Alice Fraasa, 21, the most popular girl at Auburn University, missed the first football game of her senior year Saturday. She wasn’t in town. She was in Seattle at a video game convention getting paid to be herself.
She grinned and talked and played “Halo 3” and performed other duties of her public persona while occasionally demonstrating the benefits of the A40 professional gaming headset and posing for photos with teenage nerds who know nothing about Auburn but a lot about her.
“That’s like, my fan group,” Fraasa said. “Like, teenage boys. Video gamers. They love it.”
Alice Fraasa is the Snorg Tees Girl.
And the Snorg Tees Girl is kind of a big deal.
Which is why, as I sat on the steps of Samford Hall with a bag full of vintage Auburn T-shirts in the hopes I could maybe just maybe … I was so happy (and so happy she understood why I was so happy) to see her round the corner in flip-flops and sunglasses, carrying a Twilight book, and already wearing one.
“I think that guys have this thing that college girls are crazy and wild,” she said sanely and calmly. “They see them as wild, ready to party, like you can hook up with whoever you want ‘cause they’re going to be drunk, you know what I mean?”
Of course. But Fraasa understands that, in the same way every guy wants to imagine his alma mater as Running Back U., it is only natural for every guy to want to imagine his alma mater as a rah-rah Shangri-La of doe-eyed nubility.
And along these lines, she therefore understands that certain people who know and care about her Auburn connection, like the dudes that asked to get their picture made with her when she worked at Brick Oven Pizza last year, or the commenter to the popular Auburn football blog The Auburner who suggested Fraasa as the new face of the Web site “until the new coaching hero emerges,” might view her — the reigning Queen of Netfame by virtue of being the unambiguous face of the reigning King of Banner Ads and mainstream hipster chic — as the current Bo Jackson of Auburn co-education.
She understands all that.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Fraasa of the immanently clickable je ne sais quois that has, over the past three years, turned her into an Internet icon. “I really don’t.”
Dr. David Sutton can’t put his finger on it either. But he knows it’s there.
“She’s a hoot,” said Sutton, a professor — Fraasa’s favorite — in Auburn’s Department of Journalism and Communications. “That sounds a bit old-fashioned, but I think the word fits her. … Alice is very photogenic. It must be her eyes and her smile.”
Last year, after realizing the eyes and smile of the girl from the T-shirt ad on The New York Times Web site looked familiar for a reason, Sutton called her out in class and announced her not-so-secret identity to dropped jaws and “I knew its!”
“Everyone in class was like, ‘Oh my God, that is you,” she said. “And then I had him in a huge class, like a hundred people, and he did this thing about getting to know your classmates, and picked on me, and says, ‘Alice, is there anything interesting we need to know about you? Like, say I’m on the Internet …’ and there were like 10 people who were like, “Oh my God, that is you. A lot of times I’ll get looks that people recognize me, but I don’t want to be like, ‘This is how you know me.’ I don’t’ want to be weird about it.”
It’s weird enough already.
She has fan clubs and Facebook Groups. She has bizarre YouTube tribute videos.
So frequently was she referenced in the comments on Wonkette.com, the popular D.C. gossip blog once threatened (only half-jokingly) to ban users who included the term “Snorg Girl” in their posts.
“She told that class that it freaks her out to see pictures of herself on the Web,” Sutton said.
Snorg Girl furrows her brow, nods her head.
“I don’t understand the appeal with me,” she said. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t get it. But maybe that’s what the appeal is, I don’t know.”
She might be on to something. Because what other than natural beauty combined with an utter lack of self-awareness could explain the inclusion of your average, down-to-earth, tomboyish, babysitting, Auburn communications major in a celebrity gossip site’s list of the “100 Hottest Women of 2009,” a list featuring Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and Lohans and Kardashians and Angelina Jolies all bedroom-eyeing the camera in lingerie and thongs and wet T-shirts and birthday suits. And there, somehow, at No. 99, innocently sandwiched between naked Eva Mendez in cowboy boots and a leather corseted Christina Ricci, is a picture of “Alice, The Snorg Tees Girl” — or as one commenter put it “… natalie portman with boobs” — sitting on a bench in jeans and a dry Snorg “I Love Lamp” Anchorman T-shirt, and, you know, holding a lamp. It’s practically prudish.
Matt Walls laughs.
“She’s the only person on there that’s not a celebrity from movies and stuff like that,” said Walls, the 28-year-old Georgia grad and co-founder of Snorg Tees, which is based in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta where he and Fraasa grew up. “And she’s the only one that’s not insanely Photoshopped.”
That the photos of Fraasa used by the company are the point-and-click results of Walls and Co. simply goofing off with their friend’s cute kid sister (she started modeling for them at 17) embodies the spellbinding amateurism that seems to anchor the Snorg Tees Girl phenomenon. So too, that Fraasa is compensated only in keeping the shirts she poses in. She is not a professional. She weighs more than 100 pounds. She likes Auburn football. She likes Harry Potter. She likes the Braves. She likes food. She poses for pictures in T-shirts for her friends because she likes T-shirts and because they’re her friends.
“People are like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe they don’t pay you,” Fraasa said. “But so much more has come from it” — like last weekend’s all-expenses-paid trip to Seattle, her second such junket — “that I really don’t care.”
Would she like to parlay the popularity into bigger gigs after graduation? “I would love to,” she said as if she doesn’t really think it could happen. If it could? She likes sports — maybe something “like Erin Andrews,” minus the stalking. Andrews came in at No. 30 on the “100 Hottest…” list.
That she has yet to pursue publicists or agents or reality shows is another recurring theme in Snorg Tees Girl lore, one repeatedly angled in the interviews that have helped create it. And there have been interviews — from blogs to alt-weeklies to a 2008 Associated Press story that ran in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and the Tuscaloosa News.
The low-key, go-with-the-flow approach to her own brand has most reporters, bloggers, nerds and commenters in agreement that both Fraasa’s look and appeal is that of The Girl Next Door, or as Jezebel.com headlined her “The Accessible Internet-Famous Jessica Biel.”
You can almost hear the “duh” in Walls’ voice. And the gratitude.
“We just kind of lucked out growing up down the street from her,” he said. “She really is the girl next door. To me, it’s like the girl every guy fancies themselves meeting and dating.”
And getting to model T-shirts for their once-fledgling T-shirt company, which, according to a recent story in US News and World Report, now sells between $5 million and $10 million of merchandise.
The company’s best-selling shirt? “I’m Kind of a Big Deal.” The model? Alice Fraasa.
In April 2008, just four years after Walls started the company in his parents basement, SnorgTees.com trailed only American Apparel and UnderArmour in terms of Internet advertising presence among apparel retailers, their 249 million display ad views beating out companies like Levi Straus, Nike and competitors BustedTeess.com. Of that number, Walls said nearly half likely still featured Fraasa, despite the company’s regular use of professional models.
“When we first started running some banner ads with her in early 2006 we were getting more than double click-through rates,” Walls said. “There were companies spending thousands of dollars trying to generate the best flash ads but all we had to do was put a picture of Alice up there and we were doing better than they were. We had other cute girls modeling, but I just don’t think [the company] would have generated the same [attention] without her.”
Neither would have the vintage 1987 Iron Bowl T-shirt she posed in against the “War Eagle” wall by J&M Bookstore a week before the first game.
The man — gray hair, mustache, nice car — paralleled right in front of her on College Street, got out, and you could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice: He was an alum (had to be), he was in Auburn, and he couldn’t help himself.
“Now that,” he said staring at the vaguely familiar orange-and-blue vision in front of him, “is the calendar I want.”
Alice smiled her 100-yard, million-click smile and laughed for him as he walked away mmm, mmm, mmm’ing to himself, and then rolled her big eyes.
“Creepy,” she said.
But she understands. Glory, Glory to ol’ Auburn.
Photos by Zac Henderson.