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— Did appearance count for anything? "No. What we usually do when we do a search, we'll see how someone photographs. That's why I took Polaroids [of certain contestants]. If I had a marginal doubt, I took a Polaroid just to give them the benefit of the doubt."

Though she was judged the best of those who competed, Jackie didn't win the contest outright. She tied with a girl Peter spotted before the contest began. "The other girl, Katie. She thought I was kidding, and she went to the movies. She was just walking through the mall. I was standing, waiting in line for a Coke, and I saw her and a girlfriend walking by and I followed them. I said, 'Hey, are you here for the contest?' and she's, like, 'No, what contest?' She was going to see The Horse Whisperer. She was tall, 5´8´´ and a half, and she was real cute -- there was something about her." He took a Polaroid, and she won without even walking.

Jackie, who has been taking modeling classes for about a year, was "discovered" in much the same way by Staci Bynum, executive director of the John Robert Powers Model and Talent Agency in La Jolla. (The agency also accepts walk-in applicants but only about 5 in 60, says Staci.) Jackie was sitting with her father outside the Starbucks at the UTC mall when Staci spotted her. She was wearing jean shorts and a sweatshirt. She was almost 15. Staci noticed "her skin color. She's more Islandish looking. Not totally Islandish, but she is different than a typical blond-hair-blue-eyed that we would see anywhere. Her figure, her legs -- she's a beautiful, beautiful girl." Jackie's father is Italian-English, and her mother is Malaysian-Chinese, a mix that gives her skin and eyes their distinctive character.

"I just confronted her -- she was very caught off guard, and I think her father was very caught off guard. I'm like, 'I'm Staci, I think you're beautiful, I'd love to take a look at you in my office and go from there.' "

Going from there meant taking classes and getting a portfolio together. In Jackie's case, classes included Beginning and Advanced Runway, Image Development, "which works on poise, confidence, etiquette, how to apply makeup effectively, social graces, that type of thing," TV Commercials, and Fashion and Commercial Print. "You go into a photo shoot, and there's a businessman there, and he's gonna say, 'Do 20 different poses for me right now.' And the camera's clicking away." Depending on the number of classes, "the training can start at $1000 and go up to, like, $4000."

Jackie estimates she spent about $1150 on her portfolio, which was put together by photographers in Huntington Beach and Hillcrest. She likes her eyes, doesn't like her hair, is on two cheer teams, and deals with being looked at by not looking at the lookers. "I looked at the judge, right at the bottom [of the runway], and then, after I smiled at him, I just looked above everyone." Her goal right now is "anything to get me known."

Two girls, culled from the teeming mallish masses, possibly bound for that more perfect world -- what are the chances? "You're keeping your eyes open all the time," says Staci. "I might be in sweats and a T-shirt and not even look the part. If I go to a movie, and I see somebody that's, you know, 5´10´´ and is beautiful and has got a great look -- doesn't wear a lot of makeup, is very simple but yet classy -- of course I'm going to hand out a card. You have to be 5´8´´ or taller, have the hip measurements, the bust, the waist -- all of that -- and look the part." She estimates that she hands out 20 cards a year, with about 18 people responding and the majority getting involved with the agency.

But according to Peter, a local winner might not win at the Elite finals in Paris, because "the people that we're presenting to could have a different aesthetic than the people in Paris. I think in Europe, they're a little more, for lack of a better word, cutting edge. They're willing to take more of a risk on a girl. She may have, like, a big nose and no boobs, and be kind of a little strange looking, but they're willing to work with that -- strange in terms of what we define as conventional beauty." Jackie was different, but not too different.

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