Ask any America's Next Top Model loyalist, and we'll tell you: One of this UPN guilty pleasure's more innocent delights is watching wallflowers blossom. That said, this season's shrinking violet, 21-year-old Kahlen Rondot, planted herself extra-firmly in our hearts by maintaining her off-duty timidity even as she learned how to be ferocious in front of the camera. In the end, the Oklahoman finished second to picture-perfect Naima Mora, but at least she came out ahead of pushy Keenyah Hill, the snack-happy harpy who literally shoved her out of the way during a go-see competition. Revenge is sweet, but Kahlen — trust us — is even sweeter. Read on and see for yourself.
TVGuide.com: You seemed more than a little uncomfortable in your skin, so what on earth drew you to modeling?
Kahlen Rondot: My friends and I used to watch the Miss America pageant with my grandmother, and I always wanted to be one of those beautiful girls. I grew up kind of being the tomboy, and I like to prove people wrong. If there's something people say I can't do, of course I'm going to try it just to see if I can prove them wrong. A lot of people didn't think I could do this, which made it a real challenge for me.
Kahlen: I don't really rub it in their faces, but yes, I do like it. People come up and they're like, "Oh, my god, I'm so proud of you!" I'm like, "What? What are you talking about?" TVG: Yeah, you're thinking, "Six weeks ago, you said I couldn't do it!"
Kahlen: Exactly. TVG: You may not have gone home with the Top Model title, but you did seem to leave with a raised confidence level.
Kahlen: Absolutely. That was one of my biggest challenges throughout the competition — believing in myself. I struggled with my confidence, but then I realized toward the end of the show that if I didn't believe in myself, how could I expect others to believe in me? So that's something I had to change, and now, all of a sudden, I'm a lot more comfortable in my skin. TVG: That's a great, unexpected side effect of having done reality TV!
Kahlen: Yeah, people ask how it was, and I say, "Kind of like group therapy." TVG: You needed it — you seemed mortified to be posing in bed with a male model. Have you gotten more relaxed with the opposite sex?
Kahlen: It's still the same, really. I'm moving to New York in a week, but right now I'm back in Oklahoma, and it's still kind of the same, 'cause everybody already knows me here. It's kind of like, "Oh, it's Kahlen; it's no big deal." But I'm also a lot more confident now, so if I were put in that situation again [with a half-naked hunk], I probably wouldn't turn beet-red and break out in hives like I did! TVG: How satisfying was it for you to have gone farther than Keenyah, who was so rude to you?
Kahlen: Well, I'm very proud of making it as far as I did. I think Naima deserved it; she was very focused, she tries hard and always gives 110 percent. I love her to death, and there's nobody else I would have wanted to be in the final two with. With Keenyah, it was kind of funny, because even though she takes amazing photos and she's... [Pauses] I don't know if I can... I just.... [Reluctantly] It felt great to beat Keenyah just because for me to make it to that spot, it meant they were saying, "We think you have more modeling potential than she does." TVG: And she played dirty! So of course you'd want to do better than the girl who screwed you!
Kahlen: Right, right. I felt a little bit like that. And when it was the final three and it came down to me and Keenyah, I was scared that I was going home, because she's a very confident girl. But I felt that it got the best of her that night. She was too confident in herself. And once it was [revealed that I was staying], she may have been bitter about it, but in the end, I think the person who deserved it went on. TVG: Which was scarier — posing with an alligator or being judged by Janice Dickinson?
Kahlen: [Laughs] I absolutely love Janice! The alligator was probably scarier than Janice, just because I fell on him. What I like about Janice is that she's so real. She just gives it to you! The way you see her on TV is the way she is off and on camera. She's just crazy. But her opinions meant a lot to me because she was honest. Another thing is that Janice Dickinson liked me, and from past seasons, I've noticed that the girls Janice has liked may not win, but they are always working. TVG: That's a good omen! And heck, since you weigh, what, 89 lbs., the alligator didn't even seem to notice that you had fallen on it!
Kahlen: [Laughs] I got up and realized that it didn't even move. I thought, "Hmmm, maybe he's on a lot of drugs." After that, I wasn't as scared. TVG: Earlier in that episode, you also kissed a bear. What was that like?
Kahlen: Being in Africa, we encountered so many animals! When Tyra [Banks] came out and she had those lions running behind us to tell us we were going to Africa, I thought she was serious and we'd have to pose with them! I was like, "Geez, more animals? Can't we just do a normal photo shoot?" But it was fun. I liked the alligator one a lot. I don't know if I would have liked posing with crocodiles. TVG: You're dodging the bear question.
Kahlen: The bear was OK, but the drool really grossed me out!