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.
AE: Right, you can’t tell anybody.
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.
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.
AE: Ann seems like a sweetheart, but I think the modeling industry is going to eat her alive.
AE: Do you think you were fairly portrayed on the show? Watching it, do you think, “Yeah, that’s who I am”?
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?
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.”
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!”
AE: You were the only gay in the house, but it seemed like everybody was cool with you.
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 …