Plugged in

updated 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT WAS ALISON STEWART'S MOST UNNERVING ON-AIR MOMENT. Stewart, 29, a reporter and producer for MTV News—and one of the network's two black on-camera personalities (veejay Bill Bellamy is the other)—shudders as she recalls interviewing White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger for a 1991 special on racism. "It was bizarre," she says. "When I asked him questions, he looked past me, through me, as if I didn't exist. It was very strange to be an invisible person."

Since then, Stewart's visibility has been on the rise. For a 1993 report she shopped with 6'7" drag queen RuPaul at the, Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City, N.J. ("He found size 14 high heels at a big-and-tall shop, and we got fruit smoothies at the food court," she says.) And once she even got U2's Bono to sing her a made-up song with her name as a refrain. "I can put almost anybody next to her, and she'll get something good out of them," says Dave Sirulnick, executive producer of MTV News.

The one thing Stewart can't seem to do is slow down. In a not atypical week in September, she flew to Cleveland for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opening, returned to New York City for the Video Music Awards, then jetted to L.A. to emcee a reunion of MTV's Real World alums. Rising at 5 a.m. in the funkily eclectic (antique lamps, ice-cream-parlor chairs) one-bedroom Manhattan apartment where she lives alone, she puts in 10-to-14-hour workdays, including the time she spends hosting MTV News: Unfiltered, a soon-to-be-monthly series featuring viewer home videos of such events as a labor strike, an antiabortion demonstration and a bike-messenger competition in Toronto. "You shot it," Stewart said on the debut in July. "This time if [the news] sucks, it's your fault."

"It's very difficult to tell her to 'Wait wait wait! Stop!' " sighs Stewart's mother, Carol, 65, a retired high school biology teacher. She, her husband, Joe, 66, a now-retired pharmaceutical-company executive, and daughter Lisa, now 39 and a dentist in Richmond, Va., moved from New Rochelle, N.Y., to suburban Glen Ridge, N.J., in 1960. "They were the only black family in town," says Alison. By the time Alison was a high school senior in 1984, there were other African-Americans, but she was still in a distinct minority. "It taught me that I had to be my own person early on, because there really wasn't the option to blend in," she says.

At Brown University, Stewart, an English major, became music director of the campus radio station and, after graduating in 1988, worked as an assistant to veejays at MTV. She joined the then-fledgling news division as a producer and reporter in 1991. Now she's enough of a star to get fan mail, "mostly from young black women and men," she says. "They say I have my head on straight."

There's just one thing askew in her life: no one to share it with. She rarely has time for a date. "I'm soooo single," Stewart says. "I just want to experience, when I get off a plane, someone saying, 'You're back!' " Volunteers?

CYNTHIA WANG in New York City

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