Second chances are always big hits in the world of reality TV, so it should come as no surprise that Jaslene Gonzalez was anointed America's Next Top Model No. 8 after failing to make the final 13 in Cycle 7. It's also no surprise because the 20-year-old Chicagoan — dubbed "Cha-cha Diva" by "Miss" J. Alexander — never took a bad photo and was never in the bottom two in the competition. TVGuide.com caught up with the Janice Dickinson look-alike the day after her win was announced to find out what it's like to be the first Latina Top Model, why she didn't win it the first time 'round and whether she really was raised by a pack of drag queens.
TVGuide.com: Congratulations! How hard has it been to keep this a secret for so long?
Jaslene Gonzalez: It was very hard! I have such a big family, and the minute I got back everybody wanted to know what happened. I actually lied to them and told them I lost. It's hard for me to keep a secret.
TVGuide.com: So you made it as far as the first hour of the Cycle 7 premiere, but you were eliminated before the final 13. Why do you think that was?
Jaslene: It's something personal that I spoke about to them. It's something that wasn't aired.... There were a lot of things I had to fix, personal things. I just needed to ground myself, and that's exactly what I did. I went home, I stayed with my family, I took some therapy, and I just tried to get myself together.
TVGuide.com: When did you first decide you wanted to be a model?
Jaslene: Since the age of 14, I realized I had a passion for modeling. I was doing community work, local fashion shows at home. I really loved it and felt good doing it.
TVGuide.com: Had you seen the show before you auditioned?
Jaslene: I was a huge fan! I used to sit on the couch with my mother and we used to watch different cycles. I said, "Mom, I want to be the first Latina in there to win!"
TVGuide.com: Wait, you have a mother? Then what did you mean when you told the judges you were "basically raised by a bunch of drag queens"?
Jaslene: I was a dancer for 12 years; I used to do salsa, merengue, bachata, hip-hop. Most of the dancers in my group were gay, so I basically grew up with a bunch of queens.
TVGuide.com: Ah, I see. What surprised you about being on the show?
Jaslene: The downtime, how the cameras are in your face all the time, and yet the camera guys are not allowed to talk to you. It was weird.
TVGuide.com: Who did you get along with best in the house?
Jaslene: Dionne and Cassandra were my closest friends.
TVGuide.com: Was Renee really as hard to get along with as it seemed on the show?
Jaslene: Renee is who she is. It wasn't hard for me to get along with her because I really didn't even acknowledge her. Obviously, I wasn't going to surround myself with that type of attitude.
TVGuide.com: Why did you, Dionne and Renee gang up on Natasha toward the end of the competition?
Jaslene: There were a lot of things we found a little odd with her. Her personality was weird. When she would find something out, she overreacted with a lot of things. We felt like she was lying about some stuff. We actually came to a conclusion [later] that that's who Natasha really is, especially when we did our Us Weekly photo shoot. We just had a misunderstanding with her. We got over it. When you're in a competition, you start bringing things up, and you'll probably knock a girl down here and there. But Natasha is a beautiful person, and we do admire her.
TVGuide.com: Did you have a favorite shoot?
Jaslene: My favorite shoot was "the weirdo," with the gothic look at the high school. It came out so well, and I just loved it.
TVGuide.com: When you were such a clear front-runner in the beginning, did the girls treat you differently?
Jaslene: No. I had all of them on their tippy-toes from the beginning.
TVGuide.com: What happened to make you start to slip toward the middle of the show?
Jaslene: At that point, I think I was mentally a little bit disturbed. I guess my mind wasn't right. We were going through so much.
TVGuide.com: Are you at all worried that being America's Next Top Model will hurt your chances to do high-fashion work?
Jaslene: No. If anything, it just shows versatility that I can do commercial and I can do editorial. I don't think anybody would be mad at me for that.
TVGuide.com: What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge as a working model?
Jaslene: Trying to get jobs. Living in New York, or anywhere, everybody wants to be a model, so you're basically still competing against the other girls. They're not just picking girls from the streets, these are actual models who have contracts and things like that, so they know what they're doing.
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