“Sassy reporter” Lauren Rosenthal took on a new challenge this past weekend: a casting call to become the new face of Elm City fashion.
Adrienne Sharpe , a 32-year-old New Haven resident and employee of Yale’s Beinecke Library, spent an unusually warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in a warehouse next to the abandoned Cosi storefront, waiting for her turn to walk down a slightly soiled red carpet while a panel of discerning judges looked on.
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When asked why she chose to do so, Sharpe nervously laughed.
“I thought it might be fun,” Sharpe said.
Hundreds of would-be models, ranging in age from 3 to 64, converged on the Broadway district to try their at hand at becoming the new face of New Haven fashion in the Couture New Haven Model Casting Call, held by the Broadway and Chapel Merchants Association on Saturday at Wishlist. I was one of those models clamoring for a bit of local fame, vying for a spot in a new local ad campaign. As a longtime fan of “America’s Next Top Model” and all of Tyra Banks’ accompanying antics, I was there faster than you can lisp “fierce.”
The atmosphere outside Wishlist, where contestants registered before tryouts at the Park Street warehouse, was one of sheer excitement. Teenage girls in skinny jeans and stiletto pumps streamed into the store with mothers in tow. Middle-aged women walked out of the store with audition time slots and Wishlist shopping bags in hand. The sun was shining, people were shopping and there was a sense of lightheartededness among the modeling hopefuls that has become increasingly rare since the recession began.
At the Park Street warehouse space, which was decorated with chic posters of New York City skylines and Parisian vistas, organizers blasted pop hits of the 1980s and ’90s. The diversity of the applicant pool waiting in line was remarkable; countless ethnicities and sizes were represented. A small but enthusiastic male contingent of about 50 had also signed up to strut.
One of these aspiring male models was Christian “Opus” Lawrence , a 36-year-old New Haven resident and drummer for both a band called Dead by Wednesday and the Black Sabbath tribute band Earth. Lawrence embraced his rock roots, showing off his bleached, spiked hair, a leather vest, and a nose ring. He proudly displayed a tattoo on his bicep of the Muppet character Animal playing drums, above which the words “Drums, Girls, Food!” were emblazoned.
When I asked Lawrence for his name, he simply replied that it was Opus. I paused, but he never added a “but that’s just a stage name,” or “that’s what my friends call me.”
An awkward moment passed between us. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Rod Stewart blasted in the background, and my recorder grew heavy in my hand. Finally, Lawrence gave me his legal name, and I exhaled.
When I asked Lawrence if he thought he had a chance at becoming the face of Couture New Haven, he answered without missing a beat. “Definitely not,” Lawrence said.
“I’m going to have to do some strutting or some break-dancing to get the judges’ attention,” he said. “I’m just going to make a fool of myself on the way down.”
Indeed, when Lawrence’s number was called, he lifted his tattooed arms above his head and shimmied down the runway. At the halfway mark, he stopped short, turned around and shook his rear at the judges, righted himself once more, and proceeded to the judges’ table while moaning.
Once he arrived at the end of the runway, he greeted the judges with a friendly pelvic thrust directed at their bemused faces.
In stark contrast to Lawrence’s approach, many aspiring models and seasoned professionals, like 20-year-old New Haven resident and Gateway Community College nursing student Allison Jones, took the competition much more seriously.
The Couture New Haven Model Casting Call was the first modeling Jones had done since leaving the profession to pursue a nursing degree. Once featured during Couture Week events in New York City, Jones encouraged her fellow participants to be confident. She also criticized the “bitchy model stereotype.”
When I told Jones that part of my assignment was to complete an audition, the 6-foot-something beauty looked me up and down and laughed aloud. I became acutely aware of the fact that Jones’ legs roughly came up to my neck.
“Oh, well, that’s fun,” Jones said with a laugh. “Do it. You have fun with that.”
As Jones was bound to find out, auditions were a far cry from Couture Week. Participants nervously walked down the red carpet runner toward a panel of three middle-aged judges, who asked contestants a brief series of questions about their interests and reasons for wanting to be a model. Judges then evaluated each participant on their poise, photogenic ability, healthy physical appearance and personality.
An event organizer called my name and asked me to stand directly in front of a poster of Times Square. I tried to think of something funny so my smile wouldn’t look forced, and as if by magic, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson started playing on the sound system. She snapped the photo for the judges’ records, capturing genuine glee.
About an hour later, I had to walk the runway: I threw my shoulders back, took a deep breath, and then noticed the reporter’s pad I was still clutching in my hand.
So I did my best model walk with the pages of my notebook waving in the breeze. When I came to the judges, I said the first thing that popped into my head.
“Hi,” I blurted. “My name is Lauren, and I am a sassy reporter.”
After the blur of an interview that followed, I stopped in the doorway and turned back. I wanted to see Adrienne Sharpe and her friend Sarah Kuchta, with whom I’d shared countless jokes and anecdotes during the waiting period, take their turns.
As Sharpe began her walk down the runway, Kuchta, a 25-year-old art therapist , was there with a giant grin and a thumbs-up as the 1987 pop classic “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston echoed through the warehouse-cum-house-of-couture. Their enthusiasm made them the best models I had seen all day.
Sunday afternoon, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a Couture New Haven representative, informing me that I had been selected by Trailblazer to model their clothing during the April 3 edition of “CT Style” on WTNH.
One grand prize winner will be declared the face of the Couture New Haven campaign and will receive a $100 gift certificate to Wishlist, feature status in the April 3 edition of “CT Style” on WTNH and a photo shoot with a professional fashion photographer. Four other winners — including me — will also be featured on “CT Style.”
I repeatedly asked the woman on the phone if she was kidding. She repeatedly said she was not.
The moral of the story: Don’t count out the sassy reporter.