Despite all the hoopla over shows like America's Top Model, Page Parkes resisted jumping on the reality bandwagon. Even though she has been in the modeling agency business in Houston for more than 30 years, building the Page Parkes brand into a Texas juggernaut, she felt like there were already too many shows that presented a stereotyped view of the industry as a beehive of backstabbing beauties.
But when she was approached to be part of a reality show that portrayed what it's really like to search for a top model, she jumped at the opportunity.
"What's beautiful to a regular human is often not at all what we look for. These very, very odd-looking girls never walk into your door. They don't know they're beautiful."
The result is Scouted, a new reality series that premieres on the E! Entertainment channel Monday night at 9. It follows four model scouts from different parts of the country as they search for someone with the looks and temperament to make it as a top model.
In the series, Parkes scours the state of Texas, hanging out at football and baskeball games, at Sonic drive-ins in small towns and suburban shopping malls in search of a model who has the offbeat style to attract industry tastemakers like Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada.
"What's beautiful to a regular human is often not at all what we look for. These very, very odd-looking girls never walk into your door. They don't know they're beautiful. So it really is a scouting situation. Obviously hours and hours and hours go into the scouting process. Not everybody likes this particular part of it like I do. For some reason I love these kids and their stories on the TV show are extremely compelling," she said during a recent interview in her office on the West Loop.
"The fact that beauty crosses every economic realm, every ethnic realm, it's really all encompassing. We have some girls on this show that their parents could fly them to their appointments and other girls who are living on unemployment. It's really amazing how being beautiful doesn't exclude anybody."
To take part in the eight-episode series, which was filmed earlier this fall, Parkes turned over parenting duties of the couple's three children to her supportive husband, Bob Eveleth, while traveling the state and then spent a month at the Mercer Hotel in New York, where the models she selected were scrutinized by staffers of One Management, a top fashion model agency. Only a select few were ultimately signed to a contract.
"It's the most accurate thing I've ever seen," Parkes said about the show. "Once you're plucked out of obscurity, that just means the work just begins."
Always on the lookout
Scouting is nothing new to Parkes, who in her real life is constantly searching for girls with model potential.
"As a mom of many kids and running many businesses I have to scout everywhere I am. So for me it's at Kroger, it's at the dry cleaners, it's at Sonic, it's at my kids games, it's at the ballet studio. I call my two little boys 'boy scouts.' We leave the mall and they're saying, 'Mommy there are only two tall girls in the mall.' I'm the only mom that boys get to take looking for girls. It's quite the fun thing in the family. I give them a little prize when they find one."
"I have to scout everywhere I am. So for me it's at Kroger, it's at the dry cleaners, it's at Sonic, it's at my kids games, it's at the ballet studio. I call my two little boys 'boy scouts.' We leave the mall and they're saying, 'Mommy there are only two tall girls in the mall.'"
Because of the dictates of the fashion business, Parkes looks for tall girls with unusual looks that major designers want to represent their brand. "Beauty is really in the eyes of the beholder. And in this case, the beholder is Marc Jacobs. The true power lies with the client. The majority of the designers are responsible for the size 2 and the 5-ft.-9-in. girl. It's very designer driven," she said.
"I walk into a room and I'm so short I can look and see the three people that are tall in the whole room, so then I can narrow it from there."
Parkes says that one big misconception that she hopes the series will dispel is the belief that scouts pay models. "We may help you or advance you, but everything is eventually paid back by you," she said. "As I tell each of these girls, I make you the president of your own corporation and from there they need to make an investment. An agency gets 20 percent, so the model needs to do 80 percent of the work."
Because Houston is not a fashion capital, Parkes survives by finding the models she believes major designers will want to showcase and recommends them to a New York agency. She gets a 10 percent commission as the "mother agent."
"When I find a girl and she is a star I have to say, 'You'll never one day work at home.' Now how weird is that? And the girl who works every day here for Academy and Penney's and our wonderful clients I can't make a star. The dichotomy is huge. What's interesting is how we are as people. The girl on the cover of Vogue is in my office often asking, 'Why don't I do catalogue?' and the catalogue girl is in here begging for the cover."
What most people outside the business don't know if that the cover of Vogue magazine only pays $150, Parkes says. "So when I call (a model) and tell her your first big star job is going to cost you $1,700 for roundtrip tickets for you and your mom as chaperone and this and that, they can't believe. But that's what spurs on campaigns. They don't understand. They think (a magazine cover) is the big ticket."
After Parkes discovered Alexis Bledel, who went on to fame as the lead in The Gilmore Girls, her first big job was the cover of Seventeen magazine. "I lent her family the money to fly to New York to do the job and they paid me back because I knew she couldn't miss it."
To help in the scouting process, Parkes' husband developed an app called iScout, where anyone can download it and scout for models around the world, sending the photos to Parkes, who then evaluates their potential. She says in some cases, would-be models send photos of themselves via the app becauset they find it less intimidating.
While Parkes is not allowed to reveal the plotlines of Scouted, reviews of the first episode indicate it centers around a 15-year-old girl named Gillian, who Parkes finds in Dallas. Gillian is worried about going to New York without her father, who has cancer. In New York she undergoes a minor makeover and takes part in a photo shoot after which she is informed whether the agency wants to sign her to a contract.
Will Scouted be successful? "It will depend on America and whether we warm their hearts or not. We'll see if America likes something that is positive and honest."
A reviewer for Media Life magazine who has seen the first episode says that "Scouted scores by being pretty nice and pretty real." Such an assessment makes it different from most shows on the cable channel, which has scored in recent years with the Kardashians and raunchy humor from Chelsea Handler, Joan Rivers and Talk Soup host Joel McHale.
"I was quite shocked to be chosen and very thankful to get the opportunity. I don't have a sex tape or controversy. And I'm no Tyra, I just don't have that personality," Parkes said. "This will be the first feel-good show E! has ever had."
But will it be successful? "It will depend on America and whether we warm their hearts or not. We'll see if America likes something that is positive and honest. In an economic downtown, who would ever thought that what you do would be appealing to a national network without the manufactured drama?"
Even with all the hard work, Parkes said she had a great time and would do another season if asked, "although the thought of having to do this over and over is truely nervewracking," she said. "I'm trying to store (prospective models) up and hide them until they tell me there's a season two."