And Now for Something Completely Different

It’s been a pretty crazy week around here at the like/want/need headquarters, and I have a lot to catch you up on, but that is a story for Monday. I know it’s Friday (horray!), and that usually means another weekly bi-weekly semi-regularly-posted installment of the Friday Five, but this week I’ve decided to up the ante (and deviate entirely from anything this blog has been about since its inception a mere 6 months ago). I’ve kept you guys without content this week, interesting or otherwise, and for longer stretches of time than I’m happy to admit. I’d apologize again, for any past and future lapses, but I think you’ll appreciate what I’m offering up today:

That One Time I Tried Out for America’s Next Top Model.

Yes, I did capitalize that entire thing, beacuse ridiculousness as rich as what I’m about to share with you deserves nothing less. Actually, it deserves way, way more than capitals. I should have made it look something like this:

antm

You totally think I’m kidding.

Well, I’m not. I was indeed invited to and attended a private casting of my very favorite reality tv show, and it was so full of LOLs that I couldn’t even deal. I wish I had actually been selected for the show, if only for the amazing stories I could have provided at the end of it, and the no-doubt hundreds of hours of footage of me rolling my eyes or staring into the camera as if to say, “Is this girl serious?” that would have been collected. I’m pretty sure I had at least 15 moments during the casting where some girl said or did something so insanely ridiculous that my eyes popped out of my head.

It all started back in 2003, with the first season of ANTM. I was in high school, and the idea of sticking 12 women in a hotel in New York and making them live together while competing to be a model was pretty much my favorite thing to happen to television since Zoobilee Zoo, when I was 3. And let’s be honest, I’m pretty sure there have even been photoshoots styled with the distinct theme of Zoobilee Zoo over the 16 cycles of the show. Observe:

I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP IF I TRIED. I don’t think I have to tell you which side the Zoobilee Zoo characters are on, and which side the ANTM photoshoots are on, do I? Good. Because in some cases it’s hard to tell.

(Sidenote: When I was 4 I got to meet Mayor Ben (last picture), who, it later came out, had a cocaine addiction. My dad reasoned that if he had to be Mayor Ben for a living, he’d probably be hooked on cocaine, too)

Anyway, from the first episode of the first cycle, I was hooked. Hooked. And I was a young 17 back then, too young to audition. And despite the rigorous insistence of my friends and family over the next few years, I still couldn’t muster up the energy to fill out the obscenely long application or be bothered to dig out my video camera and make an entry video. Too much work! I was happier watching it every week, propped up in amused sassiness at the edge of my seat, frequently spouting off expletive-laden tirades about the sheer idiocy and ugliness of certain contestants, and then having deeply passionate bashing sessions with my best friend about each episode. Oh, and, you know, attending college in an attempt to expand my mind and stuff. If I had decided to defer a semester to appear on a reality tv show about modeling, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have lived to finish the end of my sentence, so quickly would my mother’s reaction come.

Until last year. Last year, at the age of 23 (which is the equivalent of being 53 in the modeling world), I was unemployed college graduate hovering on the brink of a meltdown that could only be brought on by working my butt off for 4 sleepless years only to leave school faced with zero job prospects. I certainly wasn’t getting phone calls from French Vogue or anything, so maybe it was time to STOP BEING LAZY and take a picture of my face and submit it to the casting director of Top Model.

I’d post that picture here, but just imagine someone of incredible beauty and charm who has never once had an entire conversation with a piece of spinach between their teeth. Or someone who has never, ever mini-braided her entire head when she was home sick with mono for a week, or worn bright orange corduroys in earnest. Ahem.

What, I have to show you? God, you guys are so needy. Fine.

Gosh, happy now? Don’t judge me too harshly, I had just woken up.

A few days later, my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. A lovely man (we’ll call him G., which isn’t his real name but isn’t that much of a stretch from the one-letter-name he did have) asked for the aforementioned scion of beauty and grace. He said I had what they were looking for (a face!) and wanted me to fill out an application. G. invited me to a private casting in New York, a deviation from how the previous 14 cycles of the show had auditioned. Usually, the casting in New York was an open casting, but the cycle before had ended in a riot when model-hopefuls were denied entry after a certain point. I was to treat all further correspondence with a level of secrecy tantamount to, say, Apple’s next big release to avoid a repeat model-meltdown.

I should have known from all of my previous data-gathering over the past 7 years of being addicted to this show that after its 3rd season it swiftly dissolved from a reality show in which contestants genuinely wanted to model into something that perhaps was born of a chance encounter between Jerry Springer’s show and a Delia’s in the mall, where the girls were wholly out for blood. This was the caliber of the show after 14 cycles in which it had plenty of time to become self-aware:

This challenge required the ladies to walk the 12″ wide, submerged underwater runway in a giant, inflatable bubble. Filled with confetti. While spouts aimed water at you. Obviously, this hopeful found the task difficult. Or, perhaps, she is laying down in defeat at a premise so wildly stupid, who knows. Either way, this will obviously come in handy during Paris Fashion Week.

I should have known, but I didn’t.

And then I got the heinously long application, and I started to get clued in.

Is this the part where you want to know that I can name 15 top fashion photographers and identify them by portfolio?

Oh! Maybe here is where you’d like me to tell you my thoughts on Hussein Chalayan’s latest collection? No?

Does it perhaps matter that I achieved Dean’s List every semester I attended college?

Aw, man, you couldn’t have even said books?

Maybe this was the point where I was meant to realize that I was trying out for a reality tv show. There was one question out of 72 about modeling, and it was as trite as “Who is your favorite supermodel, and why?” (perhaps my decision to not write down “TYRA BANKS!” with little hearts everywhere but rather than “a tie between Jessica Stam and Freja Beha Ericsson” was what precluded me from being chosen). It was not, foremost, a show about modeling. If the collective success of the previous 14 winners was any indication, whether or not you had the chops to make it in the real modeling world were secondary to how likely you were to slap a bitch cause she stole your granola bar (YOU THINK I’M KIDDING) and how far out over the ledge of public humiliation you were willing to dangle your dignity (dare I mention the time one girl peed in a diaper for fun).

Still, undeterred, I took a train to New York the night before the casting and checked in at an Econo Lodge (I was unemployed, okay?) a few blocks away from the hotel where the degradation-of-self was to take place the next morning. In addition to vowing never to tell anyone deemed unworthy (read: ugly) enough to be invited where this thing was going down, I had been instructed to wear a bikini under tight, “shape-revealing” articles of clothing, along with a pair of heels. The better to see your brain with, my dear! You have never seen someone work out so furiously in the weeks leading up to this as I did. I was doing tricep curls with cans of soup. By any and all standards, I have the body of an 11 year old boy, but this was America’s Next Top Model we were talking about. 11 year old prepubescent wasn’t good enough. I needed to strive for 9. Duh.

That night I dreamt of making it on the show and glitter filled hamster balls and fights about being “here to make friends” and gowns the color of Mr. Jay’s deliciously silver locks.

The morning of, I cabbed it over to the hotel and commenced what I will forever remember as the single weirdest 4 hours of my entire life. You guys, I could one day drink a beer with Madonna while riding bareback on a zebra, and it still wouldn’t be as weird. I would totally try to kick Madonna off her zebra though, because Madonna sucks.

First off, let me just say that inviting 200 reality-tv-obsessed girls ages 18-24 with an average BMI of just under 16 to one room filled with their competition is simultaneously the most maniacal and genius thing I’ve ever encountered. The girl seated next to me ate a piece of candy, put the crumpled up wrapped in the hair of the girl in front of her and proceeded to giggle like the evil shrew that she was. This girl worked 3rd shift at a Walmart and seemed to have no further aspirations (not even to, say, work 2nd shift at Walmart). Clearly, she was meant to wear couture. It was like Mean Girls, if Mean Girls had been set in the ballroom of that hotel, sported a 24 inch waist and suffered from delusions of grandeur.

Arrival time was listed as 8am, but we of the savvy variety (read: anxious) knew to arrive by 7:30. We were herded into a line to check in, where we were given once-overs and yet more paperwork to fill out, with progressively more probing questions into our mental stability and likelihood we would slap a bitch for stealing her granola bar.

Once all 200 girls were checked in and seated, a casting director came out and addressed us. She started with a speech about how lucky we should consider ourselves and how proud we should be that we were here, because this was an exclusive event, omg! After a light round of self-congratulatory applause, the casting director announced that we would “ALL HAVE A CHANCE TO TALK TO TYRA!” There were screams, cheers, shrieks of delight and awe. Someone in the back fainted. “OH MY GOD, TYRA!” more than one hopeful yelled. Doubting the possibility that Ms. Banks herself was sitting in the adjacent ballroom behind a casting table, I remained silent. Which was smart, because then the casting director finished her sentence:

“…to a camera.”

A duh.

But far be it from the casting directors to be mean about it, oh no. Since we were only able to address ourselves to Tyra on camera, they would at least make it feel like she was there. How, you ask? By taping this picture of her to the bottom of the camera, obviously:

After some more precursory warnings about turning your cell phones off so the cameras next door didn’t pick up interference, suggestions to wipe off ay excessive makeup so you don’t look too “overdone”, and one last speech that went something like, “Don’t walk in there and tell us you’re going to be the bitch of the house, because the bitch of the house doesn’t know she’s the bitch, that’s why she’s the bitch,” it was time for the waiting to begin. They were going to bring the girls into the adjoining ballroom in groups of 30, from which they would pick their favorites, the lucky select few who would then go on to the semi-final round.

I was number 39, so I would be in the second group. But it took over an hour and a half for the first group to finish, which we were made aware of by the processional of 9 very squealy girls back to their seats. The other 31 girls were gone. Never to be seen (or see the light of trashy reality tv!) again. If it was going to take, on average, an hour and a half for each group to be run through the ringer behind door number 2, I felt really, really sorry for girls 170-200.

Once we were escorted in, clutching only our many applications and three photographs of ourselves (a headshot, a full body shot, and a shot in a bikini), were were lined up in numerical order. The room had a long table along one side, directly behind a camera, behind which sat several casting directors, facing a large white backdrop lit by two large stand up lights. We had to step in front of the camera, on a little pink-tape T marker on the ground (an homage to Ms. Tyra, no doubt) and say our name, age, where we were from, and then file off the other side. I followed a 5’5″, 160lb diva who donned a pair of black sunglasses with oversized rhinestones around the rims solely for the purpose of taking them off and delivering her lines to camera (which she did, by the way, in a faux British accent, though she hailed form Boston). She referred to herself only as “Duchess.” I’m so not kidding.

Among the other memorable auditions, there was a blond stunner imported from Malmo, Sweden, a girl who got hit by a car and broke her foot 3 days before the audition and still showed up (she possesses DETERMINATION, YOU GUYS), and a girl who wore an approximation of a shirt in the form of a sheer scarf tied into a halter top and jeans so low I was almost able to see the results of her annual gynecological exam from 30 feet away. After she introduced herself, she pointed at her stomach with both her index fingers and said, “I had a kid two months ago.” You know, in case you thought children came from somewhere else. The piece-de-resistance wasn’t that by 19 she had successfully brought life into this world and had mastered the fine art of turning tiny amounts of fabric into full outfits, it was that she was picked to stay for the next round.

Once all 30 of us had done our bit, we were told that in the next portion we would be judged on our runway walks. Once again, we were supposed to take our mark while they played music, strut out toward the camera to another pink-tape T marker, strike our best runway pose, and strut back. For someone that has trouble functioning in ballet flats, this was to be a feat of epic proportions. Luckily, they put on some awesome music:

Because they had to loop it so that 30 girls could complete their walks, I heard this song more than enough times to have it successfully and permanently embedded in my brain for the next 6 months. I defy you to listen to this and not want to grind up against the nearest object, human or otherwise. It is not possible!

This is actually a very appropriate theme song for the entire premise of Top Model, if you think about it.  First off, the shutter noise at the beginning and end reminds you that yes! Models are photographed! There’s even a reference to Gucci in there. Hello! Gucci is a very famous designer. “None of these chicks look better than me” is probably the most commonly used phrase amongst contestants in the confessionals, right after “hate, hate, hate” which is also repeated throughout the song. And she sings “1-2-4-3,” which I know sounds incorrect, but actually represents the way a large majority of the girls auditioning probably count. In case I have not made this abundantly clear, let me remind you that having a brain is considered a detriment to reality tv.

After we were all done, we had to stand around while the casting directors conferred behind their table and looked over our applications and photos while making their judgements. Because they are not at all cruel, they put the song back on so we would have something to listen to while we waited. I imagine those 5 minutes are what someone undergoing sensory torture endures.

Then they called fewer than 10 numbers representing the girls who were still in the running toward becoming super humiliated in the next round of auditions. Alas, mine was not one of them. From what we were told, the next round of the casting including stripping down to your  bikini and being measured (height, body proportions), and probably some more cat-walking, before the ritualistic sacrificing of the uglies. Maybe even a dianetics test, I don’t know! It must have been an awfully long process though, to cull the group down to a workable amount of girls deemed “fit” to appear on the show. Obviously, “fit” meant you frequent nude beaches, hit things when you are angry, and think books are like, waaay too much work.

I released with the other lowly girls into the lobby. G was there, in all his lovely and effervescent glory, and he genuinely pouted when he saw me on my way out. He asked me to email him a few months later for the next cycle’s casting, but after the entire experience that morning, I decided firmly against it.

Look, it’s not that I’m deluded enough to think that the best way to enter the modeling industry is at the hands of Tyra Banks, a woman who, while an acclaimed model, wears more spandex bodysuits than will ever be acceptable and who sometimes makes girls dress up like characters from vintage 80s live-action tv shows. Don’t misinterpret that, I love the woman and would have loved the opportunity to be on that show, if only to be the linchpin of sanity and intelligence in an otherwise crazy house of 15 girls who refer to themselves in the 3rd person. And, well, I do love the industry and who wouldn’t want to be a model? On some level, I knew that trying out would shatter all of my delusions about the show, and that I’d be forced to realize that wanting to be a model and wanting to be on a reality tv show are two mutually exclusive things that only barely overlap on Top Model. What I should have done was try out for the show when it was still sort of new and meant to be taken seriously. Like, 6 years ago.

But if the show wasn’t the complete circus it has turned into today (which it is, though it’s toned itself down the past two seasons because there are legitimate prizes to be won now, like appearing in Vogue Italia. There are still some absolutely stunning and classy girls that appear on the show who have tons of potential and who end up getting signed regardless of if they win or not) then I wouldn’t love it half as much as I do, and therefore I wouldn’t have been drawn to audition in the first place. Does that even make sense? I love it because it is ridiculous, and while I’m way too old and wise to audition for it again, I will still watch old cycles on youtube to relive the glory days.

There. Over 3 thousand words on my obsession with America’s Next Top Model. It’s to the point that I once put together a list of girls who were doppelgangers of girls from other cycles. It was pretty impressive. Maybe I’ll post that next week.

Enjoy your weekend! You’re still in the running toward becoming America’s Next. Top. Model.

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September 2, 2011 / fashion / vanity / LEAVE A COMMENT / 4

4 comments

  • Snort!

    I’m glad you didn’t go the whole way with the show- otherwise you’d be too busy modelling and not have time to write hilarious posts about reality tv close-encounters!

    • Hahah, thanks Susk! I’m glad you enjoyed it, it was quite the, ahem, experience.

  • Wow. Thanks for the essay. Brilliantly written.

    If you’re still unemployed at this point, though I personally would rethink the decision to email that guy who had faith in you, G.

    I agree with you about the lack of brains behind the show. But the reason I say “rethink it,” is because even with your college degree, your chances of getting hired are pretty much dead in the water in this economy right now. New graduates, in whatever field, are working as waiters in restaurants because having a bachelor’s degree means nothing in this economy. Masters is only slightly better- Ph.D is the “new masters” in this economy. Want to scare yourself, read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/education/edlife/edl-24masters-t.html?pagewanted=all

    If you love modeling and really have talent, ANTM isn’t a bad way to enter a *very* exclusive industry, especially since you’re already way past the age when any modeling agency will consider you at this point. Not your fault, you had no idea the economy would collapse when you entered college. The mortgage crisis, who knew.

    If you already have a job you love right now, then sure, put the audition in the past, but if you’re still unemployed as of right now, I’d give it another shot. Considering Jane Randall was recently signed in London with… IMG, I think, and Reina Hein has gotten huge name campaigns- Nicole from the short cycle as well, why not? These girls really do make a million a year, and the ones who aren’t as successful make $200,000 a year. And the show’s produced a surprising lot of those. $200,000 is more than a family practice doctor, or a tenured professor with a ph.d at a university.

    Brains are great, but money’s the issue at hand right now, for me at least. Were I 10 years younger, I’d do it. Though like you, I’d want to bash my brains out at the lack of intelligence.

    Here’s the thing, though, that I bet would put you through, if you audition next time, don’t hold back about your intelligence. If you’re smart say so, and be kind of honest about it, because they’ll put you through on that, they like a girl like that because they assume she will fail at modeling because she’s intelligent. It’s likely to get you cast. You’d be memorable.

  • […] honor of the occasion, I’d like to take this time re-post something I wrote about last September, before I really had any readers. […]