Apr. 21, 2008
It's judgment day -- or as close as I hope to come at my age. I'm walking into a room where an assessment of my worth is about to be made. That assessment will be based entirely on how attractive I am.
Can professional handlers make a male model out of just anyone? Seven months of preparation lie in the balance.
Impact Models & Talent agent Leana Hildebrand introduces her latest discovery to Reed Anderson, chief creative director for a computer company, Fusion-io, who is looking to hire a Chippendale type to man its booth at an upcoming software convention.
My audition, called a "go-see" in the business, is off to a great start because I was a Chippendale. (For a 2006 Fear and Loafing adventure, I became the troupe's first 5-foot-5 dancer. Click here to read it.)
Anderson and his executive assistant, Whitney, respond to my claim with polite poker faces.
It's a good thing I used whitening toothpaste this morning.
Rejection comes as often to the male model as the "increase your manhood" e-mail. Some take it personally, developing psychological problems that lead to secret bathroom excursions.
"You take hours of preparation time just to stand in front of a casting director and hear him say you're not good enough," said Eric Ita, a professional model and my coach for this adventure.
Ita -- who is 22 years old, stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 179 pounds -- copes by thinking of himself as a different person during auditions.
"You're not yourself," he said. "You're representing something else. No one's looking at you and trying to see what you're about as a person."
Anderson motions for me to sit on a chair facing him and Whitney. They tell me about the position they're trying to fill. It'll be at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on April 29 and 30.
"You'll be trying to attract people into the booth," Anderson explains.
I'm not myself, I tell myself.
Ita was born in Cross River State, Nigeria, where he dreamed of being someone different: a pilot.
"But I have bad eyesight," he said. "So that was out."
Ita's family moved to Las Vegas when he was 15. In 2005, after graduating from Community College High School, Ita discovered that a friend had submitted his photo to a model search for an anti-tobacco campaign called Urban Fuel.
"You've got to bring the fire out," Ita commands me.
We're now in the Review-Journal studio where fashion spreads are photographed for the Image section. A crew of seven -- Ita, Hildebrand, Image photographer Duane Prokop, Image editor Susan Stapleton, and no fewer than three cosmetology students from Euphoria Institute -- has gathered solely to produce my composite, or comp, card. A necessary tool for all professional models, this 5-by-7-inch cardboard rectangle advertises a head shot on front, and more photos -- along with baseball cardlike stats -- on back.
I have just flashed back more than half a year, by the way. Remember earlier, when I claimed that seven months of preparation lay in the balance? More accurately, it was seven months since my preparation. The only model-like activity I engaged in during this time was calling my agent to complain about her lack of dedication to me.
"I'm sorry but I just don't have time to deal with this right now, sweetie," Hildebrand told me somewhere between 17 and 26 times.
"You have to learn different facial expressions," Ita continues.
For two hours this morning, Ita has been posing me like his G.I. Joe doll, his own face alternating between screaming laughs and grievous concern.
Ben Stiller's male model in the movie "Zoolander" had only one expression, I point out. (He referred to it as Blue Steel, Magnum, Ferrari and Le Tigre.)
"That's over-exaggerated," replies Ita, who actually resembles one of the models portrayed in the 2001 comedy's playful but ill-fated gasoline pump fight.
"But it's not that far off," Hildebrand jokes.
Ita placed in the top five of the Urban Fuel search, winning a runway show and his first exposure. Now, he earns an average of $1,500 to $1,800 per week from three three- to eight-hour assignments.
"I like modeling because you're playing different characters," he said, "and it opens you up to being able to meet all kinds of different people."
The downside is all the rigorous and uncomfortable grooming.
"You have to be totally prepared, because you never know when you're gonna get a call out of nowhere," noted Ita, whose car is always stocked with nice shoes, an unwrinkled clothes change and soap.
"The constant shaving is the worst," he told me.
He didn't have to tell me. In a man-scaping accident the night before my shoot, my left nipple almost ended up between the second and third blades of a Schick Xtreme 3.
"Look natural," Ita says.
Now I'm leaning backward on a greasy pipe in nothing but my tighty-whiteys. Seven people are staring at me, giggling and calling me "Flabio."
You try looking natural.
"That's all part of being a model," Ita says. "You have to have all these things going on in your head at the same time.
"People think it's easy."
Back at my go-see, I hand Anderson my finished comp card. When I first saw it, I instantly understood why all the models I've met in my life never looked as good as their photos. All the zits I had on the day of my shoot are gone. My casual and business-casual shots appear relatively humanlike. And although my jumping shot suggests the aftermath of scalding tea down my pants, my underwear shot makes my stomach appear 20 pounds thinner. (This may be related to the fact that Prokop touched up my photos to make my stomach appear 20 pounds thinner, but I can't say for sure.)
"That's pretty much it," Anderson says, transforming my go-see into a went-saw in exactly 54 seconds.
Whenever a casting director, or a jury, reaches a decision that fast, you can pretty much guess what they've decided. I wasn't even asked to take my shirt off.
"Off is great," Anderson says when I begin taking it off anyway.
Anderson laughs when I tell him about my article. He then claims to have bought me in my latest and perhaps most ludicrous role, calling me a "nontraditional" model. (By traditional, he must mean someone he would actually hire.)
Character-acting would probably be more my speed, Anderson adds, which for a male model is no different from hearing what a great personality he has.
At least my comp card won't go to waste. A space is reserved on the Impact office wall. Not the front wall alongside real models, but the wall in back -- alongside the 8-by-10-inch of the girl with the gun to her head, the guy with his hand on his crotch, and the guy who submitted what looks like his FBI wanted photo.
Impact employees call this their wall of shame.
"These are actual submissions by people," Hildebrand says, shaking her head in disbelief. "I want to know who looked at them and said, 'You know, you should be a model.' "
That's fine with me. These are my people.
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.