On last week’s episode of America’s Next Top Model, we watched as Cassandra willingly sacrificed her flowing locks up on the altar of Tyra with only a few tears shed. But after a few days with the spiky Bart Simpson look, Cassandra dug her heels into the ground and refused to budge when the show wanted to cut her hair just a teensy bit more. Perhaps it was all the “Miss Pageant Beauty Queen” digs that caused Cassandra to grow a backbone, or maybe she thought that if she gave in on the Mia Farrow cut they would be giving her a Sinead O'Connor hairdo next – but the smiling beauty queen chose to leave the competition rather than give Tyra & Co. even one more inch. In this interview, she answers the burning question: what’s one more inch, anyhow?
Thank you for speaking with me this afternoon, Cassandra. Well, did you think you would be leaving the competition so soon?
No, I didn’t know I was going to leave so soon, but I did what I had to do, I don’t regret my decision.
I have to ask you the question everyone wants to know: why did you refuse to budge on that last haircut?
Right. Well, the haircut was kind of like the last straw, it was the icing on the cake. They were trying to change my style, my personality, and my attitude as part of the complete makeover. It wasn’t even about my physical appearance anymore, it was about my whole persona. I wasn’t willing to change for what was, in my opinion, the worse in order to pursue this. I always told myself that I would never change for anybody. I never have, and I never will. So, if that means I’m not going to have success on the show, then in the long run that’s okay with me.
What would you say to those who would tell you that “a model changes their look according to what the client wants”?
I understand that models change their physical appearance, but they were also trying to change me - you know, they said I couldn’t act so proper and classy anymore, I had to be kind of rude and edgy and punk and slouchy. I just don’t think that’s a good thing. And they said I couldn’t dress the way I wanted to anymore. No more pink, no more frills. They said I had to wear black, and be very edgy and kind of funky. And that’s not my style at all. I think your appearance is your personal expression, and if you can’t express yourself the way you feel, you’re trapped in this box and you’re not comfortable with yourself. At the end of the day you can’t go home and look in the mirror and say, “Okay, I’m back to me.” They wanted me to portray this image 24/7, and it wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I wanted to stay on the show, but I wanted to be myself.
What did you think of the personal style they assigned to you (“mod”)? Now that you’ve left the show, have you had a chance to go and look a little more at what they meant by “mod”?
You know, I did, but after I left the show I didn’t care so much. (Laughs.) The example they kept giving me was a big heavy trenchcoat paired with knee-high boots. And I was like, what am I going to do wearing a trenchcoat when it’s 90 degrees outside? I asked them, “What are my other options?” I tried to show them what I thought was mod, and they would say, “That’s more 70's mod; you need to be mod today.” When I kept asking them what that was, they weren’t very helpful. They weren’t telling me what to wear, they just kept showing me pictures of trenchcoats. So I was very confused.
Do you think they were trying to fashion you into a Twiggy, with the short hair, the mod look?
I’ve heard that, but see - they said that her look was “mod 60's”, and I needed to be “mod 2000"! (Laughs.) So again, I was just very confused. They may have been trying to model me after Twiggy, I don’t know. It didn’t work out for me, because I didn’t really know what they were going for.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m very conservative and traditional. I feel I can be trendy but also be conservative. I like to dress little girly – I like wearing pink and sparkles and ribbons and all that. So when they told me I couldn’t do that, it was very disheartening because that’s my whole wardrobe. I’m also a very casual person, I like being comfortable.
Did you watch previous cycles of the show?
The only cycle I had seen from start to finish was Cycle 1, because I was in high school and saw them regularly. When I was in college, I saw a good amount of Cycle 4, and only parts of Cycle 2 and 3.
So you knew there would be a makeover, then. What did you think they would change about your look?
I knew that they were going to change my hair, and I was okay with that. But in my opinion the way they were changing my look - I didn’t think the haircut was flattering at all. To this day, I still get people saying, “Blonde? What were they thinking?” I have gotten a lot of compliments on the short hair, so I mean, I guess there’s a disagreement there, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s into the blonde hair.
When you watched the show, were you happy with the way you came across?
Not so much, but it could have been worse. I really wish they would have shown more of why I left the show, and less of the haircut. It really came across as, “I’m not cutting my hair, I’m going home.” And that’s not how it was at all! I did want to stay, and I did want to get a chance to talk to the panel and say look, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. But they didn’t give me that opportunity, they focused solely on the hair thing. I really wished they showed more of how they were trying to change my personality and my style, because that’s what it really was about.
They didn’t really show you having an argument with Jay, they just went from you saying you wouldn’t go through with the haircut to Jay asking you to leave the set. Did you have a long discussion with him at that point?
Yes. We had a long conversation and we went back and forth for a long time. Somebody referred to it as “the battle of the egos.” (Laughs.) That wasn’t exactly it, but I am very strong-willed and I stand my ground, and when I want this or that I will stick to my guns. When it comes to trying to change me as a person, I’m saying, “No!” We did have a long conversation about it and he didn’t make me feel any better. He was kind of justifying all my reasons for leaving, actually.
Would you try to do beauty pageants with the new short hair, since you’ve gotten compliments on the cut?
I am going to still do beauty pageants, but I’m growing out my hair. I probably won’t let it get as long as it was, but I am going to grow it longer. I’ll probably keep it around shoulder length.
Were you close to anyone in the house?
I really liked Bre, I really liked Sarah a lot. And Nik and Nicole.
Who was your biggest competition?
I think Nik, she just seems to be coming off so strong in each of the challenges. She was just consistently strong. There were some girls who looked good one week and not so good the next, but she was consistent, and I think that will take her far from what I saw.
How far would you have gotten if you had stayed in the competition?
I think I would have made it pretty far. I thought I was doing pretty well with the photoshoots and the challenges. You know, I didn’t win any challenges...but I thought I did well, so I think I could have got pretty far. This competition is so all over the place and unpredictable that it’s hard to say something like, “I definitely would have won.”
Okay, I’m going to read off the names of your competitors, and ask you to give your impression of them in one or two words:
Ashley - fun, carefree.
Bre - very down to earth, very real.
Coryn - shy but driven.
Diane - pass!
Ebony - immature.
Jayla - wild!
Kim - independent and strong-willed.
Kyle - very cute, very calm and carefree.
Lisa - overconfident.
Nicole - I liked her a lot!
Nik - very sophisticated and committed.
Sarah - very fun, very light-hearted.
What did you think of Kim and Sarah?
(Laughs.) Um, I don’t know, I was just there staying there having fun, I didn’t really – I didn’t care what they were doing, it wasn’t a big deal to me.
Who annoyed you in the house the most?
Well, I didn’t have any major conflicts with anybody, but I think Lisa was a little overconfident at times, and I would say Ebony had some growing up to do – a lot of growing up to do. No one really bothered me to the point of pulling my hair out. I think I got along with everybody.
What was the hardest photoshoot?
I would say the shoot on the farm was pretty hard, because Jay would say, “Do this, do that,” but he wouldn’t give as much direction as I would have liked. He would say, “Slouch!” and I would, but then he would just say I wasn’t slouching enough. It was really hard for me to understand what he was trying to tell me. Instead of elaborating, he would repeat what he had already said.
What was your favorite photo?
I love the superhero shoot, that was so much fun.
You stated on the show that you were returning to the Miss USA pageant, but do you also want to continue modeling?
I wouldn’t say I’ve left modeling completely. I have one year of school left, I’m a senior, and I really want to get that completed so that whatever I do I can have a degree to fall back on. Education is really important in my family.
What did you learn during this experience?
Definitely to stay myself. It was kind of a glimpse into a different industry, a different world, and it was an industry where they wanted to change everything about you. I’m sure this isn’t the only industry that does that, so no matter where I go, what I do, I want to remain true to myself.
Do you read the internet sites to see what people are saying about you?
No, not at all. (Laughs.) Honestly, I don’t need to read other people’s opinions to form an opinion about myself, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. No matter what, people are never going to agree. I know there are going to be people that love me or hate me. I’ve talked to people who have said, “You stuck to your guns, you go girl!” and others have said, “I can’t believe you didn’t cut your hair!” Not everyone is going to understand, and they’re entitled to your opinion.
Thank you for talking to me today, Cassandra!
A big thanks to Cassandra for speaking with me today, and to UPN for granting the interview.