By Erika Webb
DeLand High School seniors Kait Forsythe and Gabby Mejias have very full plates this year. Naturally each is thinking about college.
Kait's sights are set on London College of Fashion where she'd like to combine her love of science with her passion for fashion by researching the sustainability of materials for environmental friendliness.
"Or FSU," she said, grinning.
Gabby "definitely" wants to go to college, and is "leaning toward FSU" where she will decide whether medicine or criminology is her calling.
But first, the president and vice president of DeLand High's Fashion Plates -- with help from their friends -- had a show to put on.
Fashion Plates is a DHS service club that "recognizes fashionable students interested, not only in fashion, but in the business and marketing aspect of the industry."
It is open to students who have taken Fashion Essentials with above a 2.5 grade point average upon trying out.
They've been working on the 2013 Mr. DHS production since June. The culmination of their efforts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, in the high school's auditorium would yield this year's winner of the coveted crown, sash and watch. The in-school performance is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4.
The Great Gatsby theme was derived from the popular movie of the same name released over the summer.
"It's a hot topic right now," Gabby said.
"It's the popular music right now, the fashions right now, you know, pop culture ... back to the '20s era," Kait said.
"Also, who wouldn't want to be Leonardo DiCaprio?" Gabby said.
"For reeealll," Kait agreed.
Nine contestants applied to vie for the title. The winner is chosen by votes from a panel of six judges and students in the audience.
The contest criteria includes: contestants must be seniors at DHS, have no discipline referrals, hold at least a 2.0 grade point average, remit $40 (for the costume) application fee and complete the application by deadline.
"They come from a variety of clubs and sports, like football, track and field, Growler -- the school newspaper -- band," Kait explained. "Two of them do produce their own music independently."
One of the contestants is Cole Fancher. He'll play piano during the talent portion of the show. He's been playing for two years.
He showed no hesitation when asked what song he'll perform.
"My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion," he said, smiling.
His reason for participating is more about the journey than the destination.
"I'm doing it to kinda get out there, to crack my shell and not be so afraid to perform," Cole said.
A week before the show there was the usual Friday afternoon frivolity in the air at the school. In Litsa Taylor's fashion merchandising classroom, the Fashion Plates and the contestants bantered.
Someone said something about one of the contestants planning to ask a girl to homecoming during his performance. The announcement generated wide-eyed responses from Kait and Gabby.
That's one way to increase ticket sales.
Interest in the contest is not tough to capture.
"It varies from year to year," Kait said, "but typically (the event) generates a lot of interest. We have announcements on the school news, wear pins and spread the word."
"Most guys know when it's coming around and start asking about it," Gabby said.
They said generally anywhere from 500 to 800 people attend the show.
Judges must be DHS alumni, must have been involved in sports or clubs at the high school or been Mr. or Miss DHS and must be "relevant in the community," Kait said.
The 2013 panel of judges consists of: Maureen Kemp, Janna Rodgers, Matt Birnie, Jason Slicer, Alex Reed and Derek Mears.
The entire process is overseen by Fashion Plates Sponsor Mrs. Taylor, who teaches Fashion Marketing Essentials, which is designed to develop the skills essential to fashion marketing.
"These skills include employability, human relations, communication, math and economic skills. The fundamentals of fashion marketing and selling are also included," according to the DHS curriculum guide.
The course is a prerequisite to membership in Fashion Plates.
Kait and Gabby said their job is to organize committees that facilitate different aspects of the Mr. DHS production. Club members go out into the community to solicit donations.
Proceeds from ticket sales pay for the show, including the $500 fee to rent the school auditorium, and raise money for Fashion Plates.
"The community is very generous in donating for this event because they know it will generate publicity," Kait said.
Mrs. Taylor cracked the door to her office to offer a quick reminder:
"We want to be sure and thank Lola's, Dressed By Cam and Newfangled," Mrs. Taylor said. "We couldn't have done it without them."
Bealls Department Store and Express Printing also were major contributors, she said.
"She's really big with connections to people in the community," Gabby said of the teacher.
"She just happens to be BFFs with everyone," Kait added.
Local business contributors are mentioned throughout the show and receive advertising in the program handed out to attendees.
Mr. DHS has its genesis somewhere in the late 1970s, according to a general consensus of Facebooking alumni.
First there were spoofs -- a contest where the guys donned majorette costumes, other feminine attire and makeup.
Then things got serious.
Members of the DHS Class of 1981 are turning 50 this year. Many are good naturedly claiming significant memory loss as their latest rite of passage.
"I can't remember last week, heck with that many years ago," Lori Siler Braddock posted in response to inquiries about the 1981 show and winner.
Some, who still had their yearbooks and a steady supply of Ginkgo Biloba, correctly reported it was Mel Dawson, performing "One in a Million," who won that year.
Pastor Melvin Dawson confirmed.