Brian Phillips and Jamie Smith had been up until 4 a.m. "playing pool and messing around." They awoke a half-hour before darting to Golden Ring Mall Saturday to enter a "Stud Search" contest.
But Mr. Phillips, tall, in head-to-toe denim and a musical tie, and Mr. Smith, chunky, wearing a Mickey Mouse cap and cutoffs with holes that expose polka-dot boxer shorts, were too cool to be too eager about making the final cut.
"If we lose, we're not going to be devastated. If we don't win, we'll probably get a few phone numbers on the way out," Mr. Phillips said with mock bravado.
He and Mr. Smith had just emerged from a group interview with a staff member from WBFF-TV (Channel 45), which carries the syndicated show "Studs" weeknights at 11.
Baltimore was the last stop on an eight-city tour for Mark DeCarlo, the quick-tongued host of the racy Fox Television dating game, in which well-greased guys mix and match with big-haired California girls.
Nightly, they turn the air fairly blue with sexual double entendres and low blows. On this tour, Mr. DeCarlo is emceeing the local "Stud Search" contests as a way of promoting a line of program-related merchandise in conjunction with a national gift-shop chain.
But even the studliest stud in Baltimore -- the Top Stud -- as judged by a panel of three local models, would still be a dud on the Coast. The winner would get a "Dream Trip Vacation to Hollywood" to watch a "Studs" taping, and also would go to a party attended by wannabe studs from Tampa, Detroit, St. Louis and other studly backwaters. But victory wouldn't put him on the air.
That was OK with Mr. Phillips, 23, and Mr. Smith, 22. "Go to California. Have a party. That sounds good to me," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Phillips is a graphic artist. Mr. Smith is working as a waiter until he moves to Florida this summer to become a cartoonist at Disney-MGM Studios. Both are flesh-flashing veterans.
Once, in an Annapolis club, Mr. Phillips participated in a "hunks in trunks" tournament, appearing only in white briefs, his chest glistening with water. He was judged to be the winner, but the disc jockey announced the wrong name, Mr. Phillips said. To Mr. Smith's surprise, he took third in an Ocean City bathing suit contest.
Now, as the 2 p.m. contest time approaches, the mall's center begins to swell with a new Michelangelo virus: Latter-day Davids, with slicked hair, tight jeans and T-shirts, milled around, discussing the appeal of "Studs."
"The show has nothing to do with love," one contestant says.
"It has to do with cheap, meaningless sex," another says.
A pre-teen girl got the autograph of a GQ-ish young man with long, flowing hair. "Who is he?" she is asked.
"I don't know, but he's hot," she said.
Then the finalists are announced, and they include Mr. Phillips and Mr. Smith. They slap high fives. Before at least a thousand onlookers perched in the mall's amphitheater and leaning over the second-floor balcony, Mr. Phillips caresses his behind for all to see.
But the crowd, made up mostly of teen-age girls, cheers loudest for another finalist. With long black hair, a sharp nose, dreamy blue eyes and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt, Matt Weatherly is a spoiler. He has the "Studs" look down cold.
Mr. DeCarlo arrives, dressed in scruffy jeans and an off-white sweater. He will put the contestants through their paces, and the models will judge their responses, using a scale of zero to 5.
Under Mr. DeCarlo's questioning, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Smith wilt. They blow the first test, which is to come up with a pithy pick-up line. "We're in a mall, guys," Mr. DeCarlo said, disgusted with their slightly off-color attempts.
But Mr. Weatherly scores with his suave opening volley: "Excuse me, are your feet tired? Because you've been running through my mind all day."
The audience swoons with delight. It doesn't look good for the other contestants.
By the contest's conclusion, Mr. Smith has executed a belly-revealing handstand, Mr. Phillips has serenaded the models on one knee, and Mr. Weatherly has offered to strip. With no music to accompany him, he settles for a garbled Donald Duck impersonation. A fourth contestant juggles his keys, a pack of cigarettes and a troll doll. And the fifth does a satisfactory rap imitation.
The points are tallied. Mr. Weatherly is declared the stud of the moment. "I love it. It's my life's goal just to go on the show," he said, encircled by a bevy of young women clamoring for his autograph.
Informed he would not appear on the show, Mr. Weatherly, 21, and a psychology major at Towson State University, didn't seem to mind.
Mr. DeCarlo also signs many autographs, while Golden Ring security keeps a stern watch. Mr. Phillips goes home to play some basketball, and Mr. Smith begins to think about getting ready for work.