'Top Model' call draws thousands

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Rosemont was ready for its "America's Next Top Model" close-up Wednesday.

After keeping candidates in suspense about the exact location of the Chicago casting call, the CW reality show announced Tuesday that it would screen prospects for Season 13 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday.

For the first time, the nationwide auditions are seeking women who are 5 foot 7 inches and shorter.

Models traditionally must reach or exceed that height.

So when the show decided to reverse that standard for the season that airs in September, an estimated 10,000 women descended on the New York casting call earlier this month. Pandemonium broke out, resulting in three arrests and six injuries.

With plenty of police on hand, Rosemont produced no similar "Cops"-caliber scene. More than 3,000 prospects maintained peace as the line stretched down the block, constantly replenished by fresh faces, each subjected to the elevator eyes of her predecessors--scanned from head to toe and back again.

Making sure they got their flip-flopped foot in the door, girls already had begun lining up at 3 a.m. when the casting crew arrived, even though new rules, revised after the New York debacle, officially forbade assembling prior to 6 a.m. The casting wasn't scheduled to begin until 10 a.m., but doors opened by 6 a.m., and by 10 a.m., hundreds of contestants' caffeine-and-saltine-fueled dreams of becoming the next "Top Model" had been crushed.

On three hours of sleep, Shannon Cunningham skipped a psychology test at Eastern Michigan University for the opportunity. Trine Hatzenbuehler drove 12 hours from Gainesville, Va. Shalonda Council flew in from Orlando.

Despite the glimmer of hope, few harbored lifelong dreams of becoming a supermodel. "Obviously, I was too short," said the 5-foot-6-inch Shelise Hufstetler, 19, who flew in the night before from Las Vegas, where she's studying fashion design. "I checked the 'Top Model' requirements every season to see if they changed. And finally... !"

And few starved themselves in stereotypical model fashion.

"In fact, I had six Eggos this morning; I had to settle the butterflies in my stomach," said the 5-foot-7 Melinda Lafrey, 24, an interior design student from Orland Park.

Nine banks of mirrors in one restroom were occupied with women adjusting cleavage, swapping shirts or subbing flats for 5-inch platform heels, like the 5-foot-6 Jacquelyn Guider, 18, who lives near the University of Illinois-Chicago.

"I want to be a media mogul," she said. "Even if you don't make it to the end of the show, you're going to touch hands with a lot of significant people."

She and her friend, the 5-foot-6 Renita Williams, 18, of Matteson, wore jeans and barely a pat of powder on their faces.

"They don't like you to come in with a full face of makeup," said Williams, who started modeling when she was 3 years old.

Anna Ames, a Lake Forest massage therapist who turned 24 that day, worked her 1940s pinup girl style to the hilt with a red Jessica Rabbit-worthy dress, porcelain complexion, scarlet lips and soft-wave hairstyle. "I decided to just come as myself," she said.

The 5-foot-2 Erin Salker, 27, of Rogers Park, called herself "the grandma of the competition" and remained in her red ballet flats as her bloc of numbers was called. "I'm short and they know it, who cares?" she said over her shoulder as her group was hustled along.

A day earlier, 5-foot-4½ Jennifer D'Adamo, 26, an electrician at the convention center, was changing lightbulbs in the same ballroom where she now was waiting when she heard that the casting call would be here.

Then she heard that they were welcoming shorter women.

"It was too eerie--kind of like fate," said D'Adamo, who has a distinctive beauty mark above her mouth, reminiscent of Cindy Crawford. "I thought, it would be silly for me not to try. Eva Longoria and Kate Moss are not the required height but they are supermodels and actresses."

That was one reason that show producer and former supermodel Tyra Banks cited for opening up the show to lower heights, a decision that has swollen the turnout for auditions across the country.

Applicants who make the cut will compete for a $100,000 CoverGirl contract and representation by Elite Model Management during the televised boot camp.

Chicago already has claimed an impressive share of "Top Model" fame. Lake Forest's Brittany McKey Sullivan earned the title in Cycle 11. Jaslene Gonzalez, who grew up in Humboldt Park, won Cycle 8. Joliet's Adrianne Curry brought home the very first crown.

After surviving two rounds during Wednesday's tryouts, Renita Williams, the former child model, reported that she got cut in the third round.

"I used to be really adorable," she said, smiling. "I quit modeling because I was really into cheerleading, which wasn't a smart move. It's really hard to get back in!"

As she waited her turn before the judges, the 5-foot-7 Sara Luebke, 18, a Loyola University student who lives in Rogers Park, occupied her thoughts with a Simone de Beauvoir book, written in French. Asked for a translation of its title "Une Mort Tres Douce," she ventured, "a very soft death."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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