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On the Catwalk

Hordes of model wannabes storm the Hilton.

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As pubescent girls in little black dresses and young men in black leather scurried through every hallway and ballroom of the New York Hilton last week, Sandra, a talent booker from Ice Model Management, surveyed the invasion and recited the party line: "This gives them lots of confidence."

The 1,500 portfolio-toting creatures had come, after all, for the annual International Modeling and Talent Association convention. And confidence is the favored euphemism for what they were all hoping to find.

Over the course of a long week, they competed in such events as swimwear, jeans, and smile; in between, they chatted with industry professionals for exposure and advice. For the privilege, many paid a staggering $4,000 -- not including the mandatory modeling-school fees, test photos, and new outfits, or the countless books and videos offering secrets of the trade. ("No swaying, twirling, or waving," advises the Art of Modeling video. "Just looking fabulous in your black or white wardrobe.")

The IMTA is a big event, especially for starry-eyed kids from across the country and their parents. "It's a good time," whispered Melissa Wendell's mom, who'd brought her all the way from Wichita. "But I've just been nervous." As she spoke, her daughter turned to watch a bare-chested man with a rhinestone necklace, bracelet, and navel ring.

Frank LaPoint, a Toledo native, had a slightly more jaded view: "It's a total pickup joint. Guys are definitely hooking up."

But no one's view was so jaded as that of the major-modeling-agency rep, sitting on the sidelines and arming himself with cocktails. "It's a money-making scam," he said. "Paying $4,000 for an agent to see you? Just send us a snapshot."

Still, when it came time for the final, gigantic runway show, contestants lined the entranceway dancing, screaming, and doing the wave during the four-hour wait for their turn.

When it was all over, they hurried back to their rooms clutching their yes! I'M A MODEL T-shirts and praying for early-morning callbacks. Some of them would get their wish -- but not many. "We do find some models," said Jon Tutolo, of Elite. "Out of 2,000, we might be interested in 10." The long odds didn't faze Christian Monzon: "This is perfect," he smiled, dabbing at his mascara. "It's just what I'm looking for."


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