Not like this, like this. See the difference?

Charlottesville holds a Dogwood Festival in April, but it wasn’t until last weekend that my friend Dana and I were able to celebrate the occasion. Heavily influenced by America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), we decided to host a party to crown Charlottesville’s Next Top Dogwood (CNTD).

One of my favorite clips on YouTube (it keeps being posted and then yanked) is Tyra Banks exhorting her talk show audience to look under their seats for her favorite beauty secret, which turns out to be Vaseline. The audience receives special Swarovski-studded Vaseline jars and joins Tyra jumping up and down; Tyra then literally rolls in the aisles. Clearly, the CNTD contestants needed the same type of blinged-out jars as favors, so I skipped yoga on Saturday afternoon and sang Gillian Welch’s “Miss Ohio” (which Gillian, David, and Bright Eyes sang as the encore at their Atlanta concert last night—Katrina, I couldn’t be more jealous) while affixing “mobile bling” to Vaseline jars (feeding the inner arts & crafts junkie).

Charlottesville Dogwood

One of the better things about ANTM is the level of serious posturing in the “challenges,” the fever pitch of absurdity that contestants silence to outpose each other in photos taken in various locations and within bizarre parameters. I decided to match the jar bling to the crown—all of the highest quality, of course, like Tyra’s shows, while I schemed challenges for the photo shoot and practiced my close range photography skills on leaves.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Saturday morning was beautiful driving weather, as central Virgina sloughed off the rain of the night before, and I noticed my overgrown sage plant,

Charlottesville Dogwood

went off to the market, and almost jumped up and down to see beautiful, jewel-like strawberries from one of my favorite growers.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

To feed the contestants, I created a menu of green (heirloom greens, fava beans, green garlic) and gold (fennel pollen, my most recent food obsession), which couldn’t and, I hoped, wouldn’t stay on the kitchen counter; a salad with Purple Haze goat cheese (fennel pollen is mixed into the cheese), green garlic chives, and berries,

Charlottesville Dogwood

Joanne Weir’s Tuscan roasted pork tenderloin with fennel pollen and sage (from my backyard),

Charlottesville Dogwood

and an improvised fava/green garlic pesto pasta with pecorino disappeared as the contestants arrived.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Then we opened champagne and ate strawberry shortcake with cream drop biscuits, macerated strawberries, and whipped cream to ready for the photo shoot.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Eric’s nose modeling spurred the group migration to the living room and the photography challenges began

Charlottesville Dogwood

as Stewart determined to be the focus of the first group shot. Steph looks fabulous here as well with a new haircut that suits her perfectly.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Then we did some double shots,

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

and Sara exercised her photographic exit strategy.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

I took a break (with my new WonderWomanfull golden cuffs—Steph, I adore these) while Ben gathered Dana and Steph to flank him in a group pose,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and I had to laugh as Stewart refused to be my accessory. (Hello? Boys are the accessories. Tyra says so.)

Charlottesville Dogwood

Stewart was helpful, irreplaceable you might say, in setting up the shot with Sara, Steph, and Dana—

Charlottesville Dogwood

Tyra says it’s all about angles;

Charlottesville Dogwood

Steph thinks this pose is about choosing between her good and bad angels.

Charlottesville Dogwood

I joined them, though I’m not sure what angel this makes me (maybe the Madonna?)

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

And Stewart posed Steph on the chair.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Fierce.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Michael relaxed and looked charming as ever,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and Dana intrigued while ceding the foreground of the first shot to Stewart.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Eric rocked a pinkie ring,

Charlottesville Dogwood

Steph channeled a Folies Bergère vibe,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and I attempted to capture Sara in profile;

Charlottesville Dogwood

Ben unproblematically continued to wear rings on both hands while texting,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and then, noticing the crown on the table, introduced the next photography challenge: the yoga pose.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Ben and Eric faced off in the first part of utktasana (“awkward”) posture,

Charlottesville Dogwood

Dana positioned herself for trikanasana (“triangle”),

Charlottesville Dogwood

which Ben demonstrated with ease.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Stewart took up Forster,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and Eric started to YouTube dj.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

He berated the singers

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

and switched to classics, whereupon Dana, appropriately “swathed” (as she put it) in red sequins pulled out a lighter for Firehouse’s “Love of a Lifetime,”

Charlottesville Dogwood

while Michael began the photography jewelry challenge deciding on emeralds,

Charlottesville Dogwood

prompting Steph to take up the crown,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and allow Ben to pose next to her (he insists this was the beginning of a stealth campaign to gank the crown),

Charlottesville Dogwood

Dana and I imagined a red carpet beneath our feet,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and then I was ready for Sara’s close-ups,

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

and we turned to find Eric in one of my wigs, which became the next challenge.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Below is one of my favorite images from the night since the wig covers most of Eric’s face, transforming him into the purple best friend of Ronald McDonald.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Charlottesville Dogwood

Then Ben entered Spinal Tap territory (still wearing the rings),

Charlottesville Dogwood

and Steph successfully subordinated him to her accessory in this shot (thus, he looks dazed and slightly overwhelmed by his long purplish hair),

Charlottesville Dogwood

Sara became Joan Baez,

Charlottesville Dogwood

which Eric wasn’t overly excited about,

Charlottesville Dogwood

and Steph took her turn in the wig—we discovered how well purple hair and blue eyes work

Charlottesville Dogwood

across genres (I think she looks amazingly anime).

Charlottesville Dogwood

There is often a moment in an ANTM photo shoot when the model suddenly exudes the hoped-for emotion, embodies the concept, transcends the sweetness of commercial to become a designer’s muse.

Below, Dana wears the crown. Serene, thoughtful, turning a ring, she seems to be pondering spring, seasons, shows, and cycles.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Dear readers, you will determine the winner below. Please vote for your favorite Dogwood, leaving further justifications (and compliments for the lovely participants) in the comments.

Ben, Michael, Sara, Stewart, Eric, Steph, Dana,

as of now, you are still in the running towards becoming Charlottesville’s Next Top Dogwood.

Charlottesville Dogwood

Related posts:

  1. Life, I tell you
  2. All the world’s waiting for you
  3. the sparkle of the salt