When she was a girl in Korea, Kristen Yoo wore books on her head while walking to practice the upright posture of a model.
When she moved to Alaska as a teenager, her dreams of striding the runway were gone.
On April 15 in Koreatown, she finally got her chance. At the age of 59, she was one of the young contestants to audition for Silver Models USA.
Dressed simply in a baggy white shirt and faded jeans, she answered a question from the judges: “How would you convince someone that you have what it takes to be a model?”
She sent her answer to her son, Josh, who died in an accident 4 years ago, when he was 29 years old.
“Josh,” she announced, pausing for a moment. “Mom can do it.”
Yoo’s win rate isn’t bad. Out of about 80 contestants, 20 to 30 will be selected to work with Silver Models USA, starting with a training program and progressing to the runway at a Paris fashion show and at a Korean festival in Los Angeles.
For these older Korean immigrants, the audition offers an opportunity to fulfill their dream of a glamorous career that they have put aside while working to have food on the table in the country they adopted.
Demand for older models is growing in the Korean-American community, as a booming older population looks to look like them in advertisements and fashion shows.
The aging baby boomer generation has fueled a similar trend around the world. Maye Musk, 74 years old — Elon’s mother — appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2022 swimsuit issue. Recent 106 years old Apo Whang-Od caused a fever when she was the cover model for Vogue Philippines.
Silver Models USA, or SM USA for short (no relation to K-pop giant SM Entertainment), grew from a non-profit organization into a full-fledged modeling agency in January.
Co-founder Jenny Cho hopes to connect seniors with opportunities ranging from movies to advertising to medical groups.
“They live their whole lives working hard and struggling, with no lives of their own, no names of their own,” Cho said. “They are trying to challenge themselves to be able to live a happy life.”
Yoo, who teaches English as a second language in Anchorage, said she bought a plane ticket to LA four days before the audition.
“In America, with a non-American face, I don’t think I can model,” she said. “But I want to do this for myself.”
Before the audition, the makeup artists and hairstylists gave the final makeover to the contestants between the ages of 55 and 84.
Three women practice strutting in the hallway as an instructor claps and shouts at the guide, reminding them not to go too fast.
The agent’s advice: Look directly at the camera. Be natural, but walk ssig-ssig-ha-ge — brave or confident.
“I feel like I’ve become a star,” quipped one contestant.
Tammie Cho, 66, of Stanton, a coffee shop worker for decades and now an art teacher, said her black mesh dress “makes me look a little thinner”.
Jae Hoo Hwang, a 59-year-old Korean medical doctor from Hancock Park, chose a glittery gold dress “because I want to go for a walk on the beach.” kkok-gil” – a road full of flowers.
“I needed to shine to be on that path,” she said.
Six judges including one actor, one traditional costume designer hanbok and a doctor from event sponsor Seoul Medical Group.
“We wanted to understand the motivations and passions of the contestants,” said John Go, a judge and senior model. “We can see right away if someone has talent.”
The event kicked off with contestants striding the ballroom to electronic instruments as camera operators recorded their every move.
The judges asked a variety of questions, from how do you stay slim to how often you wear suits.
“I don’t really wear a suit,” one male contestant replied. “I wear golf clothes more often.”
After the audition, Seonghee Jung struck up a conversation with Sharon Kim, who is currently working as a senior model for SM USA.
Jung, 56 years old, studied theater at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, where she was a lecturer wheel, or Kim’s younger classmate, 62, takes dance lessons.
“If you look at me from behind, people will tell me I look 20,” says Jung, a former preschool teacher and now a homemaker in Palm Springs.
Jung started modeling in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. Now, she single-handedly takes care of her ailing mother. She was hesitant about auditioning, but Kim’s success inspired her.
She secretly applied, telling her mother that she was going to meet a friend.
“I really want to do it. …If I keep putting this off, I feel like I won’t be able to do this,” she said. I feel like a different person.”
Growing up in Korea, Grace Ju looked like a model — people called her “Miss Korea”. Her son works as a model in Korea.
Ju, 55, who lives in Koreatown, came to the US a decade ago at the invitation of her sister, who was at the audition to cheer her on.
She thought of her 89-year-old mother lying in the hospital in LA
“Before my mother closes her eyes, I want to show her the best of me,” Ju said. “I wanted to show her how we can come to this big country and live in a different way.”
After about four hours of auditions, it was time to take the final step down the catwalk, which featured both current and prospective models, with Lizzo’s song “About Dam Time” playing.
The winners will be selected in a few weeks.
Yoo strode over to his daughter, Paulina, who took the photo with her cell phone.
“She’s never done anything like this,” said Paulina, who flew in from Denver. “I don’t think she’ll actually do it. … I’m happy to see her do it.”