Interview with Kayla Ferrel from “America’s Next Top Model”

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It’s that time of the year when a cycle of America’s Next Top Model winds down and we all go back to figuring out what to do with our lives. As for the young women vying for the coveted top spot, well … one of them wins. Some of the others go on to have flourishing modeling careers despite the loss, and some find another calling. Meanwhile, host/executive producer Tyra Banks maintains her youth for another year by feasting on the contestants’ tears and broken dreams like a smizing Elizabeth Bathory.

Cycle 15 brought us not only a more serious tone with its "high fashion" — mindedness, but also Kayla Ferrel, a 19-year-old lesbian ex-Hooters waitress from Rockford, Illinois. During the course of the show, she revealed what can only be described in understated terms as a rough upbringing — poverty, abuse, and being bullied about her sexuality to the point where she had to switch schools — but she treated none of it as a setback, instead resolving to work hard and use her time in the public eye to be a positive representation of the lesbian community.

Many in the online world assumed she’d take the Cycle 15 crown and win the coveted modeling contract and spread in Italian Vogue; after all, she constantly improved from week to week, rarely received much criticism, and never heard the words every top model contestant surely dreads: "You have no personality." Alas, though she made it overseas to Italy and earned a spot in the final four (making her the highest-ranking out lesbian in America’s Next Top Model history), she was eliminated last week.

I fully admit, this show is like crack for me. I’d been rooting for Kayla all season and when she got the boot, I shook my fist at the universe. I spoke to her for AfterEllen.com in the midst of her dizzying flurry of post-elimination interviews and when I discovered that she’s funny, savvy, honest, socially-conscious, and even more awesome than she appeared to be on the show, I stated rooting for her all over again. Then I remembered that she got eliminated and I shook two angry fists at the universe.

AfterEllen.com: Kayla, what is up with you getting eliminated? I’m so mad — I thought you were going to win this thing.
Kayla Ferrel: I know. It’s funny because, you know, the show’s been taped for a while now and we could go back to our real lives and get Facebooks and I can see media, I can see what everybody’s saying and I can see that everybody’s thinking that I’m gonna win. I’m thinking to myself, "Aw crap, I’m about to let them all down." You know what I mean?

AE: Right, you can’t tell anybody.
KF: And yeah, a lot of people are really, really shocked. I’ve done a bunch of interviews today and you’re one of many who said the exact same thing, so that makes me feel good. At least people think that, you know, I should’ve won.

AE: Well, you seemed like you were getting the "winner’s edit." It also seemed that when you got eliminated, you got blindsided with criticisms that no one had heard before right at the last minute.
KF: Yeah. Yeah! That’s actually what my mom was talking about. My mom and I watched the last episode together — my mom’s watched it from start to finish — and I got judged on needing to learn the angles of my face, or something like that? And my mom was like, "Kayla, have they told you that before? Because I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t remember them saying that… " and I’m like, yeah, I don’t remember them saying that, either.

AE: At one point in the elimination, Tyra said you needed to get some confidence, and it seemed that you were the one person besides maybe Chelsey [Hersley, Top 2 finalist] who always had confidence in yourself. Maybe they were supposed to say that to Ann [Ward, Top 2 finalist], who always looks ready to crumble.
KF: Yeah, maybe I woke up one morning and I looked miraculously 6’2" in Tyra’s eyes, and that’s what she saw in front of her when she said that. [laughs] I had a tall day that day.

AE: Ann seems like a sweetheart, but I think the modeling industry is going to eat her alive.
KF: Oh, totally. Totally. When I do interviews, a lot of people say "Who do you think deserves to win?" and I think a lot of people think I’m going to say Ann because she won best photo five weeks in a row or whatever. But outside of the real comfort zone of America’s Next Top Model, there’s a real, hard world of modeling and they eat people like that alive. People that don’t have that confidence.

AE: Do you think you were fairly portrayed on the show? Watching it, do you think, "Yeah, that’s who I am"?
KF: Well, of course there’s a lot of editing that’s involved — I’m sure you know all that. I feel like the character they wanted to see on TV that they wanted me to portray was a role model. They talked to me before about how Kim [Stolz, Cycle 5] was on the show and she was a lesbian, but she never really raised any awareness about it. She never made it out to be any kind of a deal. I know a role model is what they wanted, and that’s what they portrayed me as. That’s fine. I’m fine with people looking up to me, but there’s a whole other bubbly, funny side that people didn’t get to see, so I’m hoping there’s a bloopers episode or something where you can see it.

I was the girl who … if nobody was talking and the mood was horrible and everybody was nervous, I would say something random and everybody would start laughing. When it was down to the Top 4 all the humor was gone, so I was the only hope.

AE: There were hints of that in the last episode with you and Jane (Randall). You guys became friends, right?
KF: Yeah, I’m close with Jane. I talk to her almost every day. Me and Chelsey were really close, too, which is cool. Ann, I tried to talk to a few times, but I never really … me and Ann are so different, I never really connected with her on the level I did with Jane or Chelsey. Well, me and Jane are really different, too. Every time I speak she corrects my grammar, but you know, whatever. [laughs]

AE: I don’t know if you’re aware, but many in the lesbian fandom are into the idea of you and Jane as a couple. You’ve even got one of those couple nicknames — "Jayla."
KF: Yeah, it’s called "Jayla." I’ve heard it. I think it’s funny. You know what’s really funny? They never showed this — and I know it won’t because it wasn’t shot on camera — Jane had come up to me once at the beginning when everyone found out I was a lesbian and was like, "Kayla, I just want you to know something. If I was a lesbian, I would date you first." I just started laughing because she sincerely meant it, like she was trying to say something to let me know she was okay with me being gay and it was just the funniest thing she could have ever said.

AE: That’s a straight girl’s favorite thing to say to her gay friend. "If I were gay, I’d totally kiss you, I swear!"
KF: [laughs] Exactly.

AE: You were the only gay in the house, but it seemed like everybody was cool with you.
KF: Oh yeah. And there were others that, you know, secretly liked me or secretly said things to me that also might not ever get shown. Umm …

AE: I have to say, talking about you being a role model and all that, it’s good because there are so few lesbians on television at all …
KF: Yeah, who do we have? Ellen [DeGeneres]? She’s great, but …

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