Truthfully, until this whole mess began, I really had no idea what the job of "America's Next Top Model" entailed. For the likewise uninitiated: America's Next Top Model is UPN's fabulously successful reality series that pits beautifully emaciated Amazonians against one another in a bid for the ultimate attentions of matronly supermodel Tyra Banks--as well as a contract with the Ford modeling agency. I was a virgin to UPN's fabulously successful reality series, had no idea that "fierce" was a way of life, and possessed no particular aspirations toward a Cover Girl contract. That all changed, however, when I was drafted for a rather rough deflowering.
With the promise of a modest Mercury paycheck and more than a little coercion, it was decided I would infiltrate UPN 49's America's Next Top Model Portland Search, a locally orchestrated (and heavily advertised) competition that promised to send one lucky hopeful to Los Angeles for a shot at Tyra. Luckily I met all the standard requirements set forth by the show's producers: I am 5' 7" or over, and between the ages of 18 and 27. Second, I was briefed on the notion of "fierce" (the essential Top Model attribute), and I'm a good crier. Additionally, I have five years of experience in the business of being "pretty"--a modeling history I would do my best to conceal for the sake of this amateur competition. Oh, and then there's my ace in the hole: the cancer sob story. See, as a teenager, I successfully battled cervical cancer--an experience that has had surprisingly little application in my life until this point.
After filling out a 12-page form detailing my education, dreams, and drinking habits, and photocopying some photos of myself, I spent an evening making a three-minute video that did its best to stress the cancer story, my desire to prove that I could beat anything, and my generally elegant "edginess."
GOOD MORNING, BEAUTIFUL
At just past six in the morning, I headed west to a distant corporate park in Beaverton which houses Fox 12/UPN 49's studios--fearing I would arrive to witness an endless line of gaunt beauties. Instead I found two solitary young girls sleeping on the sidewalk, camped out from the night before. The turnout grew as the morning hour became more reasonable, and in the end, there were 150 or so wannabe models swarming, preening, and nesting on plastic chairs. A veritable RAINBOW OF BEAUTY.
There were many styles of weave, highlighting, and gelling. Makeup ranged from "day old" to "virginal, squeaky clean, and full of hope." Strangely, surrounded by so many beaming, beautiful girls, the features all begin to blend together--and though each were striking in their own right, the slender faces proved surprisingly sexless when multiplied to this level. Still, even the most deluded applicants seemed desperate to get their big bite of Tyra.
It didn't take long to realize we were participating in the Top Model farm league: as far as I could discern, there wasn't a single representative from America's Next Top Model proper--just a handful of middlingly qualified local personalities, a camera crew, and their Beaverton-based bastardization. Oh, yeah--I forgot to mention: America's Next Top Model Portland Search was also being aggressively filmed for a locally produced, hour-long special. Wonderful.
The four judges were: a former Meier & Frank lingerie model, drag queen Poison Waters, Willamette Week's resident ladies' man Byron Beck, and a morning radio personality from Z100. And the ever-elusive grand prize that we were so desperately vying for? A trip to Los Angeles for yet another extensive cattle call. Not exactly my idea of "the glamorous life."
Round one was a breeze in, breeze out situation. If you left the judges with a piece of blue paper, the other girls swarmed in glee or glared in jealousy. No paper, you were welling up with tears or stomping off in four-inch heels.
Garnering some dirty looks after receiving my slip of teal, I returned to the waiting room in time to eavesdrop on a conversation between two former ANTM semi-finalists who were giving tryouts yet another go.
"Third time's the charm!" announced Mary upon noticing Sara amongst the crowd (I'm told that regular viewers of the show might remember the plus-sized Mary from her last two attempts at Top Model glory, one of which ended with her in a weeping heap in Tyra's arms at the beginning of this season).
With an above-it-all aloofness, the pair gossiped about some startling truths behind the show's blurred reality (according to them, the show apparently neglected to mention that last year's winner was actively involved in a lesbian relationship), and spoke of the producers on a first name basis. This time they had the knowledge and talent to make it for sure.
Both were eliminated by round two.
SORRY LADIES… IT'S A "DO-OVER."
The host of America's Next Top Model Portland Search (the local TV special) is Drew, from whom we learned that in television production, there are a lot of "do-overs." There were 60 or so finalists clustered together on the studio's makeshift runway, as Drew attempted to announce the eight remaining finalists. Unfortunately, there were enough do-overs to constitute numerous groans of estrogen-fueled apprehension.
At last, the final contestants were asked to step forward: there was the Hooter's bartender and mother of three with ever-present teeth; the dark-eyed family counselor in the shortest skirt ever; the gorgeous and gregarious one; the god-fearing, virginal redhead from rural Washington; the kind, wide-eyed mother from the Bay Area; the blonde who yapped incessantly on her cell phone; the "plus-sized" model who was actually "normal-sized;" and, last but not least, the cancer teen that is your narrator. Unfortunately, Drew fucked up a couple of the names, so everyone (including the 52 girls who were being sent home) was forced to repeat the teeth-bared charade for an excruciating six more rounds.
But just like that, I found myself in the top eight.
Undeserving and under-whelmed, I was corralled into a tiny room, where the real fun began. I was informed I had just a few short hours to go home and grab all of my stuff because I WAS STAYING THE NIGHT WITH THE MODELS--and at the Heathman Hotel, no less. I would not be allowed to return home until Saturday night… "so please, girls, bring props for the bathing suit photo shoot and be back here by six, where the limo will be waiting."
The packed limo delivered us to a fancy pants new store in Lake Oswego, where we were given 10 camera minutes to pick an outfit for a Monday morning fashion show in front of our esteemed judges. I found something quickly, efficiently, quietly. There were retakes and re-dos for the sake of film. They actually had us mime RUNNING out of the store bearing the weight of our 10-minute spree. Then we got into and out of the limo four times for "the best shot." I somehow maintained a stern (and very uncharacteristic) level of patience throughout.
After 13 hours of "hurry up and wait" we finally arrived at the hotel, where we were attacked by hairdressers, makeup artists, and bathing suit designers ready to prep us for tomorrow's chores. Instructed to pick out a bathing suit, I quickly picked the conservative, black and white one with hearts, which would provide ample coverage of my bottom. This choice was greeted with nothing short of disgust.
"Oh, hunny, why don't you put on the kitty one?"
Every organ in my body shut down in an attempt to process this information: "The Kitty Bathing Suit." The Kitty Bathing Suit is a light, powder-pink bikini with black piping and feline facial features emblazoned across the crotch. Which is to say, I had a "pussy" on my pussy. And a tiny tail on the ass.
I put it on, they loved it, I gave in.
Then, sweet freedom. The producers left, the entourage dissipated. I was swilling Jack Daniels from the bottle in the hotel elevator, sucking down cigarettes, and preparing to retire. I laid claim to a couch in the common room. I did not want to sleep next to any of these people. The couch was my life raft.
GOOD MORNING, BEAUTIFUL (PART II)
We were ushered, all morning breath-ed and puffy, back to the station. It's makeup time. Dosha salon was there to make us look presentable. The makeup artist couldn't for the life of her figure out how to cover my under-eye circles. Eventually I looked acceptable, hair awhirl and prepped to shoot photographs with the very lovely Jasmine.
I tucked my gut, kept my chin up, smiled mysteriously when asked to, and looked flirty with a beach ball when required. It was painless, except for the four video cameras and 10 random, unnecessary people in the room. Thank you, unnamed model, for the half a Vicodin that got me through. Thank you.
You know those omnipresent late-night, local television commercials for that car stereo superstore? The one where the slack-jawed guy with bulging eyes screams about the absurdity of "TWEETERS FOR A BUCK"? Well, apparently this is the same dude who holds the second key in the seemingly endless labyrinth that ends at Top Model-dom. In the store's showroom we were asked to memorize a script (which, in admittedly poor sportsmanship, I did not) for a delightful ad about an in-car DVD player, to prove whether we could hack being America's Next Top Car Stereo Spokeswoman. I mused with the cameraman about how this was my idea of personal hell.
While one girl at a time stumbled over "AVIC-N2 flip down in dash DVD player!" the rest of us stood freezing in the back shop, surrounded by large car-stereo-installing men with tits larger than any of our own. Finally they let us go home.
Monday morning, six am, and I was up with the sun again, slapping on makeup and trying to "do something" with my hair. I'd come to the station with the expressed purpose of getting it over with. It's decision time. It's the showdown. And I had my bets on who was going to win. We put on our 10-minute outfits, I took my half a Xanex, and set off for the runway--which I walked at least six times so the camera crews could get the right angle. Our familiar panel of judges each asked us one question that they were all to agree upon. My question, put in gentler terms was: WHY ARE YOU SUCH A STONE COLD BITCH? I mumbled something about cancer--a tactic which seemed to have lost a good deal of its charm over the weekend--gave a big ham of a smile, and cat-walked off to wait.
Finally we all went back in to hear the results, lining up like Ms. Portlands and Mrs. Vancouvers, all satin and lip-gloss. They announced the redhead as the winner--my pick for her youth, virginity, vigor, rock solid abs, and ears the size of plates. She squealed, we clapped, and I got the hell out of there.
One woman was off to stand in another long line in L.A. For six others, the dream had officially come to an exhausted end. As for me? I received the welcome rejection I secretly deserved all along.