05/08/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
HE KNEW HE HAD SOMETHING GOING for him back in eighth grade when he won the Valentine's Day contest at his junior high school. "I got more cards than anyone else," says Miami artist Carlos Betancourt. "I had just started at that school, and I didn't even talk to anyone." A few years later, and his dreamboat status was official: "Some modeling agents saw me and told me I could be the next Latin sensation," says the Cuban-American son of Enrique, a salesman, and Teresa, a bank officer. "I quit after a few casting calls. I found it boring." Now 29 and still tall, tan and single, Betancourt prefers creating beauty to embodying it. His pop-art-style portraits and sleek furniture designs have been featured in Elle and Cosmopolitan—and his 20-foot copy of a scene from the Sistine Chapel adorns a wall in Sylvester Stallone's Miami home. "Carlos is 100 percent representative of someone who hasn't coasted on his looks," says his pal Sandra Bernhard. Still, when she met him, it wasn't his creativity she noticed. "He was holding a friend's baby," she says. "He looked so cute."