There's a scene somewhere toward the middle of the first episode of Tommy Lee's upcoming NBC reality television experiment, "Tommy Lee Goes to College," where he's screening potential roomies. The Mötley Crüe drummer is grilling one student — the eventual winner, senior Matt Ellis — on a range of pertinent topics ("You cool with loud music?"), when the issue of grade-point average comes up.
Lee wants to be sure Ellis isn't slow on the uptake, so he asks how the Husker's grades are — a question prefaced with a statement that is rather telling as to motive: "Dude, I wanna kick some ass while I'm here." The mild-mannered senior tells the rocker he'd pulled a 3.5 last semester. Tommy's confused: "That don't sound too good," he says.
"That's out of 4," Ellis explains.
"Oh. I was thinking 10," Lee says. "I'm used to 10s."
There's also a disclaimer that follows the credits at the end of the program, revealing that "Some elements [of the show] have been produced and/or edited for comedy." But according to Lee, this wasn't one of those fixed moments.
"It sounded like a sh--ty GPA to me," Lee said. "I don't know what the f---, dude. I've never been to college."
Of course, the 43-year-old Lee, a high school dropout, did things differently, and followed his rock and roll dreams. So when Lee arrived on the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska, it provided him with a unique opportunity.
"I got to experience something I never had the chance to," he said. "Having an entire semester of that experience, that's something I will take with me for all time. I'm still friends with my dorm mate, one of my drum partners, my tutor. I made a lot of new friends. It was f---ing killer."
"Tommy Lee Goes to College," which airs August 16 with the first two 30-minute episodes running back-to-back, is, at times, a side-splitting exercise in the unknown, and Lee's the ultimate fish out of water, as he crosses the campus with tattoos blazin' and wallet chain practically scraping along the ground. He overuses words like "rad," "killer" and "aaahsum" in conversations with his straight-laced professors about quantum theory and atomic structure. He even struggles to make the school's prestigious marching band.
"It was definitely bizarre, man," he recalled. "Just being in sort of Middle America, and not attending school as a normal guy ... I mean, here I am, walking in, totally bum-rushing the university, and just letting it rip. I'm going to school, where everyone's freaking out, and they're like, 'Oh my God. That's Tommy Lee.' Doing it in that style was very weird for me."
Lee said none of the students were forewarned that he'd be spending the entire semester attending classes, "and I think that's what makes the show as fun-spirited as it is. If everyone knew that we were coming there, it would've been different."
There's an interesting dynamic between Lee and Natalie Riedmann, the rocker's chemistry tutor, in the series. Obviously there's some chemistry between the two. The beautiful former beauty-pageant contestant is Tommy's type, to the letter: a sexy, bronzed, busty blonde with blue eyes and a flawless, picture-perfect smile. Remind you of anyone? But Lee wouldn't spill the beans on whether he'd had any luck with Riedmann.
"I can't tell you, dude. I can't. I'll get killed," he said. "I'm not saying a word. I will not confirm or deny. But I did get some love, fo' sho' — I'm just not saying when, how, why or who."
Lee, who'll be touring with the Crüe through December and releases his second album's worth of solo material, Tommyland: The Ride, on Tuesday, also founded his own fraternity during his stay in Nebraska.
"The House of Lee, my man," he said. "It's f---ing killer. See, I went to join a frat, and they started making me do all this bullsh--, like cleaning toilets and doing laundry and cleaning dishes and all this sh--. And I was like, 'You know what? F--- this. I'm outta here. I'mma start my own frat.' So I did. We found a house and we let it rip. We had toga parties and the whole deal. We had eight guys pledge, and it was killer, dude."
In early 2006, Lee hopes to be able to tour in support of Tommyland, tracks from which are featured prominently throughout the show.
"I don't know if I'll be able to pull this off, but it would be so rad — I want to get everyone who [played] on the album," including Good Charlotte's Benji and Joel Madden, Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and Jane's Addiction's Dave Navarro (see "Tommy Lee Parties With Good Charlotte, Slash And, Er, Nick Carter on Tommyland"), "to commit to seven days. It would be so rad to play seven days, seven major cities. After that, I'll continue doing my own thing. But that's my dream. That's what I'd like to do because that would be rad."
No one knows what sort of success Lee's reality show will experience, but either way, Tommy said there's a second season in the works.
"I don't know what the hell we're gonna do yet," he said. "We've been throwing out a bunch of ideas. One possibility's me going to police academy. It would be f---ing crazy. Could you imagine me with a weapon and a badge? Holy sh--."