With perfectly gelled hair and a glass of red wine in hand, Jessie Ramirez swooped into the crowded party in the bar of the Aloft hotel and started shaking hands. For the next couple of hours, Ramirez gabbed and glad-handed, fed parking meters, held the door and got drinks. Though naturally chivalrous, this wasn't a typical night out for Ramirez, 26, of St. Paul. It was a campaign stop.
Ramirez is one of 20 guys vying to win the One Man Minneapolis contest.
Now in its second year, the contest is part charity fundraiser, part man pageant -- complete with wardrobe changes. But because this is modest Minnesota, the appearance aspect is downplayed.
"It's not a pageant!" said Ramirez. "When people call it a man pageant it sounds like a beauty contest, but it's an opportunity for us to talk about charities."
The event is the brainchild of Scott Mayer, who created the Ivey Awards to recognize the theater community and Minneapolis Mosaic to celebrate local diversity. With One Man Minneapolis, Mayer was after a reality competition that "added value." Working on a hunch that local men would be reluctant to take center stage, he decided to turn the spotlight on charities as well as men in evening wear.
"I knew what I didn't want it to be," he said, "not a singles event and not a totally fluffy beauty pageant thing."
For Mayer, whose commitment to nonprofits is more than skin deep, the hybrid contest was a way to get more men involved in helping others.
"Of all the 20 charities, I have met with a total of two men," he said. "In terms of mentoring and role models, it's really important to show that men are out there, too."
The event has a slow build. It starts with a series of five meet-and-greet happy hours, where contestants (who collaborated with a local nonprofit) try to persuade supporters to vote for them online. Only five men make it into the final competition, which will be held Saturday night at the Pantages Theatre.
Hosted by theater veterans Ann Michels and Christiana Clark, the big event will feature performances by Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles and cabaret performer Jimmy Martin. Mayor R.T. Rybak and his wife, Megan O'Hara, are scheduled to announce the winner.
As in traditional beauty pageants, the contestants will appear in several different outfits. They'll start in their own clothes, then change into everyday ensembles, fitness looks and finally tuxes. They'll be evaluated on community involvement, intelligence, personality and fitness. But if last year's show is any indication, there will be ample opportunities for audience catcalls of "You're hot!"
The winner gets a $5,000 prize, half of which goes to the charity he represents.
We're all winners
Despite our reputation for being a guy's guy state, the contest had no shortage of applicants: 300 men signed up to compete.
Mayer whittled it down to 20 20-, 30- and 40-year-old business owners, firemen, writers and real estate agents who had a few things in common: "We're looking for guys you'd want to meet at a party," said Mayer. "They're passionate about what they do; they look good, and they're smart."
Ramirez's "high energy" and deep community roots helped him stand out, said Mayer. And the outgoing Ramirez -- a military veteran, nightclub promoter, real estate agent, volunteer and mentor -- said the Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities was a natural fit for him.
As the child of a single mother, he spent lots of time at the organization's West St. Paul location when he was growing up. "Youth is so vulnerable to influences, I'm lucky I landed in the right place," he said. "I had the best mentors, and I credit them for helping me become a young man."
For its part, the Boys and Girls Club is happy to be associated with the contest, and Ramirez.
"[One Man] gives us a chance to reach really important people, especially younger donors who give in unique ways," said Robyn Cohen, development manager. "[Jessie has] gotten really involved with our junior board and we don't expect he will be a stranger when this is over."
Ramirez has been campaigning hard to become the next One Man Minneapolis. He has more than 2,000 friends on Facebook and launched several fan pages devoted to his candidacy. He's also taken part in a national campaign to promote the Boys and Girls Club. And while he doesn't plan on baring his "ripped arms," he said he would if it meant winning money for his charity.
"I'm the youngest guy and I'm the only Latino," he said in self-sales mode. "I am the One Man Minneapolis."
And then he reined himself in and gave a nod to the other contestants.
"These guys own businesses and restaurants and do a lot of things," he said. "When I started meeting them, I was like, 'Wow, we're all One Man,' and it sheds light on people like us."
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177