“Hey, 13 won’t give me no flava! Channel 13 — give me some flava here!”
Robert, a bare-chested young man with tattoos speckling his torso’s black skin, was shouting at a TV news cameraman who’d skipped over him during a photo op for contestants of the latest talent competition; this one, held near Venice Beach’s boardwalk last Saturday, would determine the semifinalists competing in two weeks at the Convention Center as part of Erotica Los Angeles. Robert, who lives in Gardena and works as an extra, had no doubt about his credentials.
“I’ve been on The Gong Show, Soul Train and Boston Public,” he told me in his staccato freestyle rap, as event crew members baited a crowd of about 100 with the promise of free T-shirts. “They cut my scene in Boston Public, but I’ve been doing for 20 years sexy! I’m just gonna up there and knock it out and win $5,000.”
The judging criteria for L.A.’s sexiest in three categories — sexiest male, female and couple — would by definition seem a little more subjective than, say, a singing or skateboarding contest, yet few would question the stakes. Maintaining and flaunting one’s sexiness, after all, is something of a civic responsibility in this town.
Todd Sawyer, a standup comic who’d been pressed into action as a judge at the last minute, shared with me his ideas for measuring the day’s women.
“I like big tits, a bubble ass and gold skin,” he confessed with a Will Rogers–like candor. Judging men, of course, required different standards: “First, if I can use his dick as a jump rope, he gets extra points. Then I’ll hit him with a math question.”
“They shouldn’t be ugly,” judge Lara Scott told me when I asked what standards she would use to evaluate the male of the species. “They should also have a nice package, tight abs and a great smile. But no hairy backs — I grew up in Florida and would see a lot of hairy guys on the beach. It had an effect on me.”
Scott is a DJ for Star 98.7 FM radio, and the hirsute-back issue is raised in her station bio under “Turnoffs.” A pert blond whose tanned calves are laced with a few tattoos, she, like Sawyer, could have passed for any other weekend boardwalk visitor. However, the competition’s third juror, dressed in a long black leather coat and heels, seemed to have stepped out of a Matrix film, and her standards were hardly those of her co-panelists.
“It’s like me being a madam,” said Heidi Fleiss. “Are you going to make my cut or not?”
Fleiss spent much of the preshow in a trailer nursing a fruit smoothie. In person she appears much healthier and, yes, sexier, than she did during her string of harried court appearances for pandering and income-tax fraud that led to a three-year prison sentence.
“Some beautiful people are not sexy,” the former boudoir talent scout told me. “George Clooney is not sexy. Benicio del Toro is very sexy. Taschen books are sexy. Sexy is when you stand next to someone and you want to say, ‘Get away from me before I rape you.’”
Only seven men signed up to compete for five slots; most were African-American and all were buff. Even Gerard, a short and nerdy-looking white guy who took the stage wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a cell phone clipped to his shorts. The males would typically be introduced, come onstage and flex, disclose their occupations and answers to questions such as, “Who is a sexy person you’d like to spend time with?” and, “What is the sexiest thing you’ve ever done?”
Then they would strip off as much clothing as they felt comfortable with and prance around some more or somersault before exiting.
Gerard, an engineer, made the mistake of allowing that he made a lot of money. At this, Fleiss’ face lit up.
“How much is a ‘lot’ of money?” she asked. Gerard, sensing his paycheck was no match for that of a former Fleiss employee, demurred, then removed his wife beater to reveal a hairy body. Lara Scott’s mouth contorted into a rictus of alarm, and one of the show’s T-shirt barkers boomed, “No sweaters on Venice Beach!”
Robert the film extra eventually got his chance and made the most of it, boldly strutting up to Fleiss to kiss her before telling the crowd, “I’m just here feeling my sexiest, know what I’m sayin’?” Robert then proved his point by busting some hip-hop moves to the 69 Boyz’s “Tootsie Roll.”
The guy after Robert told his interrogators he would choose McDonald’s as a sexy date venue. When the crowd groaned in disbelief, he shrugged and explained, “It’d be a hit-’er-and-quit-’er date.”
The female contestants proved less self-assured. When asked if she knew any jokes, Aurora said, “No. I just talk a lot. Mostly I ramble, like most girls.” A number of them worked in “gentlemen’s clubs” and were appropriately slender. Not that they had to be skinny. Earlier, I had popped the beauty-vs.-erotic question to Sawyer, the comedian-judge. “Like a girl can be beautiful and not sexy?” he’d asked, seeking clarification. “Sure,” he then ventured. “Some fat girls can be sexy — their fuck muscles get a lot of workout.”
Fleiss, perhaps more sympathetic to the women contestants, had told me that beauty pageants were innately cruel.
“I hate to see people’s feelings hurt,” she had said. Her favorite line of inquiry turned out to be, “Two questions: What’s your favorite book and who is your favorite boxer?”
“I don’t have a favorite book,” answered a Shakira look-alike named Lissa. “Maybe Grapes of Wrath,” replied Aurora. “Or Macbeth — that was pretty good too.”
It became the kind of day loved by people who love to hate L.A., although it never turned into a battle of the blonds.
“The dark hair did it for me,” Sawyer said after giving a high grade to a self-effacing brunette named Devon. “Nice rack and a fine butt.”
Fleiss concurred: “I see nothing but dollar signs in this girl’s future.”
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