A young woman wearing white hotpants and a cropped white bustier-like tank top is practicing the swivel booty dip in the lobby of Aura Nightclub in Pleasanton. It’s a dance move made famous by Christina Aguilera in the video “Dirrty” — a racy, back-arching, circular hip-thrusting squat. And at the open casting call for the Pussycat Dolls, it’s practically mandatory.
About twenty girls — most ranging in age from eighteen to early twenties — showed up on a recent Saturday evening for the chance to compete on the reality TV show Pussycat Dolls Present. The Dolls started in the ’90s as a burlesque troupe featuring celebrities such as Carmen Elektra, then transformed into a dance-oriented pop/R&B outfit.
In March, a reality show chronicling a nationwide search for a new member, Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll, aired on the CW network. The show was so successful its producers are bringing it back for another round, though it’s yet to be determined whether they’re casting for another slot or a whole new group. Apparently, the Dolls’ members are designed to be interchangeable.
There’s no judging at this event, just a small platform stage and two older white-haired cameramen to record the videos and send them to a producer in Los Angeles. The turnout is scant, especially considering it’s the only audition in Northern California, but Akilah Monifa, communications director of the CW Bay Area, says she’s satisfied. “It’s a very niche casting call,” she explains. “This isn’t like American Idol or Survivor.” Last year, only eight or nine people showed up to the casting call in San Francisco, she adds.
Apparently, not many young women here strive to be a Pussycat. And it’s easy to see why. The hopefuls — the majority clad in supershort shorts and teetering stilettos — each get three minutes to exhibit their singing and dancing skills. With the added pressure of moms, friends, and boyfriends in the audience, the potential for disaster looms. One forgets the lyrics to her song and freezes up, smiling sheepishly. Others struggle to stay in key. Thigh muscles spasm in nervousness.
For these young women, it’s their big chance to become a star. Twenty-year-old Luvelle, who came all the way from Sacramento for the audition, was the first to arrive. Dressed in black leggings, a black-and-white-striped half-shirt with a plunging neckline, and strappy black sandals, Luvelle says she failed to make the cut for American Idol and the Sacramento Kings dance squad. But she remains optimistic. “Everyone keeps telling me that I have that look,” she beams. “I love performing.”
Oaklander Doris Blasher, 48, brought her nineteen-year-old daughter Tashareka to the audition because the girl has “star quality.” “She’s been wanting to do something since she was a child, so I’m just here to support her,” mom says.
Blasher says she liked the first season of the show because the judges gave positive criticism. Tashareka’s friend, twenty-year-old Tiara Hunt, also of Oakland, says the Pussycat Dolls are good role models for young women because they’re “pretty classy,” have “music you can relate to,” and are “not provocative.”
Indeed, the group’s message is for women to be confident and fearless. It’s an aspect often lambasted by critics: confusing sexual aggression for female empowerment. In the song “Don’t Cha,” which most contestants chose for their routines, the chorus teases, Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Apparently, these young women don’t pay attention to the critics. Or don’t care. Ashley-Drew of Brentwood, a 23-year-old contestant who works as a bartender and go-go dancer, says she likes the Dolls’ image because it’s “not cookie-cooker and not slutty.” But, she adds, “I wouldn’t be thrilled if my child was into them.”