Something to Fall Back On


Early on a recent Saturday morning, while most young Americans were sleeping off their Friday nights, a gigantic line of attractive women was forming outside of Macy’s on Herald Square. This was just one stop on UPN’s national open casting call for America’s Next Top Model, the reality show starring Tyra Banks and a houseful of photogenic competitors. By the afternoon, about 1,800 hopeful models had waited for their chance to try out.

The call was open to women “of diverse backgrounds, shapes, sizes,” but they had to be at least five-seven and between the ages of 18 and 27. The “girls,” as models tend to be called by casting directors, agents, and photographers, stood for hours in stilettos, clutching packages that included headshots and a 14-page application downloaded from UPN’s website. The application includes questions like: “Describe your relationship with your mother”; “When was the last time you hit, punched, kicked, or threw something in anger? Please provide details”; and “What is your favorite food?”

In a separate line, almost as long as the model line, mothers, boyfriends, aunts, and random know-it-alls anxiously watched as the girls inched forward in the heat. “A real model knows not to wear heels,” a spectator and fashion photographer remarked to anyone who was in earshot. “They should wear whatever they want, but no makeup and no heels. You can always tell a real model, because they run around the city in white T-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops.”

“She’s been in there for about an hour and a half,” one woman said of her daughter, a recent college graduate who was planning to get her doctorate in communications. Mother and daughter had driven to New York from Pennsylvania the night before, and had joined their respective lines at 6 a.m. She wasn’t nervous, though. “I’m cool,” she said. “I’d be nervous if this was all she wanted—and I’d be sad. But this is just one thing she wants to go for. And I say, go for your dreams, especially when you’re young and single and free. I’m just hoping she doesn’t get bit by the love bug anytime soon.”

Another mom, who had brought her own folding chair, was less calm. “I’m so nervous!” she said, eyes fixed straight ahead on the front doors of the department store. “She’s been told she’s too short to do runway, so she’s been trying to get print work and stuff—it’s her dream!” The fashion photographer informed her that a model can do runway work at five-seven—her daughter’s height. “People don’t know how short some supermodels really are,” he bragged. “If she’s got something really special, it could totally happen.”

The mom was encouraged, though still nervous. “I’m so nervous,” she repeated, adding, “She also wants to be a dentist. It’s good to have something else, too.”