Harlequin Replacing Fabio With Regular Joe

Standing naked from the waist up, save for a borrowed cowboy hat, in front of a three-judge panel is not the way I would ideally spend a Saturday afternoon.
But it is, after all, Harlequin Enterprises first-ever open audition for cover models. And as one of the withered-looking guys who the romance novel company has been trying to avoid emblazoning on their books, I’ve decided to shoulder the responsibility of representing the bone racks of the world.
This is the second day of a two-day audition. The preceding afternoon, the judges had seen all professional models as is typical for Harlequin. Today marks the first time an everyday Joe like me could walk up and take a shot at being immortalized by the company’s creative design team.
Since I’ve proven immune to the effects of lifting weights time and again, and spend the bulk of my time writing rather than, say, chainsawing trees or building houses, at this point I hardly have a shot at being selected. But I stand here in the closed-off backroom of Powershouse Casting, posing with a cowboy hat and awaiting judgment on my 6-foot-two-inch tall, 160-pound frame nonetheless.
“This is so great, because you’re pretty much exactly what we were trying to avoid,” says Blake Morrow, one of the judges, and an art director with Harlequin, while choking back laughter. “Hit the gym man, and we’ll see.”
Apparently my efforts earlier in the day to disguise myself as one of the über-men the company is hunting for had been in vain. After adopting a disguise made of wool socks, my thickest sweater, frayed jeans, a GWG chord jacket and leather hiking boots, I prepared with some push-ups, and read the sports section of the newspaper while sipping an overpoweringly bitter cup of coffee.
Then on the drive to the audition, I blasted the Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker, and wondered if any of these exercises would better my chances. Apparently not.
Another of the judges seated in the room is Deborah Peterson, Harlequin’s creative director, who has said her company is facing a “serious problem” with finding muscular guys to place on the company’s book covers, because the trend these days at modeling agencies is to staff teenage-looking clients, who are lanky like me.
“A guy I shot earlier this year, now is thinner,” Mr. Morrow recalls about one particular professional model.
“We didn’t even recognize him and we were shocked because he was so skinny,” Ms. Peterson added. “I mean he looked really good on his [modeling] card, but he’d probably lost about 20 pounds.”
“At times, we were digitally thickening guys up,” Mr. Morrow says. “You know, just taking the biceps and pushing them further.
“You know what? With a little bit of liquefying, I think that I could totally put you up,” meaning Mr. Morrow would have to essentially graft my face onto a completely fabricated, digitized body in order to cast me as a believable subject for one of his covers.
“Most of the heroes are actually older than you,” Ms. Peterson explains about the books’ lead male characters, since I’m 28. “Most of them are in their 30s, and they tend to be cowboys and construction workers.”
After putting my disguise back on and thanking the judges for letting me waste their time, I speak with Jennifer Terk — a casting assistant at Powerhouse — in the agency’s waiting room at the front of the building. She has greeted the 50 or so would-be models, some from as far away as St. Catherines, Ont., who have braved the rain to audition today.
“When you get the actual models coming in, they have a much different attitude than normal, everyday workmen, who have more personality,” she says. “Today’s been a lot more fun. People are just being who they are; it’s not so much of a cover.”
One of the dozen-or-so guys waiting to take their shirt off for the judges is Ken Dixon, 41. Built like a running back, he owns a local personal fitness business, probably outweighs me by 50 pounds, and will no doubt hear a much different reaction from the judges than the laughter I got.
“I’ve always trained. You know, love the working out thing. And I’ve always wondered why these guys who are the epitome of male just lack that physique?” says Mr. Dixon, who came to the audition on the advice of a female friend.
“I mean, it’s my business man, I love it. I think the more muscle the better, within reason,” he says, adding: “Having a neck too big so that blood doesn’t get to your brain, that’s never good either. Some brains are always an asset.”
from The National Post

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