The evening had barely begun, but the Western pop music playing inside Phnom Penh’s Two Chefs Bar & Grill was already so loud that conversation required shouting.
It’s lucky then, that the contestants in the “Cambodia Calendar Girls” competition seemed content to stand and smile on Friday night. They posed in front of a variety of backdrops, taking turns snapping group shots and selfies with iPads and smartphones.
Capturing their excitement was another group of photographers —those employed by Lotus Star Entertainment, the company that created this strange amalgamation of reality television show and beauty pageant.
However, as Minette Palcon, Lotus Star’s senior business development director, is quick to point out, “This isn’t like America’s Next Top Model.”
“What we will show is their transformation, their training and workshops. Like watching one big talent show,” she said, dabbing at the beads of sweat forming on her brow outside the restaurant.
Over the next nine months, the women will attend workshops to hone their talents as actresses, dancers and models, as well as host monthly events sponsored by Lotus Star, where they will perform for attendees who pay $5 to get in.
The company is also filming each event in the hope of making the concept into a TV show, although it hasn’t yet struck a production deal.
The competition, which bills itself as a quest for “beauty with purpose,” will culminate in the production of a 2017 calendar featuring 12 winning women, one for each month.
While Ms. Palcon put the current number of participants at about 33, she said Lotus Star was still recruiting, and that new contestants can sign up online to compete over the course of the next nine months for $10,000 worth of prizes and a page in the calendar.
“June,” 22-year-old Cici Diamond said when asked which month she would like to be if she got to choose. “It’s my birthday.”
Ms. Diamond, who works at a bar in Phnom Penh and heard about the competition from a friend, said “Cambodia Calendar Girls” was bringing something new and exciting to Cambodia.
“It’s like the events Malaysian people do,” she said.
While 21 women attended last night’s event, others couldn’t make it due to work and school commitments.
“I am so proud of them, said former model and actress Sanita Reach, who will be training the Calendar Girls over the coming months. “They have school; after school they are jogging to the class, running, you know.”
“How to walk, how to act, how to [be] polite to the customer…. Like you see, they [are] very polite, they [are] very proud. They say, ‘I am special, like a Miss Calendar Girl.’”