LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas is the land of bizarre service-industry auditions, where would-be cocktail waitresses are photographed in bikinis and experience often matters less than a fat-free figure and Chiclets teeth.
And yet, the recent interviews inside the Plaza casino showroom were their own sort of odd.
One by one, women climbed onto a stage to endure the polite grilling typical of a Miss America pageant. This made sense, because they were essentially competing for a title.
A panel of questioners asked each one: What does being a "broad" mean to you?
Long pauses, perplexed faces.
"I could have dressed as a Las Vegas showgirl today," said Jeanne Bullock, a professional piano player.
"I think John Wayne western movies: 'Get the broad over here,' " said Robbin Young, 56, who told the panel she had been a "Bond girl" in an 007 movie and dined with the prince of Monaco.
"Bigger boobs," said Angel Junior, 35, who glanced down at her form-fitting polka-dot dress. After a moment, she added: "Maybe I should have put something in there."
The Plaza's owners recently poured $35 million into revamping the faded downtown haunt. One of its showpieces will be Oscar's, the namesake steakhouse of Oscar Goodman, the bombastic mob attorney turned mayor turned TV judge (if his recently filmed pilot is picked up).
Goodman, whose wife, Carolyn, succeeded him as mayor, was beloved locally for peacocking at ribbon-cuttings with a feather-clad showgirl on each arm. Scheduled to open next month, Oscar's plans to sell itself with half a dozen or so "broads."
According to an online job posting, the restaurant's "ambassador broads" will "courteously and efficiently interact with guests to ensure their satisfaction while dining." Essentially, they're casino hosts in cocktail attire.
Do. Not. Call. Them. Escorts.
"This is not going to be hookers, not going to be lowlifes," Goodman recently told a reporter. "It's your mind that's dirty."
To recruit broads, the Plaza held auditions this month inside its timeworn showroom, the former home of a Rat Pack tribute. Outside, a sign welcomed the women to "Broad-Casting." A security guard shooed away a man who asked to buy tickets.
Inside, three people zinged questions at more than a dozen would-be broads -- a term none of them found offensive. (Nearly two dozen more women would show up at a second day of auditions. The best will return for callbacks as early as this week.)
Their answers reflected the enduring power of Las Vegas stereotypes and locals' wistfulness for "Old Vegas," whatever that means.
In fact, the women were asked to define it.
"The mob kind of ran this town. We didn't have as much crime as now," said Bullock, who had mistakenly thought the audition was for musicians. She decided to try out anyway. At one point, she inadvertently staged her own Rat Pack tribute by singing part of "New York, New York."
"You used to not be able to walk through a casino in a jogging suit," said Susan Jacoby, 54, who had lived in Las Vegas long enough to recall when gamblers wore suits and dresses downtown. Now, its casino cluster is a pedestrian festival of Coors-filled footballs, deep-fried Oreos and women paid to wear Carmen-Miranda-style get-ups.
In recent years, downtown boosters have aimed to spruce up Glitter Gulch, once the area's nickname and now the moniker of a strip club. Entrepreneurs have opened bars and a hipster-magnet coffee shop, while casinos have remodeled rooms and tried to market their gangland pasts.
Goodman has touted plans to lure visitors downtown with, among other things, a soon-to-open mob museum. Oops. Make that the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.
Panel members asked the women: What does Goodman mean to you?
"I've never personally used him as an attorney," Jacoby replied. "I have friends who have."
Another applicant, Jacqueline Jackson, said she adored the former mayor. A retired nurse, she had met him at a Boys & Girls Club event years ago.
She told the panel Goodman noticed her spunk and advised her, "Never let anyone stop you unless it's the cops."
So when Jackson, 63, heard about the auditions, she was determined to work as "a hostess for Oscar."
But because she had attended a Thanksgiving-themed party beforehand, she arrived wearing a pink dress and a flowered bonnet.
"What are you dressed as?" a panel member asked.
"A pilgrim," Jackson said.
That was not the afternoon's most surprising reply.
The panel also asked the women what they would order at a steakhouse. It was not intended as a gotcha question.
Most said prime rib, T-bones, potatoes, cheesecake.
Then someone asked Junior, a stay-at-home mom, how she felt about steakhouses.
"Actually," she said, "I'm a vegetarian."
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