BY MICHAEL STOREY

When asked details about her recent "reality" show experience in Los Angeles, Krisi Ballentine bats her baby blues behind long blond bangs and tries her best to be coy.

The Monticello native was one of a dozen undiscovered models, ages 19 to 27, chosen to live in a mansion and compete for the career-changing grand prize on NBC’s new unscripted series, The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search.

The second of the six episodes airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday. In last week’s premiere, Ballentine was shown making the first cut which reduced the 12 to "the great eight." At stake for the winner is a million-dollar modeling contract with Next Model Management and a seven-page layout in Sports Illustrated’sannual swimsuit issue. The series finished taping a couple of months ago, so here’s how it will unfold. In each episode, a panel of three judges will eliminate one or more of the contenders until only two remain. The finalists have already shot their magazine layouts "at an exotic location," but viewers will decide which model’s photos will be used in the March swimsuit issue. Although nobody knows who will win, keeping the two finalists a secret is a challenge. Ballentine can’t be blamed for being slippery with her answers. When the taping was finished, she and the other models had to practically sign their lives away, swearing secrecy concerning anything that might give away the show’s surprises. "I had to sign a hugecontract — $500,000 [penalty] — if I leak details that would ruin it," Ballentine said in a recent interview in Little Rock. She thought a moment and added, "But you know what’s funny?" Then she thought again, "Oh my gosh. I can’t talk about that. I almost spill the beans all the time. I gotta catch myself. I’d love to talk about it so bad, and we all do, but we can’t."

‘ HOLDING BACK ’ A quick call to the show’s publicist in Los Angeles reassured Ballentine she could talk about some things. She seemed relieved because she had been "like totally holding back." "All these girls were sweethearts," Ballentine said of the other models, but she also recognized that casting directors want a little built-in drama. They don’t want 12 "sweethearts" all on one show. They asked Ballentine which role she believed might best suit her personality.

Initially, Ballentine thought she might be cast as "the mediator," but NBC publicity has pegged the perky former cheerleader as the "Southern belle," " the girl next door, "and" every guy’s dream girl. "

Ballentine recalled," They asked me, ‘Are you as innocent as you seem?’ and I told them, ‘That could be my strategy.’ "

Ballentine also said the competition began for her" the night I found out I was going to Los Angeles. "But did she arrive in Hollywood with some sort of solid plan to wow the judges and psyche out the other girls?

" My strategy was to do my best and give my all, "Ballentine said." And have faith and hope that I will win as well as make friends. "

What other tidbits could Ballentine divulge? There’s always the vital statistics.

She’s single, 23 years old, 107 pounds, 35-25-35 and, according to the contradictory NBC publicity, either 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8." Let’s just say 5-foot-10, "Ballentine said, laughing.

CAREER PLANS Ballentine is living in Little Rock and has a degree in speech communication from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She hopes one day to go to graduate school to study journalism or speech pathology." I’m not really sure yet, "she said of long-range plans." I’m in transition and trying to find my way. It’s all about being happy. "Both her parents are dead, but Ballentine has sisters in Chicago and Bryant, cousins and an aunt in Warren, and a muchloved grandmother, Shirley Knight, in Monticello. Ballentine calls her grandmother her idol because," She’s very old-fashioned and always tried to teach us right from wrong. "Viewers who go to the show’s Web site at www. nbc. com will be able to download photos and videos, learn a little background on each contestant and then, in an interactive poll, rate the models on physique, style and personality. At last check, Ballentine was No. 1 witth an 8.2 rating." Remind everyone to vote for me, "Ballentine said, flashing a disarming smile. Whether she wins or not, is Ballentine ready for all the attention the show’s exposure will bring?" I’m ready! "she said, her face lighting up." It’s go time! You never know. Whatever is meant to be will be. But it was a positive experience. Absolutely. It was the best experience of my life. "
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