Can "The Real World" prepare you for holding elected office in the real world?
It's a question plaguing the campaign of Kevin Powell, cast member of season one of MTV's hallmark reality show, who's trying to carve out a political career by running for Congress in Brooklyn, N.Y.'s 10th district.
In the race for the Democratic nomination, Powell's up against a 13-term incumbent -- and criticism that, without substantive public service experience, his pop culture credentials mean zilch.
"A lot of folks know me from 'The Real World,' but this is something I'm very passionate about," he told ABCNews.com. "My life's calling is public service. Civic engagement should be a part of our values as much as MTV and Xbox."
His campaign slogan: Powell for the People. His platform: Bring more jobs to Brooklyn's depressed 10th district; rid the 'hood of crime and pollution; fix substandard public schools; and disseminate better health care. His resume highlights: Political science major, "Real World" alum, Vibe magazine scribe, Katrina cleaner-upper.
His pop culture pull is arguably his strongest credential of all, and the fuel for his campaign.
Powell held a fundraiser on July 9 that was supposed to feature comedian Dave Chappelle, who didn't show because he "missed his flight," according to the candidate. Even without Chappelle, the fundraiser drew A-list attendees, including Chris Rock and his wife.
A message from Afeni Shakur, mother of late rap icon Tupac, greets visitors to Powell's campaign Web site: "Like my son, Kevin feels the struggle of single mothers, our young people, and the 'underdog.'" That message is followed by a glowing endorsement from Gloria Steinem.
Powell's campaign has put out an online mix-tape that splices excerpts of his speeches with hits from Tupac, Kanye West and 50 Cent.
Some say that's just not enough.
"I would urge him not to take out a mortgage on a D.C. apartment or condo," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "He's never been in public office, and I doubt seriously if he'll win. This young man is going to find out he's running against incumbency, money and a strong party organization in that district. People are always impressed by celebrity, but that doesn't mean they vote for the celebrity."
Of course, there's a grand tradition of pop culture stars crossing over into politics: Ronald Reagan went from the silver screen to the California governor's office to the Oval Office; Arnold Schwarzenegger followed in his footsteps -- at least part of the way -- ditching his "Terminator" get-up to get elected governor of California. NBA great Bill Bradley and pro wrestler Jesse Ventura left the sports arena for the political sphere. "Saturday Night Live" alum Al Franken is running for the Senate in Minnesota.
But the difference between all those contenders and Powell, according to Sabato, is they had the political credentials to justify running for office, whereas the "Real World" alum does not.
"You have to have the right opening," he said. "Particularly in Schwarzenegger's case, he was quite wealthy and had the ability to spend as needed and attract celebrities to help him as needed. But he had been in and around politics for years. I doubt anyone has heard of this fellow since 'The Real World' all those years ago. If he was serious about Congress, he would've run for city council or state legislature first."