Battling Average

Fredo LaPonza, one of the everyman finalists on NBC's "Average Joe: Hawaii," sounds off on fame, Fabio and what he's looking for in a long-term relationship.

Hunk of Fame

As one of the "hunks" brought in to make the physically run-of-the-mill guys less appealing to former beauty queen Larissa Meek, Cleveland advertising agency owner Michael Cardamone didn't look so good to some viewers of "Average Joe: Hawaii."

In one episode, his candid comments about fat women, both during an interview with Meek's friend and to Meek's overweight "mother" (Meek in a fat suit and makeup) got him booted off the show.

But the 32-year-old owner of Cardamone Productions says his reality-show stint hasn't hurt his business or his relationships with women. In fact, many fans have applauded his performance in the face of Meek's hypocrisy.

"She kicked every fat guy off at the beginning of the show," he observes. "Everyone loved the fact that I stayed true to myself, that I stayed honest."

Although he's not looking for another appearance on a reality show ("They mess with your mind," he says), the acting bug may have bitten. Cardamone is keeping in touch with producers, hoping to land work in commercials and the like. "I want to entertain," he says.

He was the ponytailed, tattooed cement contractor from Cleveland who intrigued beauty queen Larissa Meek with his love of classical music and efforts to start a children's charity (the Westlake-based Miracle Angels) on NBC-TV's "Average Joe."

Then, he abruptly left the reality dating series after witnessing Larissa's steamy make-out session with a rival suitor on a Hawaiian beach. And despite Fredo LaPonza's extended stint on the show — he was one of two "Average Joes" still competing against two "hunks" for the former Miss Missouri's affections when he said, "Aloha" — the 31-year-old remains something of a mystery.

He was a no-show for appearances on both WKYC-TV's "Studio 3" and Mix 106.5's "Brian and Joe" and doesn't answer his cell phone. Yet LaPonza is alive and well, as we discovered when we tracked him down at his Warehouse District loft.

In addition to maintaining a partnership in LP Construction, his uncle's 30-year-old company, and running Creative Images and Design, a business that designs and installs interior finishes, the Seven Hills native owns a piece of the Flats dance club Kaos and tends bar at Harry Buffalo next to Gund Arena. He's also as direct as ever, ready to hold forth on the series and his life since he returned home.

— Lynne Thompson

How did you end up on the show?

"A buddy of mine, Teddy Sahley, owns Mercury [Lounge] on West Sixth Street. ... He had [the show's producers] down there casting people. The show was supposed to be called •Life of the Party: The In Crowd.' Teddy told them, 'Look no further. I have the perfect guy.' He called me and was like, 'You gotta come down to the club. I know you're gonna make this show.' I'm like, 'Listen, leave me alone. I'm sleeping.' He called me like three times and I hung up on him. Finally, I said, 'Fine, I'll come down.' I went down there and they cast me."

Did they tell you why they chose you?

"They were like, 'Your personality and your image are really cool.' I have a pretty rough, tough exterior, but I'm a lot more gentle than I look."

When was the real premise of the show revealed to you?

"When I got to Hawaii. I really didn't know it was a dating show."

What did you think of Larissa?

"She's a nice person. But my ideal woman is not that."

What didn't you like about her?

"She'd be in makeup for a long time in the morning. I'm more of a throw-on-a-hat-T-shirt-blue-jeans-and-let's-go type of person. And I didn't even kiss her. . . . The time that she had with some of these guys, ... I come from a totally different upbringing. My parents would have been disgusted with me if I would have brought her home. I mean, I would have been disgusted. I don't want that."

Ouch was made of Larissa's former relationship with male model Fabio. Would you have been as upset as her final choice was when he learned about it?

"It just shows her shallowness and her ignorance. Anyone who could date Fabio has got to be a moron. What do they talk about? [They must] sit in the living room and he goes (feigning an accent), 'Larissa, I cannot believe it's not butter!' "

How has your life changed since the show aired?

"A lot more people recognize me, obviously. But I still pay my bills. I still go to work every day."

Have you been asked to do any commercials or endorsements?

"If I answered my phone, yeah, probably. But I just can't stand cell phones."

Your name and photo was posted on the "Average Joe" Web site after you left the show. What was the response?

"I've had an incredible response from America. A lot of women want to meet me. One week I had 10,000 hits on my Web site []."

What are you looking for in a woman?

"A friend, a companion, someone that I'm going to have fun with. I don't ask for a whole lot."

Would you do another reality show?

"I don't see why not. I had a ball doing it."

Share this story: