Like it or not, the culture that sprang out of America’s Next Top Model has secured a place in our collective consciousness. Maybe it’s the imaginative photo shoots, maybe it’s the catfights. Or maybe it’s Tyra Banks’ witty repartee that keeps us tuning in and placing the requisite bitch contestant on our inner hit lists.
For most of us, the reality television show that put the word “fierce” in our daily vocabulary is a guilty pleasure and gay boys and America’s Next Top Model go together like sashay and shante.
So when a Facebook group was created in early December calling for contestants to be part of the first-ever Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model, 158 people signed on before the event’s organizer Terry Costa even had time to find prizes.
“My friends convinced me that I should do something that raises funds for Friends for Life,” Costa tells me in his office at Mirateca Arts Management. “I just saw a huge poster on Davie St about the Top Model show and I thought why not do it — but all gay?”
Costa has been active in the arts and entertainment industry for the last five years, cutting his teeth on such productions as Canadian Idol auditions and the upcoming theatrical adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
“The project in itself is huge,” Costa says of Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model. “Our budget has crossed $375,000 and we have no money whatsoever. It’s all products, services and prizes, in-kind support. The money from the ticket sales will go directly to Friends for Life.”
Auditions: Round One
The usually darkened dance floor of Celebrities nightclub is bathed in bright light as camera crews scuttle around to set up last-minute lighting.
The smoking room has been converted into a makeshift interview area and a mini photographer’s studio has been erected near the couches at the front of the club that still smell like last night’s spilt booze.
Costa can’t seem to stay in one place as sound technicians, cameramen, and volunteers interrupt each other with questions and last minute problems that need to be addressed.
Outside 40 guys line up in uncomfortable silence and wait in the cold for the doorman to let them in. Only 25 of them will survive today’s cut and continue on to become Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model.
The first half of the day is spent getting to know the models so the judges can put faces to names. After that, everyone listens to a new song written for the event by Armstrong Jr titled “Wanna be a Top Model?” that features pop musician Jerome Mandrake and violinist Suzka.
The boys are given one listen before they are put on the dance floor to impress the judges. The song is a sexy build up to a trance-like runway track and each contestant tries to out dance the other and prove that they have the that it takes to be on top.
Just before Costa is about to announce the first cut, he reveals the list of fabulous prizes. For the Top 12, each contestant will receive a package worth $5,000 that includes workshops, Cirque du Soleil tickets and fitness perks, among other things. The winner will get a $50,000 package that includes a multitude of prizes from local business like Priape and Flaming Angel clothing, plus the chance to represent Vancouver in the Mr Gay Canada competition.
But the biggest prize is a trip to Australia, courtesy of AussieBum, where the winner will get to raid AussieBum’s home office for as much clothing as he can bring back to Canada, and go on an Outback Adventure where he’ll spend five days in Kakadu National Park with other international models to work on AussieBum’s new ad campaign.
The winner will also be prominently featured on OUTtv’s behind-the-scenes documentary about Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model.
“The winner will get a great career if he’s smart.” Costa says.
“You have to be smart,” he warns. “Attitude is what stops performers from working.”
Once the prizes are revealed, Costa wastes no time in getting into his first elimination.
Five guys who failed to stand out are quickly eliminated in the first round. The remaining 35 contestants are put back on the dance floor where choreographer Rob Trinh takes over.
Trinh has only a few minutes to lead the guys through a difficult choreography set to the song “Money” by Darren Starr, another original composition for the show. Some models immediately pick up on the hip-hop steps, while others seem content to fade into the background.
At the end of the segment, Trinh chooses nine contestants to accompany him to Whistler’s gay ski week where they’ll be go-go dancers at the Snowball party.
The final act of the day is a practice runway show where the boys make a last ditch effort to impress the judges before the next elimination.
It isn’t long before shirts come off and six packs are flexed as each model tries to get a little more naked than the next.
At the end of the day, 10 more contestants are cut and the remaining 25 are sent home to prepare for the next week’s round of workshops, which will whittle the group down to 12.
Auditions: Round Two
The guys return to judging a little more tanned than the week before.
Costa begins with another rap session where the models reveal their personal heroes in fewer than 25 words. Most cite either parents or siblings, but Jason Lomax receives a round of applause when he confesses that Oprah has always been very inspirational to him.
Models Darren Ewert and Chris Duggan are on hand to offer the boys some advice about the modelling world, and Jason Hadikin acts the part of Miss J as he teaches the guys the art of the runway walk.
The boys are given another chance to show their walk off to the judges before Costa announces that Tyrone MacPherson is the first to earn a spot in the Top 12. He is immediately thrown to Clement Luah and Raye Sunshine for hair and makeup before doing three photo shoots, two interviews and a brief video shoot.
Slowly, the numbers begin to dwindle as the boys are put through more workshops that include a salsa class, an acting workshop and a 15-minute yoga session while OUTtv lassos both finalists and dropped contestants for parting interviews.
At the end of the day, 12 guys are chosen to battle it out on stage in a two-hour event on Mar 6.
The finalists range in age range from 20 to 32 years old and each one embodies Costa’s five criteria for a top model: charm, presence, sex appeal, charisma and confidence.
“That’s what this business is really about,” Costa tells me later. “Yeah, you need to maintain your body to a certain stature but some of the models aren’t beefy. Just because AussieBum is supplying one of the major prizes does not mean we are looking for a beefy AussieBum model. At the end it could be the skinniest, tallest guy going and AussieBum will accept that because that’s the prize that they’re giving. We’re looking for someone with an edge that could turn this opportunity into a career.”
In other words, the Top 12 may all be gorgeous guys but it’s the ones who know how to work it and turn heads that will be the fiercest competitors. Both shy and overly aggressive attitudes alike may jeopardize the finalists’ chances of success – just as it sunk some of the contestants who couldn’t turn it out.
For Costa, the show’s biggest reward ultimately lies in its fundraising potential.
“I’m proud to say that Friends for Life’s name has been put into the media like never before because of this project,” he says. “That’s where the success lies for me in terms of this project. My next success is to sell out the 500 tickets so $10,000 will go to Friends for Life.”
The Mar 6th showdown will run for two hours and feature many prominent members of Vancouver’s gay and arts communities. Until then, the 12 finalists can be spotted around town promoting Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model or practising their walk down Davie St.
For those who missed the casting call, there are no plans for a second Gay Top Model event, but Costa isn’t ruling out the possibility.
I guess all of us wannabe Top Model boys will have to take comfort in the words of Miss J: “When I look at a girl, I’m looking at her for body, for movement. She can be as ugly as the bottom of my shoe but if she can walk, and have confidence, and look good, that’s all that matters for this. You can turn that ugly into beauty.”
You hear that boys? You better work.
Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model finalists:
Occupation: Student/works at CTV’s gift shop.
Brainiac: Completing his film studies degree at UBC.
Occupation: Program assistant in mental health, HIV/AIDS and addictions at St Paul’s Hospital.
Tagline: “Conceded, I’m not. Convinced, I am.”
Occupation: Sales manager, cosmetics.
Claim to Fame: Toured Europe in his early 20s as a professional model.
Occupation: Wholesale manager for Flight Centre.
His Secret: Once upon a time he weighed 260 lbs.
Occupation: Go-go dancer/bank teller.
Claim to Fame: In his youth, Pierson was the “I win” kid in a Hungry Hungry Hippos commercial.
Tagline: Confident Borderline Cocky.
Occupation: Club controller at Fitness World.
Hobbies: Loves doing charity work for the BC Federation of Foster Parents, AIDS Vancouver and Gayway.
Brainiac: Completing his degree in Engineering Physics.
Occupation: Restaurant manager.
His Secret: Plans to use Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model to come out to his family.
Occupation: Hair stylist.
Came Out When: His mom read his mail.
Occupation: Manager for eBay Australia.
Brainiac: Has been trained in performing arts and holds an honours BA in English.
Occupation: Grocery clerk.
Life’s Ambition: To travel to Australia and Europe.