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WANNA DANCE?

Kokomo's Skin Contest Seems Modeled on Reel Life

August 11, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition

After wasting an hour watching Fox's newest Wednesday night fluff series, "Models, Inc.," head to Kokomo's in Irvine for a dose of the real thing. It's less glamorous and twice as silly. It is, after all, real life.

In two short segments at the club's once-a-week installation of Hump Night, promoted by Unity Productions, a dozen young ladies try to be models or just look like one. They teeter in heels, first in sexy dresses and then in bikinis, motivated by the dream of winning the illustrious 1994 Venus Model Search.

What's that, you ask?

Organizers and the literature that comes in a shiny black folder say it's an "upscale, professionally run, international model search." Videos run continuously on monitors, showing last year's winners hamming it up in Venus swimsuits at a fashion shoot rivaled only by those shown on "Star Search." Their mugs end up on the pages of the official Venus swimsuit catalogue, allegedly coming to a mailbox near you.

Sure, super models can find fame at a nightclub. Claudia Schiffer was discovered at a Dusseldorf hot spot. But she was just hanging out there--and not in a bikini.

And it's doubtful that she or any of the other women gracing the pages of Vogue and Harper's had to put up with an MC in a tuxedo shirt with the sleeves cut off, spewing expletives to whip up the crowd. It's also safe to say designer Karl Lagerfeld never primed the audience at a Chanel show with: "Hey, would you like to see these girls butt naked?"

Upscale never looked or sounded so gutter level.

The judges are volunteers; three of the five are picked from the audience. The winning contestant gets $50 and a chance to compete in the venue finals Aug. 24, before heading off to the national finals, an event which looked like a beauty pageant on the video.

Well, a gal can dream, can't she?

So can the guys hootin' and slobbering around the stage during the event. A few fall over each other trying to get a closer look. Others exchange high-fives. As amusing a display of testosterone good times as it is, it could make any woman there uneasy.

All that aside, this Unity-promoted night cranks with enough energy among the 500 to 600 young patrons who attend to power all the lights in Irvine--long before the skin contest even gets going. The hand stamps glowing under the black lights reveal that many of the fresh faces present are 18 to 20 years old (those 21 and over get a black stamp); the bulk of the crowd looks to be under 24.

Dress is casual--right down to the plastic thong sandals and bikini top and shorts ensembles permitted. Not allowed is anything that could be construed as gang-related: hats, flannel or plaid anything, hooded shirts, calf-length shorts, baggy clothes or sports logos.

Deejay Tommy T. keeps the dance floors (a long narrow space flanked by two smaller, elevated squares) jampacked throughout the night with dance music blocks that range from Naughty by Nature to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The new wave generates a bit less excitement than the newer hip-hop, but doesn't lose enough to scare the deejay out of playing it. And this diverse crowd gets as crazed over Snoop Doggy Dog as it does over the Offspring, the O.C.-based punk band that MTV and KROQ can't get enough of.

Those who can't stand the sweaty main room anymore head to an enclosed patio. It's accessible by an entrance near the bar and faces the front entrance, making it a perfect lookout point for late-coming friends.

Until closing, the Grill (located to the left of the bar) serves fare fit for a teen belly and budget: appetizers such as fried mushrooms or zucchini ($3) and chicken strips, potato skins and wings ($4). Dinner is a deal at $3.50 for spaghetti and salad or a cheeseburger and fries.

Oh, but they're not total junkies. They get a grip on bottled water ($1.50) more than sodas ($1.50). Legal drinkers indulge in the specials: domestic draft for $1 and wells at $2 until 10 p.m. Regular drink prices: domestic beers, $3.25; imports (such as Henry Reinhart, Corona and Heineken), $3.75; a glass of wine, $4; cocktails, $3.25 to $4.

MORE CLUBS:

Empire Ballroom, 640 17th St., Costa Mesa. (714) 722-6100. Open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday only, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $5 Wednesday, $5 or $8 Friday, $10 Saturday. This is unquestionably one of the more attractive nightclubs in the region. But as a club choice among the county's hot spots, it's a moldy one. Its designed slickness, combined with its even slicker crowd, makes an evening here like a return to the tawdry '80s: pumps, perms and pecs everywhere.

Il's House at Metropolis, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. (714) 725-0300. Wednesdays only, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover: $10. This once-a-week hip-hop affair is promoted by "Beverly Hills, 90210" star Brian Austin Green and deejay Tony Stewart, who has the Midas touch when it comes to hip-hop. (The club is named after Green's rap group, Il Styles A Rhyme.)

* UNITY NIGHT AT KOKOMO'S

* 17927 MacArthur Blvd., Irvine.

* (714) 250-1077.

* Wednesdays only, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

* Cover: Ages 21 and over, $5; 18 to 20, $7.

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