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Catwalking a Thin Line

May 21, 1999|LAURIE PIKE

In a floral, halter-top minidress, supermodel Roshumba sashayed up to an equally statuesque Allison Lagastee and air kissed her cheeks.

"Honey, you look like one of us!" Roshumba gushed. She glanced at a gaggle of spindly teenagers huddled around them and added, "Last year you looked like one of them!"

They are the 14- to 22-year-old girls hoping to follow in Roshumba's and Allison's catwalk footsteps by signing a contract with Elite Model Management. More than 100 of them came to the Los Cerritos Shopping Center last week for an open call in the modeling agency's Look contest. It was the West Coast final leading up to Elite's national contest, to be held in New York in June. Cindy Crawford, Stephanie Seymour and Frederique Van der Wahl were discovered in past Elite contests.

"I don't want a regular job," said Shawna Kerlegon, a 20-year-old from Inglewood who had signed up for the contest. "I don't want to sit behind a desk. I want to get my hair and makeup done. I want to see myself in pictures and make lots of money."

At the registration desk, Shawna gave her application and a high school prom photo to Wayne McIntyre, Elite's international runway coordinator. "Pull you hair back," McIntyre instructed. "OK, come back at 7, and we'll let you know if you've been chosen."

One girl, wearing a fast-food restaurant uniform and braces, handed McIntyre an application without a photo. "I'm on my way to work," she said. "What the hell?"

McIntyre dutifully took her application, but it was clear that, like Shawna, she wasn't destined for the cut. "They have to have a certain je ne sais quoi," McIntyre said in typical intercontinental model-speak. "Elite has more supermodels than any other agency because we specialize in a high-fashion, editorial look." (Translation: You can be as boyish as Stella Tenant or as oddball as Kristen McMenamy, provided you've got said je ne sais quoi.)

As the California hopefuls streamed in and signed up, finalists from preliminary searches in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona and other parts of California got ready for the Steve Madden fashion show segment of the contest. Their hair was twisted into extraterrestrial 'dos, and their stick-figure bodies were outfitted in tight, clubby gear.

BettyJean Bradford, 15, was thrilled to finally slip into a pair of silver platform shoes for the show. Her mother had driven her 15 hours from Olympia, Wash., to compete.

"I did my homework all the way down," BettyJean said. "I hope I get an agent out of this."

She didn't.

Seventeen-year-old Katie Nauta had it easier. She took a plane from her native Oregon and was staying at a hotel, spending $320 of her own money. "It's worth it," she said. "I'm a Christian, and we need more Christian models out there."

Christian or not, Elite always needs a fresh supply of models as it puts old ones out to pasture. (Like athletes, models' careers are largely over by the age of 30.) At night's end, three were chosen, including Katie. The other two winners of paid trips to the national final were Tess Diamond of Malibu (who, despite contest rules against it, had already been working with Elite) and Teesha Lobo of La Mirada.

There were few tears, if any, among the losers, some of whom stayed on to watch the show.

"There's always other contests," said Nicole Monaghan, 16. "I'm not disappointed."

But her mother looked askance at the contestants parading on the runway and sighed, "Well, I am."

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