Poor Mercedes Scelba-Shorte
. This 21-year-old from Valencia, Calif., went from "cutesy mall girl" to fierce fashionista on America's Next Top Model
. She soldiered on to the final two, despite the exhaustion of facing catty competitors, long hours and
a lupus diagnosis. In the runway showdown with Yoanna House
, Miss Mercedes worked that catwalk J.Lo
-style. Yet Yoanna was chosen by Tyra Banks
& Co., spurring surprised TV Guide Online readers to send us lotsa
grumpy e-mail. Here, we talk to the Model
wannabe who many feel should have won.
TV Guide Online: Our readers are bummed you lost.
Mercedes: Thanks. I'm bummed, too.
TVGO: With your feisty facial expressions and booty-swingin' on the runway, you reminded us of J.Lo.
Mercedes: Oh, that's so funny! And I'm not even Latin.
TVGO: You're not?
Mercedes: I grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood and I speak a little bit of Spanish, but I'm black and white.
TVGO: We lost count how many times you called Yoanna a "bitch" in the finale. Whassup with that?
Mercedes: When I was at the finale screening party, I didn't see most of the show, but everyone's asking me about that today! To tell you the truth, at that time and place, it was the competition ending and this was the biggest thing in my life. I had to throw myself into it and just psych myself up. It was personal between me and the camera. It's not like I'm calling Yoanna a bitch to her face.
Mercedes: [Sheepishly] Yeah, well, in a way it is... She was cool. We both watched it and we were laughing. People who know my personality know I'm not like that.
TVGO: You did sound tougher than usual. Were you channeling Camille?
Mercedes: I know! All of a sudden, I'm like this little catty bitch at the end. Camille even said to me, "Oh, so you're the new diva?" I don't think so.
TVGO: Why do you think the judges chose Yoanna?
Mercedes: I know Yoanna has the whole classic beauty look, and I was more commercial. But I showed the judges that I was edgy and could really rule the runway. They made their choice for their own reasons.
TVGO: Yoanna reminds us of the first Top Model winner, Adrianne. She's a white girl with symmetrical features. Did she fit the typical image more?
Mercedes: I'm so glad you said that. If you look at the cover of Vogue or Cosmopolitan, there aren't any type of minorities, unless it's Cosmopolitan Latina. I honestly see myself doing that! We're living in the melting pot of America, and there's not an African-American or Latin on the covers of these type of magazines. What's wrong with this picture?
TVGO: The show transformed you from cute to hot. Were you surprised to see yourself that way?
Mercedes: I'm cute when I get nervous — and I was nervous a lot on the show. But in real life, I like being a woman and wearing sexy clothes. If you see me going out to a nightclub, I'm not wearing two ponytails and Britney Spears' miniskirt. So it was fun when they transformed me, but it was nothing that's too far-fetched from home.
TVGO: It looked hard to do Top Model while struggling with lupus.
Mercedes: Considering I was newly diagnosed with it, I didn't know how to handle it. I just tried to stay positive and that's the most important thing. I can't say I'm healthy every day — I go through my aches and pains — but I want people with disabilities and illnesses to know they can do it. Yes, I was tired and lethargic sometimes, but the drive inside will not let me fail!
TVGO: What's next for you? We know the Top Model girls were all under contract not to seek work until after the show finished airing...
Mercedes: We have to wait two weeks to see if IMG will take us. IMG has the first option on the Model contestants. If that doesn't happen for me, I'll go to New York and find a modeling agency. I'll also pursue acting since that's my dream since I was a little girl.