In Swan's Wake

After showing the world her regimen of dieting, workouts, dental work and breast augmentation on national television, Kelly Alemi says life is good

October 17, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

ABINGDON -- Kelly Alemi is a very pretty woman.aiiiiidudu She should be. Fox TV's hit make-over series, The Swan, spent an estimated $250,000 turning Maryland's ugly duckling into a possible winner of the season-ending beauty pageant. (She was among the final six contestants.)

But the surprise is that she looks better now than when she saw herself in a mirror for the first time in three months with a new face and figure, white-blond hair extensions and bright red lipstick. The result was a cross between Pamela Anderson and Barbie, only a little heavier, wedged into a black Tadashi gown.

"I call that my Miss Piggy look," she says. What she said last April for the TV camera was, of course, "Is that me? I look beautiful!"

At the moment, dressed casually in a black sweater and bootcut jeans and 16 pounds lighter than she was at her "reveal," as the show's creators call it, Alemi is sitting in the living room of the Abingdon townhouse she shares with her fiance. Her long, straight hair is tastefully streaked blond, her makeup is subtle, and, although she's thinner, she has a lot more cleavage than she did before the show.

Nothing quite sums up the creepy aspects of The Swan as well as this fact: Alemi and Rachel Love-Fraser, her competition in the first episode and eventual winner of the beauty pageant, switched bras after their make-overs. Alemi had a breast enlargement and Love-Fraser, a reduction.

Is no one ever satisfied?

The answer seems to be no, which may be why The Swan's finale was the most watched beauty pageant ever.

"These are women who probably would have looked good with some makeup and doing their hair," says Lynn Ianni, the psychotherapist for The Swan. The 16 contestants had four months of counseling to deal with their self-esteem and relationship problems. "That's better than they would have gotten from an HMO."

"Some people are so self-conscious and so uncomfortable in their own skin," Ianni says. "Kelly believed the kids in school teasing her" -- something Alemi talked about on the show -- "was an accurate assessment. I don't know why. She had a broken relationship that reaffirmed she wasn't OK. When someone is feeling as crummy as Kelly did about herself, she couldn't relate at all when someone said something positive about her. [For the contestants, the show] is not just getting plastic surgery. It's learning to take better care of themselves."

Alemi was living, at least on the surface, a pretty good life before she was chosen as a contestant. She had a devoted boyfriend, Baltimore County policeman Bob Moxley, and loving parents who lived nearby.

She had been a flight attendant for US Airways before she was furloughed

after 9 / 11, and then worked behind the Estee Lauder counter at Hecht's. With that kind of employment history, she must have looked fairly good.

"What they didn't tell you on the show was she was very attractive before," says Moxley, who was struck by Alemi's appearance when he saw her once across a crowded room, then remembered her when he finally met her three years later.

For whatever reasons, Alemi had hit an emotional low by the time she heard about the open casting call for The Swan. The scary part is that 200,000 other women were also unhappy enough with themselves to try out for a spot on the show.

In her old body, Alemi said recently on Larry King Live, "I felt like I couldn't breathe. My soul was lost."

Revealing moment

Before she met Moxley, she had been in a long-term abusive relationship. She felt overweight and unattractive. She announced on the first episode of The Swan that she and Moxley had "been intimate" only seven or eight times in the last three years.

Quick aside: Alemi called her boyfriend and warned him she had talked about their sex life on the show.

"I got on the phone to our families and said I wanted to watch it alone," Moxley says. "The razzing [at work] wasn't as bad as I was bracing myself for. Someone brought in the tape and played it at roll call, but that was about it."

Alemi says she sets the record straight at the reunion show, which opens the second season of The Swan and airs Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. "I say to the guys at work, 'He's getting some now.' "

Great nose job

While critics of The Swan focus on what they see as unnecessary plastic surgery, Alemi had fewer procedures than many of the contestants. "I look a lot like I did when I left," she says. "I've just been tweaked a little."

In fact, she says, when she returned for the reunion show, Dr. Randal Haworth, one of The Swan's two cosmetic surgeons, complimented her on how great her nose job looked.

Her surgeon, Dr. Terry Dubrow, hadn't done one.

"[Doctors Haworth and Dubrow] wanted to do a nose job and cheek implants," she says. "But I didn't want to." (Most viewers don't know that the procedures are optional.)

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