Every year around this time I get very nostalgic of my start in the modeling world. I'm incredibly grateful for my start and I like to reflect and appreciate how it all began. Recently, I was watching America's Next Top Model with Ashley Graham and Khrystyana. It just amazes me how far the plus size / fashion industry has come. I posted on my Instagram Story that I had gotten discovered by Tyra Banks herself and it was so surprising on how many of you didn't know that! As my 8th modeling anniversary approaches this year, I'd like to pay an extra special homage to my beginning. I apologize for the low quality images in this post, they're all from 2010! It's also amazing to see how far photo quality has come!
Posted on a whim:
Flash back to January of 2010, I was a senior in high school accepted on early decision to Clarkson University. My mom had suggested that I go online and apply for scholarships, since the price of private school tuition was not cheap. Instead, I found myself wandering the internet, stumbling upon The Tyra Show's website. Back in 2010, Tyra Banks had a daytime talk show and she had just announced that she was hosting a "Fiercely Real Teen Model Search." Instead of calling it "plus size" she was calling it "fiercely real." If you were a teenager (13-19), above a size 12 and taller than 5"9 you were eligible to enter. My friend and I saw the contest and kind of laughed about it, daring me to enter. I had always been comfortable in front of a camera, thanks to my dad's love for taking pictures but I never thought of modeling as an option. I submitted my senior portraits on a whim. People were posting their submissions on the forum so quickly, my photos went from page 1 to page 25 by the time I refreshed. So to be honest, I kind of forgot about it.
Busted (for good reason):
A few days later, I got an email from a producer named Michael Carandang. He thanked me for my submission but asked me to follow the directions and submit the photos that they were requesting: typical model digitals including full body, 3/4 shot, side profile and an up close face shot. I was a little taken back that they emailed me but I didn't think much of it, to be honest. However, that night at the dinner table included a conversation something like this: "Mom, I did something I shouldn't have... Instead of looking up scholarships, I posted my pictures on Tyra Banks' website and just got an email from a producer asking for more images."
One of the very few times not listening to my mother paid off. We googled the producer's name to make sure he was legitimate, he was, so we proceeded to respond back to him. My aunt came over the next day and helped me take my very first digitals! Things continued to move very fast, once we submitted the proper images, I was notified that I had been selected to be in the top 100. Next day: top 50, next day: top 25, top 20, top 15, then it dwindled down to the top 10. I was interviewed on the phone a few times and then I was notified that my image was going to be shown to Tyra, who then was going to select the top 6 to be in the contest. Apparently, Tyra was laying in the dentist's chair when she was selecting these images. I was selected to appear in the top six, flying to New York with my mom. Before we were allowed to get on the plane, we had to record a video promoting Tyra's BIO Campaign: Beauty Inside Out. From the time I posted my pictures, to the time that we got on the plane was just about a week. It was a whirlwind.
Off to NY:
But the whirlwind had only begun. The contest had a very similar format to ANTM except that we were all underage, they couldn't house us together alone. We were put up in a hotel for a little less than a week. We were told to report to the lobby at 8:00AM every morning, without our mothers. My mother of course came down in a separate elevator and hid in the lobby bushes just to make sure we were in good hands. We were, the producers were incredibly kind to us and made us feel comfortable.
We filmed for three days. The first two days were themed photo shoots in a studio: a fitness shoot sponsored by Nike, a shoot sponsored by Torrid and a celebrity themed shoot (I was Fergie). See my final photos below:
The last day we were filming in The Tyra Show studio, where the top 6 filmed two episodes of the show, where we were dwindled down to find the winner based off of the shoots and challenges that we did the previous days.
The judges included Tyra Banks, Jon Illani (former Wilhelmina agent), Whitney Thompson (first plus size ANTM winner, cycle 10) and Ann Shoket (former editor of Seventeen Magazine). Just as the models are judged on ANTM, each of us were called to the judges stand to be critiqued on our photos. I'm pretty sure this shot below is when Whitney told me I had a snooty nose, something that still makes me giggle!
I am completely cringing at my outfit choices, by the way. 2010 was not a great time for fashion in my life.
And the results are in:
The judges gave me great feedback, seemed to like me and somehow I made it through four rounds, ending up in the top TWO with fellow contestant, Sheridan Watson. All in all, I ended up being the runner up in the competition.
Although I had lost, I was incredibly grateful for the experience and here Tyra said that she wanted me to pursue a career in modeling. She told me to stick around, that she wanted to connect me with with an agency.
As soon as I got backstage, I was immediately stripped of my microphone & borrowed clothing and told to leave. I was confused because Tyra just told me to stick around because she wanted to connect me with an agency. 17 year old me had my first dose of reality television, 25 year old me is still waiting for that call from Tyra!
After about a month of sulking that I lost, I quickly snapped out of it and realized that if I made it this far I should pursue it- can't hurt, right? Luckily, I had grabbed the business cards of the judges and decided to make those connections on my own. At seventeen years old, I was negotiating my own rates and flying myself to NYC to shoot for Seventeen Magazine. Once the show aired, a lady named Madeline Jones from Plus Model Magazine was sitting on her couch watching and decided to track me down. She really believed in me and helped me sign with a few agencies, leading to me signing with my current agency, Dorothy Combs Models in 2012. Since then, I've gone on to work for major clients such as Forever 21, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Macy's, Sydney's Closet, Deb Shops, Venus, Elomi, Dia & Co, Fashion To Figure, Dillard's, and many more! I am also incredibly proud to say I graduated from Clarkson University in May 2014 as the Senior Class President with a dual bachelor's degree in Innovation & Entrepreneurship (business) and Psychology. I am incredibly grateful to my family at Clarkson who believed in me and allowed me to go to school and travel for modeling jobs.
Although this post is long, it's really only the tip of the iceburg when it comes to my beginning in the modeling industry and how things really happened after. Just picture this as a moment of time that catapulted a series of other events. I learned a lot from this experience and I will forever be grateful for my start in the industry! This is a prime example of going for it, you never know how it can change your life forever. I can still vividly remember my time and experiences this year, a time that forever changed my life. I'm happy to answer any questions about my experiences, so feel free to leave them below!
If you'd like to read a more in depth feature of the shows: be sure to check them out on Judgement of Paris' site for episode 1 here and episode 2 here! All of the screen shots from the show are from his site, so thank you Judgement of Paris.
Here are a few more photos from the show that I will cherish forever :)