In the four years Dr. Isidore Rudnick has worked at the School for Creative & Performing Arts downtown, he’s never seen more than 120 kids attend one of the school’s auditions, which are required for admittance.

But at the school’s most recent audition, held on a Saturday in May, 350 potential students turned out.

Coincidence? More likely, Rudnick says, it’s thanks to MTV’s new reality show Taking The Stage, a series set at SCPA that chronicles the lives of some of the school’s talented students. More than 39 million viewers tuned in to watch the first season, which premiered in the fall and followed the story lines of Jasmine, a prima ballerina, Mia, a singer-songwriter, Shaakira, a dancer and aspiring actress, and Tyler and Malik, both hip-hop dancers.

“The thing that I keep hearing over and over again is that people can’t believe how talented kids are at our school,” says Rudnick, SCPA artistic director.

In addition to the increased attendance at auditions — the next one is Aug. 12 — Rudnick says applications from prospective students are up 70 percent over the last two years. “Oh yes, yes, yes, the increase can be attributed to the MTV show,” he affirms, adding that the biggest increase he sees is in grades nine through 12. Rudnick says the school is “definitely” going to enroll more students in 2009-2010, noting that SCPA, which includes grades four through 12, wasn’t at capacity in 2008-2009 with around 950 students.

SCPA is in the Cincinnati Public Schools district, which means students living within the district can attend for free. Tuition numbers for the 2009-2010 school year haven’t been released yet, but tuition in 2008-2009 was $6,075 for Ohio residents and $9,560 for out-of-state residents.

Although SCPA is open to everyone, the audition process students have to go through to earn acceptance into the school is far from all-embracing. Depending on the desired major, students have to dance, sing, write, act or perform their way into enrollment.

The auditions serve the functional purpose of choosing future SCPA students, but they’re also how MTV chose its cast members for the first season ofTaking The Stage and how it’s evaluating new cast members for a potential second season.

Singer Nick Lachey, an SCPA graduate and the co-creator and executive producer of the series, was instrumental in selecting the final cast for season one. He joined producers in observing students at the school, holding sit-down interviews with them and judging their performances.

“He’s a passionate supporter of the school, and he was smart enough to realize that taking cameras into the school and telling the stories of these kids was a great opportunity,” says Heather Olander, vice president of series development for MTV.

When Lachey came up with the concept for the show about two years ago, he wanted it to be the opposite of some of MTV’s other reality shows, such asThe Hills andLaguna Beach. “I wanted it to be a show about a gritty, inner-city school with a lot of talent,” he says.

Lachey approached MTV executives to gauge their interest. He then approached SCPA and the CPS school board to obtain clearance to shoot there.

From the beginning, Lachey made it clear that he not only wanted to promote the school, but he wanted to promote the city, as well. “For me, Cincinnati was a great place to grow up,” he says. “I wanted to show the world that great things are going on here.” He and MTV producers talked to city leaders before shooting the first season, asking about prominent local landmarks they should be sure to feature. MTV cameras captured sites such as Fountain Square, the Roebling Bridge, areas of Over-the-Rhine and the downtown skyline.

“I thought the city never looked as good as it did on the show,” Lachey attests.

MTV began shooting season one last fall. Crew members, who numbered around 30, stayed at different locations around the city, ranging from the Garfield Suites Hotel to The Westin Cincinnati. They also frequented some popular Cincinnati haunts. “I know the crew definitely went to Graeter’s,” Olander laughs. “I heard stories about Graeter’s.”

Inside SCPA, the constant cameras weren’t always conducive to running a school — it took crews an average of eight days to film one hour-long show — but Rudnick says the trade-off was worth it. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you it wasn’t challenging to have cameras in the building. We did our best to keep it at a minimum. But, the exposure and positive publicity it gave the school has been really, really great.”

Lachey and Rudnick both lament the fact that the show couldn’t focus on other disciplines within the school, such as creative writing, visual arts and instrumental music, but they agree that dance and vocal performance translate better into a TV format. “We just want people to know that there’s so much more that goes on here,” Rudnick says.

Luckily, viewers were able to get a feel for a lot of things that go on at SCPA in season one. The series featured an impromptu dance-off in the cafeteria, talent shows and plenty of hip-hop competitions.

Although the fate of additional seasons has yet to be decided, fans of season one will have to let go of their attachment to most of the main characters. Olander says because four of the five main characters graduated, a second season would focus mostly on new characters. MTV crews have already been casting potential characters, but Olander confirms they won’t make any decisions until post-production and won’t announce whether a second season is a go until the end of summer. CPS signed a contract granting MTV options for five more seasons.

If the show gets the green light, future seasons ofTaking The Stage might also take on a new backdrop. SCPA’s new home, a state-of-the-art facility between Central Parkway and 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010. Combining SCPA and Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment, the school cost $72 million to construct and was built to accommodate 1,350 to 1,500 students.

For his part, Lachey feels optimistic about the future ofTaking The Stage. But even more importantly, he’s happy he reached his goal: Promoting the school and the city. “I hope I did the city of Cincinnati proud.”