Even before the crowd of roughly 200 teens and 20-somethings entered Mario Tricoci Salon and Spa in Oak Brook, they learned a key lesson: in nearly 100-degree temperatures, a model must still look perfect.
Both male and female contestants braved Wednesday morning's heat and humidity to compete in "Mario, Make Me a Model," a contest the salon is hosting for its fourth year to discover amateur talent.
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Salon officials said about 800 people ages 16 and older entered the two-day contest during four open calls at Tricoci sites in Oak Brook, Chicago, Orland Park and Skokie.
Inside the Oak Brook salon, dance music boomed through the building as would-be models were immediately measured for height and filed paperwork.
Then, after standing in a second line with more time to size-up the competition, each contestant faced a panel of judges who are industry experts.
"It's a little intimidating," said Caprice Guy of Lombard, a senior at Glenbard West High School.
But the 16-year-old said the environment also was exciting, especially since she entered the contest on a whim.
The process ended with competitors striking their fiercest poses for photographers, but contest organizer Megan Bueschel said judges want more than just a pretty face.
"This is not a beauty contest," said Bueschel, Tricoci's senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "This is transforming someone into a professional model."
From the 800 who entered, judges will soon thin the herd to 40 people. By Aug. 2, only five finalists will remain.
That's when the work really starts, said Bueschel.
Stylists at Tricoci will give all five a major makeover, Factor Women modeling agency will train them to work the runway and they'll be required to exercise with personal trainers several times a week from Fitness Formula Clubs.
All their work will pay off when the finalists pose for a two-page spread in Michigan Avenue Magazine, star in a commercial on CBS2 Chicago, and walk a runway show in Millennium Park.
"These five are in there with professionals on the runway and, hopefully, you can't tell who's who,"said Bueschel.
Oak Brook resident Natalie Cohen said she was unsure about trying out, especially since she's 27, an age considered older in the modeling industry.
"But I went to college for fashion and always had an interest in design, so this is a chance to try the other side of things," Cohen said.
Bueschel said hopefuls such as Cohen aren't too old. The contest draws people from throughout the Midwest to the East Coast, and they span from age 16 into their early 30s.
"To Mario, beauty has no age," she said.
Mario Tricoci himself will ultimately pick the winner, although all five finalists will be eligible for a modeling contract with Factor Women.
The public can participate by voting online at mariomakemeamodel.com or texting votes for their favorite finalists.
Today, 12 of the 15 previous finalists are professional models working throughout the country in cities like New York and Chicago.
Because of their success, Bueschel said she believes the contest is doing something right by finding amateurs without professional representation.
"We always said the freshest faces are the ones who aren't signed," she said.