Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Playmate Raquel Pomplun makes the scene at Hard Rock

Each person who walked past the velvet rope toward Raquel Pomplun was greeted by a megawatt smile.

She sang and did little dances. She engaged them in conversation. She clapped her hands and laughed at their jokes. The fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino already had waited in line Wednesday night to get her autograph, yet the 2013 Playboy Playmate of the Year, was still trying to win them over.

"As Playmates, we are usually more grounded," said Pomplun, a 26-year-old from Southern California who is the first Mexican-American Playmate of the Year. "I only get recognized at home. I'll be in the grocery store thinking, 'I probably should have put on more makeup.' "

Ever since Hugh Hefner built his publishing empire on the fantasies of the American male, he's surrounded himself with young women who, like Pomplun, embody both pin-up beauty and girl-next-door charm.

Some Playmates of the Year — think Jenny McCarthy and Shannon Tweed — have transcended the brand, leaping off the magazine's glossy pages to stardom before the Internet age took hold.

But in 2014, does the title carry the same prestige?

"It means what it always has," Pomplun said. "It's a great honor."

Since being named Playmate of the Year, Pomplun has taken a hosting gig on Playboy Radio's Playmates Present and also for Black Belt TV's Rockin' Rounds.

Those jobs haven't yet catapulted her into the national consciousness. So Wednesday, she donned bunny ears, a corset and a little bow tie and stood next to the new Playboy slot machines on the casino floor with fellow Playmate Amy Leigh Andrews, meeting both fans and even those who didn't quite know who they were.

"I got an e-mail about the event from the casino," said Randy Estacion, 57, of Valrico. "They are also doing a $5,000 drawing tonight. We came for the drawing and thought, 'Why not?' "

Before Pomplun and Andrews arrived, a line of about 50 people waited patiently. The women posed for photos with them — mostly middle-aged men and a smattering of younger faces — but few seemed to be Playboy subscribers.

One of the few, Paul Pruitt, 57, of Tarpon Springs, brought three magazines for Pomplun to autograph, including her Playmate of the Year cover shot in which she has her back to the camera, rollers in her hair and only the top of her bottom exposed.

"I couldn't tell you one Playmate from the other," Pruitt admitted. "But I have subscribed to magazine on and off for the past few years."

He's dreading the day the print edition is gone, but knows it's approaching.

"You can't just throw a tablet down on your coffee table. I love the glossy feel of those old magazines," he said.

Andrews, 29, who was Miss April 2010, is already looking forward to opening her own online boutique.

"We don't introduce ourselves as Playmates. It's usually our friends who tell people, 'Hey, she was in Playboy,' " Andrews laughed.

Pomplun plans to pursue an entertainment career and see how it goes.

"If not, I'll go back to school," she smiled.

But Wednesday night, she was still working toward her goal, gaining one fan at a time.

Pruitt was able to get only one magazine signed on his first trip through the line, so he circled around and waited a second time.

When he got back up the front, Pomplun squealed and threw out her arms, wrapping one around his shoulders as she introduced him to Andrews like he was an old friend.

He left smiling.

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