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Sunday, January 12, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wannabes aim for ABC steam team

Seattle Times staff reporter

Despite gray skies and 40-degree weather, about 300 people who lined up in Pioneer Square yesterday were hot — or at least they thought so.

Aspiring sex symbols from as far away as Pasco and Salem, Ore., donned tube tops, glitter makeup, platform go-go boots and hip huggers to audition for the upcoming ABC show "Are You Hot? Search for America's Sexiest People."

September Luketz, 21, a personal trainer, came from Gig Harbor with her mother, Chantal Luketz, displaying gravity-defying cleavage in a sparkly V-neck top. Beaming with pride, mother said daughter's beauty "comes from her heart."

Josh Morehouse, also 21, looked straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog but spoke with a shy, aw-shucks manner. "There sure are a lot of good-looking people here," he said, scanning the crowd, which had spilled around the corner by 10:30 a.m., an hour and a half before auditions were scheduled.

But the crowd wasn't all 20-something hard bodies. Lowell Torgenson, 74, a retired Lutheran minister and Sean Connery impersonator, traveled from Fox Island to audition because "everybody tells me I look like the most handsome man in the movie industry."

Casting director Doron Ofir said he was surprised by Seattle's good looks. "My image of Seattle was Courtney Love; I've been pleasantly surprised, there's a lot of natural beauty."

The show, which will premiere on ABC at 9 p.m. on Feb. 13, comes from the mind of producer Mike Fleiss, creator of "The Bachelor." The latest in a parade of how-low-will-they-go reality shows — most recently last week's highly rated "Joe Millionaire" — dispenses with any pretenses. No trivia knowledge or survivor skills are needed. Reality TV has been stripped to its bare essentials: Watching good-looking people wearing little clothing.

The audition required contestants to stand in front of the camera and explain why they are "hot." Some women took the opportunity to grind for the camera and some men took off their shirts and flexed their biceps.

Ten women and 10 men from the West — Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver — will be chosen to travel to Los Angeles to take part in the show after producers review the audition tapes.

Joanie Spears, 51, said she was there yesterday "representing the baby boomers." An English teacher at Edmonds-Woodway High School, Spears said her students didn't know she was participating but likely wouldn't be surprised because she's been known to shake things up a bit.

Sporting a goatee and wire Ray-Ban shades, Ofir, a former club doorman, waxed on the nature of beauty: "To define beauty is a difficult task, but ugly is ugly."

Many hopefuls were summarily dismissed yesterday. Ofir planned to tell them as gently as possible: "Sorry, you're just not hot enough to be on our show."

Josh Burnham, 22, a business major at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, was ousted after the initial lineup. Though tall, handsome and stylishly dressed, he said he wasn't selected because he doesn't have a beefcake body.

He may have been right. Gabriel Moen, 24, a fitness manager at Bally Total Fitness in Tacoma, made it through the first hoop and was selected for an individual interview. What makes him hot? "Eight years of weightlifting," he said.

Once the semifinalists make it to Los Angeles, they'll compete against semifinalists from the South, North and East in yet-undecided sexiness contests, including a mandatory swimsuit competition. They'll be critiqued by a panel of "beauty experts" rumored to include modeling agents, celebrities who have been known to date their fare share of beauties and a cosmetic surgeon.

But the ultimate decision will come from the masses. As is done on the show "American Idol," people will call in or vote online at www.areyouhot.tv to select their favorite hunk and babe to win $50,000 each.

"We're hoping to redefine beauty by taking power away from the modeling industry and give it back to the people," said Ofir, lightening his earnest words with a smile.

Julia Sommerfeld: 206-464-2708 or jsommerfeld@seattletimes.com.

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