On the 20th floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel sat two dozen heavily made-up, bleached-blond girls in jean skirts and hot pants so short they looked like bikini bottoms. It could only mean one thing: It was time for the annual Playboy auditions. Editors of the magazine's special-editions issues (college girls, vixens) were here looking for girl-next-door types with a naughty edge to star in their magazine.
"We always have good luck in Ohio," says Jeff Cohen, executive editor of Playboy's special editions. "That's why we're back in Cleveland."
In the waiting room, girls donned lacy white pushup bras and barely-there bikinis, topping them with silky black robes. Some came with their mothers, others with their boyfriends. They chattered about their modeling experiences -- "I went to a couple of auditions in New York. It was, like, so intimidating. There were all these very Ralph Lauren- and Tommy Hilfiger-looking girls" -- and their chances -- "Playboy doesn't really like tall girls . . . but I'm 23 and I'm getting kind of up there in age a little bit, so I figured I had to try, you know?"
One Playboy alumna in a low-cut red dress and charcoal-rimmed eyes lackadaisically flipped through a magazine.
"Oh look, there's me, on page 84," Denise Bui said as casually as one would cite a dictionary entry. In the picture, Bui is lying naked on the floor, her black hair spread around her shoulders, looking as carefree as a five-year-old studying the clouds.
In the audition room, girls dropped their robes, then their tops as photographers shouted out, "That's hot, so hot. Yeah, like that!" Then they went to a separate room for interviews, where editors asked such hard-hitting questions as "What's your favorite hobby?" and "Why do want to be in Playboy?"
Bui says the session went "really well" and that she has high hopes for a second turn in Playboy. After all, it's every girl's dream.
She tells a story of how she was in the produce section at a supermarket one day when a guy tapped her on the shoulder. "I don't mean to be rude," he asked, "but were you in Playboy?"
She said she was. The guy ran off to brag to his friends, but Bui felt honored by the recognition.
"My mother always said the most beautiful women in the world are in Playboy," she says dreamily. "Now I'm one of them."