Sara Albert, America's Next Top Model
Among the characters — and they are characters — that America's Next Top Model has introduced to us this season are all of our old, familiar favorites: the bumpkin (Kathy), the dimwit (Gina), the sexpot (Kari), the girl next door (Mollie Sue) and the psycho (no comment). But the one we'd most likely invite to our backyard barbecue would have to be last week's eliminee — call her "the sweetheart" — Sara Albert. After being asked to audition while shopping at a local mall, the 6'1" Californian proved herself to be a reality-TV anomaly: She came off real. Not only that, she seemed nice without being boring, smart without being condescending, pretty without... OK, you get the idea, the 22-year-old makes a great impression. So before tonight's finale (8 pm/ET on UPN), read her thoughts on copycats, elephants and the wildest animal of all — Jade!

TVGuide.com: Before we get started, I want to make sure  that you're in a good mood. You know, I've been attacked by models before, and not in the fun way.
Sara Albert:
[Laughs] Yeah, I heard it got a little bit saucy with Furonda! I promise not to bite your head off... unless you give me good reason!

TVGuide.com: I'll try to ask only relevant questions for a change. Now then, let's talk about your Betty Grable-esque discovery. The other girls acted as if it was a crime to be spotted by a talent scout at the mall.
Sara:
I think it is! It's like models don't get discovered in malls or something. Or it makes them really not want to be [a model]. Watching the show on TV has been strange for me because I didn't know how central a part of my character that would be. I counted and in the last episode, [how I was discovered] was mentioned about 15 times.

TVGuide.com: Don't knock it — you could end up doing a lot of catalog work after that!
Sara:
[Laughs] Who knows? But being discovered in the mall was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it got me in the door, but from that point on I had to pretty much defend the fact that I wanted to be there despite the fact that I never gave anyone any reason to think otherwise.

TVGuide.com: You tried as hard as any of the rest of them, wherever they came from.
Sara:
Yeah! I felt as if I was probably one of the hardest-working girls in the house, because I didn't know what I was doing! I had to work harder just to keep pace.

TVGuide.com: When you were approached at the mall, did you know it was legitimate, or did you think, "Oh, this is a scam. They want me to do Girls Gone Wild."
Sara:
At first I had no idea what this random woman was talking about. She came up to me and asked if I was lost. I looked at her as if to say, "You're crazy. I'm in a mall. Where are you?" But then she told me she was from Top Model. She was very nice and said, "Just come and try out. It'll only take 15 minutes." It was one of those things where you think at the time, "Oh, this is funny. I have to do this. It's obviously not going to go anywhere." Two weeks later, I was in Los Angeles for the semifinals, and a couple of weeks after that I was on a reality-TV show! It was so strange how fast and unexpected this whole experience was.

TVGuide.com: You were planning on a career in law. How did your parents react to the news that you were going to take a little time off to walk the runway?
Sara:
Well, to clarify that one point, which also was brought up in the last episode — how I was "almost a lawyer" — I don't know how that could be when I haven't taken the LSATs or gone to law school.

TVGuide.com: Apparently, you're just that good.
Sara:
I guess so. I should go out and take the bar exam right now! No, I graduated from Georgetown last year, and law school was definitely one of the things I was considering. I felt that my life could go in a million different directions. As for my parents, I know they would be supportive of everything I do. They know that they raised me right and I can make my own decisions. But when I told them [about Top Model], they were definitely a little apprehensive. For a long time, they tried to keep me out of modeling because they didn't want my identity to be about what was on the exterior. But this is the first time in my life that I have a strong enough sense of self where I can do this and come out of it unscathed.

TVGuide.com: Had you tried to get into modeling before?
Sara:
Never really seriously. I was approached by a couple of people in the past....

TVGuide.com: In malls?
Sara:
[Laughs] You bet! But it was the sort of thing where I didn't really know how to get into it, and I was a little bit wary of people trying to rip me off, so I'd never really considered it. Also, I've always had a lot of commitments to other areas in my life — like my education and the fact that I've always been an athlete, so I have a commitment to my team — so this was really the first time in my life when I could realistically go after it.

TVGuide.com: Now that you have modeling on top of those million other options in life, is it something you're going to pursue?
Sara:
You know, I think I am going to. I was actually really excited for the episode to air, because I really want to see how far my potential can take me. [Contestants aren't allowed to seek or accept modeling work until after their elimination episode has aired.] I didn't know that I was going to like modeling as much as I do. So I hope that finally puts those "Does she really have a passion for this?" questions to rest!

TVGuide.com: So there! Besides, you can be a lawyer at 60. There probably won't be quite as much demand for you then as a model.
Sara:
Exactly! I feel like this is a time-sensitive opportunity that I would be crazy not to take. And I do have a great base of education. I have a degree that I can fall back on if in six months, five years or 10 years this doesn't work out. I'm grateful for that.

TVGuide.com: Do you think too much was made of the fact that you copied Joanie's elephant pose?
Sara:
I was kind of surprised when I heard Joanie say, "She doesn't deserve to be here." By that point in time, I thought that Joanie and I had started to become friends, so it kinda stung. But Joanie and I are really good friends — we've gotten a lot closer since we finished the show — so I don't have any hard feelings about anything she said. She had those feelings then, and that's that. Anyway, to answer your question: The whole "copycat" thing is kind of frustrating for me because I did come into this competition with no experience and a very steep learning curve. I had to absorb as much as I could in a very short period of time, and part of that was drawing from other people and trying to make it my own. In that one instance with the elephant, I got caught up in the fact that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, "Wow, that pose looks like fun!" So I did try one pose that Joanie had done before me, which was standing on the elephant's leg. But I only did it for a very short time. And at the end of the day, the picture that the judges chose was me doing my own pose. And let's be honest — how many poses can you do on an elephant?

TVGuide.com: I was surprised that Tyra came down on you for it when she's up there teaching you what expressions to make and teaching you to recognize the difference between a good pose and a bad pose. So if you see a good pose, you're not supposed to try it...?
Sara:
Yeah! And I was the last model to be shot that day, so if I didn't do any of the poses that the other girls had done, I would have just been left there standing on the elephant without anything to do! So the whole copycat label frustrated me because it took away from everything else that I did. It makes it sound like somehow none of the pictures I'd done throughout the competition were mine.

TVGuide.com: The judges made a big deal about your height, too. I didn't think there was such a thing as "too tall" for a model!
Sara:
I thought that, too, but now I know. But I don't think they told me that I was necessarily too tall — [it was] more that I didn't know how to use my height.

TVGuide.com: OK, I saved the best question for last. Are you ready?
Sara:
Bring it on.

TVGuide.com: What's it like being in a room with Jade? Is it hard not just to laugh in her face?
Sara:
[Laughs] Well, there was lots of laughing. You couldn't help it! She is an incredible person. And you know what? Whenever I've been recognized, people say, "Oh, you're Sara from Top Model!" And the next thing out of their mouths is always, "Is that how Jade really is?" or, "When is she getting kicked off?" And you know what? That in itself is an amazing quality. People love to love her, they love to hate her, but they're still tuning in to see her. That shows what a big personality she has.

TVGuide.com: A big something, anyway.
Sara:
[Laughs] I mean, you've got to give her credit. She has undeniable confidence and a sense of self. That girl is not making any apologies for what she is, no matter how many times I was absolutely doing triple-takes at what she said. "Did you really just say that?" But at the end of the day, you have to just say, "That's Jade," and love her for it.

TVGuide.com: I still can't figure out if her sense of self — if that's what you want to call it — is enviable or scary.
Sara:
It's both, to be truthful. I've never met anyone like her in my life. I do respect her.

TVGuide.com: So Top Model taught you a valuable lesson: Take a little bit of Jade into every modeling audition!
Sara:
Exactly! We could all learn a little bit from the challenge [in which we were criticized by an actor posing as a potential client], where Jade said, "Yes, I am amazing!" That's respectable. She's quite a character. There were very, very, very unique girls in the house, and I feel lucky that I got to meet all of them.

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