to an interview and soon found herself in front of the camera, answering questions about her business, her philosophy and how she could help Gilbert High School senior Samantha LaMay.
A few days later, MTV called back. They loved her and wanted her to be one of Samantha’s "Made" coaches.
"It was very nerve-wracking in the beginning because I had everything I was supposed to do," says Gibb, "but when they started filming, I forgot a little bit."
She met Samantha for the first time in the schoolyard at the high school. The teen wore basketball shorts and carried a bag of junk food when she spotted The Duchess — Gibb’s MTV nickname.
Gibb, in a suit, high heels and her signature fuchsiacolored hair, got to work immediately. Gibb threw away Samantha’s food, taught her to sit up straight by placing a book on her head and showed her the appropriate way to eat at a table.
"She wasn’t too happy," says Gibb. "Maybe she didn’t like me at first. I’m a bit of a shock, I guess."
The pair met four times, addressing how to enter a room, sit like a lady and behave at an elegant table. Gibb even spent time with Samantha and her girlfriends, helping them to learn to walk properly in high heels.
When they parted, Gibb says, Samantha was no longer burping, slouching or yawning widely.
"I had such fun with it," says Gibb. "She turned out so nicely."
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