NEW YORK — Mo’Nique, Sara Lee’s new spokeswoman for the Just My Size brand of full-figured foundations, knows how to draw a crowd.

The actress, whose resume includes the role of Nikki Parker on UPN’s sitcom, “The Parkers”; hostess of “Showtime at the Apollo,” and author of “Skinny Girls Are Evil,” pulled in more than 500 hopefuls on Tuesday for a crack at appearing in a two-hour TV reality special on Oxygen called “Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance.”

Staged at the W New York Union Square Hotel, it was the first of three casting calls that sent women from all over the country running to be the first in line to audition. A panel of judges included celebrity stylist Robert Verdi of “Fashion Police” on “E,” JMS designer Janet Freedman and two magazine editors — Jamie Riley, senior merchandising editor of Lucky, and Shannon Godfrey, merchandising editor at Glamour. Two additional casting calls will be held at the Westin Peachtree Hotel in Atlanta on Wednesday and the W Westwood Hotel in Los Angeles on June 22.

Ten finalists will participate in the reality special, which is scheduled to air Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. The format of the show will include a beauty pageant featuring lingerie, casualwear and eveningwear and a tour of “Mo’s Boot Camp” of fashion and beauty tips to help improve self-confidence and awareness. One woman will be selected as the ultimate “real beauty” by a group of judges who have not yet been selected. The criteria include personality, beauty and potential, and the winner will be featured in a photo shoot in the JMS catalogue, and will receive a JMS wardrobe and a weeklong beauty “boot camp” created to enforce inner beauty, said Mo’Nique.

“I am looking for women who say, ‘I am’ and ‘I can.’ It’s time for the plus-size woman to shine, for her to say, ‘I am gorgeous, beautiful and sexy,'” said Mo’Nique, who was wearing a 42B bra by Just My Size from the new collection, called Just Gorgeous.

Mo’Nique described the show as a “spin-off of ‘America’s Top Model'” for voluptuous women.

“In this show, everybody will be pushing for everybody. You’ll be able to get to know all about the women. We’ll have a roundtable and talk about our fears and what makes us embarrassed. In the end, all of the ladies win,” she said.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In addition to the TV special, which she hopes will become a reality series, Mo’Nique’s other projects include cameos in two motion pictures —”Domino,” a crime thriller about a “bounty hunter you learn to love,” and “Fat Girls,” a comedy about two plus-sized African-American women who “can’t find love.” She also is penning a cookbook for Simon & Schuster called “No Damn Substitutes,” which will address issues such as a “Date Meal,” a “Breakup Meal” and an “I Don’t Feel Like Cooking for the Kids Meal.”

Meanwhile, 200 women waited anxiously to audition in the W Hotel’s ballroom. More than 300 other wannabes, who stood in the sweltering sun in a two-block line outside, were told they would have to leave and send a video interview. Questions by judges included “What is your favorite body part?” and “What did you eat for breakfast today?” Mo’Nique continuously used words such as “baby” and “sister” to comfort the candidates, as emotional stories caused a number of contestants to break down in tears. Some contestants stood out for their style and fashion sense, while others focused on talents such as singing and belly dancing.

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