Why I Said No to America's Next Top Model
I have always been long and lanky. In elementary school, I was always the tallest person in the class and I was much taller than my mother by the 5th grade. This combined with ethnic ambiguity led me to pursue a career in modeling and I signed my first contract at age 13 with a small agency by the beach in Pensacola, FL. I fell in love with the process of becoming the image. I loved having my hair teased into gravity-defying shapes and makeup artistry that could’ve been in museums. Since then, I signed with multiple other agencies and have enjoyed working for various companies, brands, and local businesses such as Porsche, AVEDA, Heidi Elnora Atelier, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Matrix, Forever 21, Project Runway winner Hunter Bell, Splashed by DKG, Francesca’s Boutique, and many others. I soon developed a love of runway and walked in various fashion weeks around the country in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, and in my home, Birmingham. Of course, during my formative years and beyond, I religiously watched the TV show America’s Next Top Model and envied the girls who I perceived to be living my ultimate dream. I worshipped Tyra Banks (and still do!) and practiced my best Smize in the mirror daily.
Naturally, as soon as I turned 18, I applied to be on the show. After a few rounds of submitting photos and attending casting calls, I was invited to Austin, Texas to audition for Tyra’s casting team. The audition day was the day after my senior prom, which I did not want to miss so we left immediately afterwards in a minivan that my mom rented. Tierra joined us on the journey and we took turns driving an entire half a day to try and make my dreams come true. After I registered and spent hours and hours of waiting, me and the other hundred girls went one by one to introduce ourselves to Tyra’s video camera. One lady in charge of casting called us up one by one and immediately cut some people off. Thanking them and letting them know they could leave. Some girls, however, really caught her attention and were given several minutes to talk about themselves and flirt with the camera, under her guidance. I was one of the girls that was immediately dismissed. After, I caught up with my mom and girlfriend and, feeling sorry for myself, I requested that we find donuts. We wondered upon the most delectable donuts that I have ever had in my ENTIRE life. The next day, we made the long journey home.
That was the summer before I left for college. Just a few short months ago, after I graduated college, Americas Next Top Model moved to VH1 and began casting all over again. I halfheartedly submitted photos to a sketchy sounding casting email address and forgot all about it. Months and months later, I got an email back from a casting director requesting a Skype interview with me. My heart fell through my feet and I replied, eager to meet her over Skype. During the several hour Skype interview, I told this extremely nice woman about everything in my life, from my childhood, to my coming out process, my family, my dreams.. Really everything. I provided her with my very best bikini-clad catwalk in the parking lot of my apartment complex while my girlfriend’s sister held the laptop. Soon after I said goodbye to her, I received a huge packet of paperwork to complete and sign as a semi-finalist for the show. I was in shock. I printed out the entire packet of paperwork and began to complete it right away. The contents were, to be perfectly honest, very unnerving. The show does not guarantee any prize contracts or monetary winnings, regardless of if you win the competition. You also must agree to stay and appear on the show even if you are eliminated. Everything you do or say at all times is recorded. You must agree to be shown in ways that may humiliate, anger, or misrepresent you. You are not allowed internet or phone access to anyone outside the house. You must make yourself available to the show up to a year after elimination. These are just a couple of the clauses that were alarming to me. Perhaps worst of all, the show offered a celebrity therapist for contestants to see due to the extremely stressful and emotionally challenging conditions of the show but, as the contract stated, the therapy provided was not actually for mental health purposes. It was also not guaranteed to be confidential. Speaking of confidentiality, you had to agree that the show could disclose on TV a very large amount of personal information including former criminal charges, medical history, HIV/AIDS status, rehab stays, etc. Lastly, they required a physical to be completed by your doctor. My doctor said the physical asked for strange information and was very outdated. Regardless of my reservations and concerns, filling out the contract was still no guarantee that I would be on the show, so I completed and returned it. Several weeks went by while I agonized over the choices that I could be faced with.
The contract stated that filming would take place between mid July and late August, and included dates that we must be available. These dates conflicted with the first week of physician assistant school, which I had spent the last 4 years preparing to apply to. I thought about asking my program for deferment. I thought about forgoing graduate school altogether. My dreams were in conflict with one another. Since I was a small child, I knew I wanted to practice medicine and spent my entire high school and college career preparing to entire a program that would allow me to do just that. Being accepted to the extremely competitive program was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I attempted to swallow these thoughts while I waited.. Maybe fate would make my decision for me and I wouldn’t be invited to the show. Weeks and weeks passed before I finally received a phone call one night from the casting director that I had skyped with. She excitedly told me that I was a finalist and was invited to be on the TV show. I was in shock. My heart was racing and I felt a little sick. I knew that this was apparent to the casting director who seemed a little put off and asked if I was excited. She said she couldn’t tell so I reassured her that I was extremely excited but that I had a lot to think about. She immediately began to tell me how lucky I was and that there were hundreds of thousands of girls dying to be in the spot that I was in at the very moment. This only increased my anxiety. I told her that I was a little concerned about some of the things in the contract, which is when she became really defensive. I told her that there was no way that I could be disconnected from the internet because I was mid-semester in full time online classes, working towards my Masters of Public Health, which I discussed with her in detail during the Skype interview. She annoyedly asked how much time I would need on the internet and told me that my request of several hours each week would not work and that the show was extremely demanding. Having already paid for the summer’s course work and being almost done made it impossible for me to be able to quit them. She told me that she would talk with her producers to see what arrangements could be made around my classes, which I thanked her for. I never brought up the fact that I was also entering PA school during the filming window.
Very reluctantly, and to the casting director’s shock, I ended up turning down the offer to appear on the casting episode of the show. For many nights afterward, I cried myself to sleep fearing that I was throwing away my dreams and felt guilty for wasting the casting team’s time. I avoided all reminders of the fashion industry, signed out of my instagram, and unplugged my tv. I was contacted again by another member of the ANTM casting team, asking about my specific schooling requirements but again, I turned down the offer. Sometimes, I still wonder about how my life might be different if I had taken the plunge to be on the show. I applaud the many women who have fearlessly chased their dreams for (truly) all the world to see. The one thing I can say about my limited experience with reality tv is that it takes guts. As for me, I turned down the opportunity of a lifetime to pursue my other lifelong passion, medicine. I have just finished up my first semester of the most demanding education of my life. It has been grueling to say the least and since starting school, I have often wished that I was sitting in the makeup chair before a huge runway show instead of sitting on a cold stool in a cadaver lab before a huge exam. I find myself missing all the amazing makeup artists I have worked with as I stare at the dark circles under my eyes in the mirror each morning. While I am pursuing my education in medicine, I cannot say that I have no regrets however, what I have learned through this process is that regrets are okay. I find solace in the fact that my tough choices in life have been to pursue one of two incredible and life-changing journeys, what an amazing life I have. All in all, I learned to find gratitude in all the various opportunities that present themselves and to be confident in my decisions. I graduate with my 2 master’s degrees in 2018. Until then, I’ll keep on smizin’ and survivin’. Follow me on instagram @coutureinclinic!