Getting into the modeling profession is a cut-throat profession as it is. Imagine being on a reality TV show where your every move is captured, and you’re vying to be an effervescent spokesperson and receive a modeling contract for CoverGirl with 12 other girls. Now, imagine suffering from a syndrome that makes eye contact, socialization, and communication skills difficult. This would be what Heather, a 21 year-old art student from Valparaiso, Indiana, faced during her time on America’s Next Top Model. Although it appeared Heather was often the butt of the joke and bullied before being the ninth girl eliminated from the contest, was Heather exploited and bullied by some of the other girls, or are the viewers once again deceived by editing?
Hi, Heather! Thank you for speaking with me.
Hi! Oh, no problem.
Are you all interviewed out by this time?
I’m pretty much, yeah.
How did you become interested in appearing on America’s Next Top Model?
I became interested after my friend Sammy sat me down and basically, you know, told me, “We’re watching the show until you agree to, you know, sign up.”
What was the process like for you?
I put out an application. I sent it in. I waited a few months, and then they called me back for a private audition that included about 50 other girls, and we waited as everyone said “hi” to Tyra, and [said] why we should be on the show. After that, they told us, “We’ll call you back in about two months, and they did! They were like, “Okay, we need you to sign a lot of papers.”
Are you still signing papers?
Oh, God, no. [Says with mock-exasperation] No, thankfully not.
Had you watched previous cycles of the show?
The only one was the one that my friend sat me down and forced me to watch, which was Caridee. That was pretty much the only show . . . it was the only glimpse I had of what the show possibly could be like.
Was the show as you thought it might be?
Yeah, it was. It was. There were times when they would surprise us, and they were very good at not telling us exactly what was going on.
Keep that surprise element going.
Tell our readers briefly what Asperger’s Syndrome is and how it personally affected you during the show.
Asperger’s is like a very mild version of autism. Normally people with Asperger’s have problems speaking to other people. They have problems socializing. They process words a little bit differently than other people—meaning the meanings of certain words and certain phrases. They’re a bit more to themselves. I’ve been told it’s just they are wired differently.
Do you feel you had a lack of communication skills and that type of stuff, as well as making eye contact while you were on the show?
No so much the eye contact. I had worked on that since I had been diagnosed, so I had already pretty much gotten that, like, gone. So some little problems every once in a while, but I really don’t have anymore since I’ve worked on it. The other things such as talking in front of people and, you know, talking with people in social situations—a little more difficult. I hadn’t worked on that as much, but I had worked on it, so I really didn’t have that much of a problem with it.
Are these interviews a problem for you?
No. Actually, I’ve had so many of them that I’ve gotten used to ‘em.
Were you planning on putting yourself out there as a role model for others who may face difficulties in everyday life, or is that just something that evolved on its own?
I did want to be a role model to girls who had problems in school and weren’t really social butterflies, but I wasn’t expecting to be pegged as “the girl with Asperger’s.” Actually, they asked me. I put it down on my application under disabilities or things that may be like under medical disabilities—or mental, and I put that down since I was being very straight-forward, and it does, you know, count as a disability. They actually just asked me about that, and I really wasn’t intending to bring out the red flag and be like, “Hey, I have Asperger’s!”
Is modeling something you plan on pursuing, and have you contacted anyone or been contacted?
I haven’t been contacted as yet, but I’ve just gotten eliminated, and I’m planning on doing modeling, and I’m going to be going out there and looking for a contract.
How is that going to fit in with your school?
My school? I’m probably going to be taking part-time and some online classes just to be able to be a little more flexible with my time, but I’ve had no problem whatsoever right now with making work and that kind of stuff while I’m doing interviews. It’s not really that difficult to work around.
How tall are you?
I am six foot.
Do you read any of the online sites that discuss the show?
No, actually, I haven’t. I tried not to. I was actually waiting until after the show to really read those.
It seems you have a lot of fans, as such.
Yeah. I’ve been told that, and I’m quite surprised because I wasn’t really expecting that to happen. I was expecting the other girl to have the fans and me being just a blip on the show.
I think it’s turned around the other way.
[Says animatedly] Yeah, I know! It’s really weird.
I think you inspired a lot of people because there are people who don’t fit into that norm of what you think of as a model. So it’s great to see that people who aren’t typically, I don’t know, what, beautiful and just social butterflies can accomplish something really great.
Oh, yeah. It’s been a struggle with like trying to be a social butterfly, but it’s working out pretty fine.
Our readers always like to hear another contestant’s opinion of the other girls in the house. Could you give me a one or two word description or just a brief sentence to describe each girl as I list the girls for you?
I’ll try, but, you know, I actually got along with a lot of them, so it may be . . . but I’ll try.
I’m not really asking for dirt on them. Just what comes to mind when you . . . .
Oh, good! Everyone is always like that, and I’m like I don’t really want to say anything mean about them. They weren’t really mean to me.
Ambreal: Oh, my gosh. She is just a ball of energy. Always singing. She is always singing. Just such a musical woman.
Bianca: She speaks her mind, and she treats everyone equally. She gives everyone the same tough love.
That’s a great way of describing that!
Chantal: She's a big sweetie. She’s like a big sister.
Ebony: Very mysterious. Very to herself. She’s very quiet, but once she really lets go, she’s like everyone else; she’s very sweet. She’s a really vocal girl.
Janet: She will make a great mom and a great model, at that.
Jenah: She’s probably the one girl who I would probably like to have had hang out [with] if I hadn’t gotten on the show. She seems like she would be in the group of people I hang out.
Lisa: She is just very graceful, and she’s a trooper. I swear, she can get through anything. She’s as hard as nails.
Kimberly: Just fun and bubbly. Just the funniest person you’ll ever meet.
Mila: Mila is the most happiest person you’ll ever meet. She’s just so happy. Nothing can get her down. Such a positive girl.
Saleisha: She’s a really . . . oh, my God! She was a really good teacher when we were at the house. She would help us out doing runway, and she really helped me. She really tried to help me out on . . . she gave me the best advice on how to improve my posture on the show.
People will probably be surprised to hear that one!
Sarah: Oh, such a clown. She’s just such a goof. I had so much fun with her. I really missed her when she left.
Victoria: Smart and humble. She was very humble at the house, and she was such a sweet girl.
Yourself (Heather): Myself? I’m a geek.
Just a plain geek? Nothing more?
Yeah, just lanky and geeky!
Who did you feel was your greatest competition?
Actually, for the longest time at the house, I didn’t see the girls as competition. I really didn’t see while I was there as a competition, but more of a learning experience. So, it’s really hard to say that because, you know, I really didn’t see any of them as competition. I just learned from each other, and I think that is why I was able to get along with the girls so much because they knew that I wasn’t just going to come up and backstab them.
Do you think the other girls felt threatened by you because you were winning so many challenges and things like that?
I wasn’t really winning that many challenges, but I was doing pretty good at the photo-shoots, so it may be possible, but I really didn’t see it too much. Bianca did say, you know, that she was kind of frustrated that no matter what I did that the panel loved it. It does frustrate me because once they see you as competition, they don’t trust you as much.
What were you thoughts finding out you had been winning CoverGirl of the week every single week?
I was surprised. Completely. I was not expecting anything like this. I was expecting me to be on like one week, and then all the other girls be like that, and Saleisha getting more than me.
Do you feel you received special treatment throughout the course of the show from the judges?
You seemed to be quite encouraging to the other girls. Did you get the sense that they in turn were encouraging you?
Yeah! They really were. They were like seeing me as kind of a little sister.
After watching the show and seeing the other girls’ confessionals, did your opinion change about any of them?
Are you saying they weren’t mean or bullies to you?
They were not mean or bullying to me. In fact, Jenah , if there was anyone bullying me, Jenah would like pep up and be like, “Hey, wait a minute.” All the girls are really not into the bullying kind of thing.
You were involved with a couple incidents with the other girls--specifically the shower and the bed. Were those things just blown out of proportion by either side?
It was a little bit blown out of proportion. Not only that, but I was extremely tired. It was all coming out at once.
Would you say editing played a role in that?
Yeah, a little bit. I didn’t even really watch it that much, but I did live through it, and I have a pretty good idea how they edited it.
Do you feel you were portrayed accurately on the show?
I was portrayed pretty accurately on the show. I wasn’t as to myself, though. I did actually hang around the girls a lot. I was a little disappointed how they portrayed the other girls, though, as if they were being mean to me. Actually, in fact, if they ever had a problem with me and they needed to talk to me, they would come up and talk to me and bring up the problem to me. In fact, during the first episode, both times when the girls were supposedly talking behind my back, they actually talked to me like a few seconds after. They edited it, like, they didn’t show the conversations I had with them
So, I guess I don’t even have to ask you any questions about who was the most difficult. It sounds as though you got along with everyone.
Let’s talk about the go-sees. What caused your difficulties with finding the locations since you had maps, addresses, and a translator?
Even though we had a map and translation, the way they had the addresses was totally different like how it is in America, so I got very lost. That and my translator . . . the taxi actually did not park right in front of the building. He parked in an alleyway, so I was kind of like looking around, and I was really actually expecting a smaller building instead of a hotel, so that kind of didn’t help out. That and also the hotel did not have its number on it.
Could your cabbie or translator not just point you to the specific place?
They were told to not help out. We were really on our own. They wanted all the girls to have a fair chance, so we were not allowed to have any help from the crew or the translator.
Are you telling us it is a little more difficult finding an address in China as opposed to locating someplace in Indiana?
A little bit. Yeah.
How did your cab just disappear? Did it disappear or were you just totally lost?
They had to keep on going. The traffic was getting really bad at the time I was at where I was wandering around and lost my cab, so they had to keep on going and look for a parking spot. Of course, they didn’t tell me where the parking spot was going to be because they were looking for it, so I went up and did my . . . like went to look for the place, and once I found out I probably wasn’t going to be able to find it and be on time, I just went back to look for my cab, and it was nowhere to be. So, I really didn’t have any idea where it would be.
Could you have just gone back with Jenah in her cab since you ran into her?
Actually, that would have qualified as the other girls helping me out. I believe that counts as being disqualified. I really do believe if we wouldn’t have been disqualified, the other girls would have helped me out a lot more.
You made it to one go-see. What kind of feedback did you get from that designer?
The designer really liked me. She said my look was really for her dresses—I was perfect for her dresses, and I fit perfectly in her dresses, actually. It was really good feedback.
Did she like your walk?
You know, she said that I needed work, but she would work with me on that one.
I know you got dinged sometimes for your posture and things like that.
I know. I know. I’m actually working on my posture. I found out after watching the show that the girls had a point.
What do you think you will be most remembered for on the show?
For being a normal girl but still doing something extraordinary.
From your perspective, what was your greatest accomplishment either modeling or in your personal growth throughout the show?
The biggest accomplishment? Being able to talk a lot better in front of people. I actually do have a very big problem with that—that and inserting myself in social situations.
Has that carried through after the show?
What was you favorite photo-shoot?
My favorite photo-shoot was the rock climbing.
Was that also your favorite picture?
It was between that one—the rock climbing and the weeds. That was really fun.
Who would you like to see win America’s Next Top Model?
Aw, geez. That’s a hard one. I have a hard time choosing between anything. That’s like whenever someone asks me my favorite color, I can’t tell them because, honestly, I can’t choose.
That’s a common thing.
Yeah. Actually, I’d be happy if any of the girls won. Honestly, I want all of them to succeed. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s honest.
Aren’t you [those with Asperger's] supposed to be honest? Isn’t that part of this syndrome—that you can’t lie—you speak your mind, and, in society, we can tell the little white lies, and you just speak what’s true.
Um huh. We’re pretty honest.
Any final thoughts you’d like to leave with our readers or something we don’t know about you?
I really can’t actually think of anything. They showed a lot of me on the show, so they did a pretty good job of showing who I am.
You had a lot of confessionals on the show, and you really displayed a good sense of humor, and that kind of surprised me because I thought you were supposed to have trouble with the socialization aspect and the communication skills, but you seemed pretty comfortable.
Yeah, I have been actually working on that. I guess my sense of humor has actually improved and having a lot more people get it.
I got it, but I’m used to dry sense of humor people.
Oh, yeah! When it comes to my humor, it’s kind of dry, yeah.
I know you have things to do, and I really appreciate your doing this with me today.
Oh, no problem! I had a good time.
I’d just like to congratulate you for putting yourself out there, Heather, and making the top five of America’s Next Top Model, and I want to wish you lots of good luck in whatever you choose to pursue.
Why, thank you!
Many thanks to THE CW and Heather for this interview opportunity!
Photo Credit: THE CW