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ED GORDON, host:

Comedian Mo'Nique's special "Fat Chance" premieres tomorrow night on the Oxygen channel. It's the first televised beauty contest and boot camp for plus-sized women. Not long ago, casting directors auditioned hundreds of would-be competitors in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. NEWS & NOTES producer Teshima Walker figured she'd try to become one of the 10 finalists.

TESHIMA WALKER reporting:

The notice turned up in my e-mail at work. A beauty competition for fat women? Wow. The letter asked for women size 14 and over to compete. I'm the winner already.

(Soundbite of something being closed)

WALKER: On the day of the auditions, I wear my size 18 Baby Phat jeans. The dark boot-cut denim stretch my frame. I did something exciting with my locks. I take extra care with my makeup and slip into my high-heeled strolling mules. I am cute.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1: Here to the point again tomorrow...

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Unidentified Man #2: (Rapping) Then I get 'em and they both say, `Who?'

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, yeah!

Unidentified Man #4: (Rapping) Give me the rhythm and...

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

WALKER: When I arrive at the contest hotel, I'm amazed: hundreds of women here think they're cute, too. I check out the competition.

Ms. CHRISTINA LAMOTA(ph) ("Fat Chance" Tryouts Contestant): I'm 5'6", blonde, blue eyes, got lots of curves. I have big boobs, big hips, big butt. It all works together. Nice hourglass.

WALKER: That's Christina Lamota. She rented a car and drove six hours to try out. She wears wire-framed glasses, a tank top that reveals a floral tattoo on her shoulder and a flattering pleated skirt.

Ms. ALLANA CHANDLER(ph) ("Fat Chance" Tryouts Contestant): First name's Allana. Last name's Chandler. I'm 5'11 1/2"...

WALKER: Yeah.

Ms. CHANDLER: Tall. I weigh like 220 pounds, very well-proportioned; beautiful face, beautiful smile.

WALKER: Allana is gorgeous. She has ebony-complexion skin, long, straight-black weave. Her outfit is a little bolder than most. Her tank top is tight. It reveals lots of cleavage. Her short skirt reveals just as much leg. And the heels of her shoes add three inches to her towering frame. She's already faced the judges. So she tells Christina and me what we can expect. Good, a competitive advantage.

Ms. CHANDLER: Basically, they bring you in a room with a circle of other girls, and they ask you to tell you--about herself and why are you here? Everybody's nervous, you know. You're really nervous. And I told her, you know, my age, where I'm from and everything. And so if I had another chance to take it back, I would have focused on: Why am I here? Because, you know, I've overcome the society stereotype of what beauty is. I represent big is beautiful...

WALKER: I look over at Christina and I can see the blue eyes behind her spectacles are working up a game plan. The producers are looking for personality. A-ha, got it. Shortly after, somebody calls me, Christina and 18 other women.

Unidentified Woman #2: And we think that...

Unidentified Man #5: Why do you want to do this show?

Unidentified Woman #3: Well...

WALKER: We stand in a semicircle in front of three judges. One identifies himself as the executive producer. One by one the women introduce themselves. There are domestic abuse survivors, business owners, graduate students. One women gets in the judge's face and begs for one of the 10 finalist slots. It's embarrassing.

Unidentified Woman #4: ...help a lot, and...

WALKER: When it's Christina's turn to sell yourself to the judges, she's charming and funny. My connection with the judges was, shall I say, not all that. I think the executive producer rolls his eyes as I go on about my martial arts and dance classes, proud to be a strong, athletic, fat woman.

I'm a tough black girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALKER: Our group is finally released to wait for word on who advances to the next round of competition. I ask Christina how she thinks she did.

Ms. LAMOTA: I'm very confident. I felt like totally on my game. I think they liked me.

WALKER: Yes, they did. Christina's interview in the next round will be with Mo'Nique.

Ms. CHANDLER: I actually feel disappointed. I don't...

WALKER: Alanna Chandler didn't make the cut.

Ms. CHANDLER: ...but I'm like, `Oh, Lord,' you know. `What does she got that I don't have?' So maybe it's not about beauty they're looking for.

WALKER: I wanted the judge to tell me why I wasn't chosen.

Mr. DON WEINER (Executive Producer, "Fat Chance"): I really can't. I really can't.

WALKER: That's Don Weiner. He's one of the executive producers of "Fat Chance." He gives me a song and dance about how they're looking for women who've never dreamed of coming to a casting call, weren't savvy about entertainment, blah, blah, blah.

Mr. WEINER: ...and working models.

WALKER: So it wasn't that I wasn't gorgeous?

Mr. WEINER: No, you are gorgeous, and you're smart...

WALKER: Oh, well. There will be no 15 minutes of fame for this fat, fit and fabulous diva, but I know this much about competition: Some days you're the fastest person out of the starting block, and other times you're trailing behind everybody, bringing up the rear.

Unidentified Man #6: Welcome to Burger King. Can I help you?

WALKER: May I please have a Whopper combo with a Dr. Pepper?

Teshima Walker, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of traffic and birds chirping)

GORDON: The special "Fat Chance" premieres tomorrow night. For more about the competition, go to our Web site at npr.org.

(Soundbite of car horn; car door slamming shut)

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Unidentified Man #7: (Singing) ...I'll never be without you. Oh, baby. Yes, let's stay together. Loving you whether, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.

(Credits)

GORDON: NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Unidentified Man #7: (Singing) Ooooh, I want you, baby. 'Cause being around you is all I need, is what I want to have. We ought to stay together.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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