MARINA DEL REY, Calif. – Slender women in high-cut skirts and low-cut blouses replaced grunting, groaning, testosterone-crazed men in tights when more than 100 hopefuls gathered for World Wrestling Entertainment's (search) RAW Diva contest.
It's sweetness, not sweat, WWE wants in the Diva contest winner who will get a $250,000, yearlong contract. Viewers of Spike TV's (search) Monday night two-hour "RAW" programming block will decide the outcome over the next two months.
More than 100 hopefuls gathered at the seaside Ritz-Carlton Hotel (search) recently to meticulously primp for interviews and photos. Tryouts also were held in Chicago and New York, yielding a field of 28 contestants that will be winnowed to 10 finalists.
Is wrestling, long seen as a bastion of trash and flash, going soft?
No, just making an attempt to gradually class up its act, said Kevin Dunn, WWE executive vice president of television production.
"It's easy to go lowbrow," he said. "That's not where we're going with our product in general, or this search. We'll be fighting our image for 50 years, because there's 50 years (of tradition) before us, and we understand that."
Of the future diva, he said, "We want someone we can put on a pedestal here and who can represent the WWE in a classy — I wouldn't say sophisticated — but a classy, nice manner."
What she will actually do remains to be defined. The diva doesn't need to wrestle but could if she wanted. She might become an announcer, a global WWE representative or a "character" in the WWE family that includes wrestlers Triple H, John Cena and Torrie Wilson.
"Our show is entertainment and this woman will have what it takes to entertain our fans," said Lisa Lee, WWE director of global television business affairs. "We can work with her to develop and showcase that ability in a number of ways."
Through telephone and Internet voting, viewers will dump one contestant each week until three are left. The winner will be chosen on the Sept. 13 installment of "RAW."
Weekly competitions, yet to be designed, will help viewers decide the most diva-esque individual. Really skimpy attire also will help guide the audience in its decision-making.
Contestants, trying to cover all bases, tossed a grab bag of credentials at judges in the tryouts. Up to 7,000 women responded to the open call for diva applicants; only a few hundred made the semifinal cut.
Jennifer R. Lopez (not THAT J Lo, as far as we know) listed a victory in the Hawaiian Tropic (search) modeling contest and talents including "bellydancing, cartoon voices, stabs a knife through her fingers very fast." A finalist? Yes!
Carmella DeCesare, another finalist, was Playboy.com's February 2003 Cyber Girl of the Month and 2004 Playmate of the year. She also appeared in ads for swimwear, toothpaste and Pampers.
Twins Julia and Chandra Costello, whose credits include serving as original "juggy dancers" on "The Man Show," (search) both made the cut. Kimmy and Amy Brown, the other Los Angeles area twin set, were cruelly divided: Kimmy is in, her sister is out.
In a promotional spot for the diva contest included in last Monday's "RAW," one twin, presumably the loser, was seen softly weeping. Turns out there is crying in wrestling.
More than a bruised ego is at stake. There's the money and exposure that could lead to ... well, that's anybody's guess. "RAW" is consistently the top-rated series on ad-supported cable, attracting up to 7 million weekly viewers, although many contestants were unfamiliar with the show or sport.
"It's not about wrestling for me," said finalist Karen McDougal, who tried out with friend Heather Tindell. "They're looking for a host and that's what we like to do."
Although not a wrestling fan, "I could easily turn into one," offers McDougal, a model, actress and the 1998 Playmate of the Year. Her host credits include "E! Wild On" (search) and Playboy TV. McDougal's age? "Next question."
A few out-of-towners came to this diva search, but the pre-screened group was mostly a familiar Los Angeles mix drawn to yet another chance for fame and fortune — beauty required, talent optional.
"Right now, I'm just doing the L.A. thing," said Tiffany Holliday, a former Playboy bunny who could be kin to Pamela Anderson (search) and who was urged by a "fan in Texas" to try out.
After living at Hugh Hefner's mansion for two years, she figures: "I think I've been in training for this. I think I can definitely handle it."
She didn't make the finals, but Holliday has bigger dreams: the novel she's writing and the screenplay she hopes will follow.
Willowy model-actress Nina Hardin professed a longtime love of wrestling ("I grew up watching Hulk Hogan") and said the money and chance to get on TV were equally appealing.
One of the finalists, Hardin is ready for wherever divahood might take her.
"I'm up to any possibility, any opportunity. I'm a spontaneous, fun type of girl. It's all good."