NBC's 'Swimsuit Search': Beauty and the Beach
By DANIEL FIENBERG
Roshumba Williams knows the power of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
"I just was a basic working girl who was happy to be getting jobs, but when Sports Illustrated came along, not only was I the first featured African-American model, but I went from being a working girl to 'Roshumba,'" says Williams... er... Roshumba, who appeared in five regular issues and in the Hall-of-Fame issue.
After making its debut online last year, "The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search" moves into prime time on NBC this Wednesday as a limited-run reality series. Roshumba, NEXT Model Management President Joel Wilkenfeld and Sports Illustrated swimsuit editor Julie Campbell will serve as judges for the first leg of the competition, but after the stunning aspiring models are narrowed down to two, viewers at home will be able to vote for the ultimate winner. Roshumba hopes that viewers take their responsibility seriously, because as you may have already guessed, she thinks a lot of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
"This is not about being a pin-up, it's about being an extraordinarily beautiful, athletic, gorgeous model," Roshumba declares. "Whereas you may have other magazines that try to compare themselves to Sports Illustrated, their models are probably about 5'2", 5'3" and they have a few little nips and tucks that you can tell, but this is about being a true, organic beauty."
Dang, Maxim and FHM, you appear to have just been served. Wilkenfeld, whose company will sign the "Search" winner to a million dollar contract, agrees that even if the reality show suggests otherwise, nobody can just make a Sports Illustrated model.
"Nobody can make you into a model," he snorts. "You're born with the right look, the right everything the goes along with it. Yes, you can train and you could get your body into shape and your mind into shape, but you still need to have that something you were born with."
To prevent the kind of amateur hour hijinx that make UPN's "America's Next Top Model" so much fun, "The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search" has mostly recruited aspiring divas with at least some modicum of modeling experience. There won't be any magical makeovers or awkward runway fiascos with these ladies.
There also won't be an excessive amount of exposed skin. While the show's mere premise is enough to conjure up ample prurient expectations, NBC's decision to schedule the series for the family-friendly 8 p.m. EST hour means that the models may have to strut their stuff without the use of paint-on bikinis or Brazilian thongs.
"It's coming on prime time on NBC and we're very very proud to be in that time slot, so we are conscious of the fact that not only people who like models and people who like sexy things are watching it, but that it's family time," Roshumba says. "We keep it clean. We're not using profanity and the swimsuits that the girls are modeling in are not overtly sexy and giving you peek-a-boos and things that may not be appropriate for a family setting."
Roshumba wouldn't want you to think that Roshumba is being a prude, but even Roshumba admits that Roshumba was uncomfortable with how racy last year's Swimsuit Issue was, and Roshumba loves the Swimsuit Issue. Even Wilkenfeld, somewhat less prone to referring to himself in the third person, hopes that parents won't be uncomfortable watching the show with their kids, or at least that some parents won't be uncomfortable watching with some children.
"You go to a beach, you're going to see different types of bathing suits and some might be more objectionable to you," Wilkenfeld says. "It's definitely a very clean, beautiful show. The bathing suits are not teeny-tiny bathing suits."
As much as Roshumba admires Roshumba, she admires the aspiring Roshumbas nearly as much.
"Would I want to be in their position?" Roshumba asks. "Absolutely not. Originally they had three people to please, now they have the entire world."
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