I should have known it was too good to be true — a plus-size gal winning America's Next Top Model? Couldn't happen. But darned if Whitney Cunningham didn't make me (and, I suspect, a whole lotta other people) believe that it could. A well-rounded beauty in every sense of the word, the eloquent 21-year-old recently spoke with TVGuide.com about fitting in, standing out and that off-the-cuff remark about giving up her dream.
TVGuide.com: I was really rooting for you. It's rare to get a model on that show who is as well-spoken as she is beautiful.
Whitney Cunningham: Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!
TVGuide.com: Did you know going into panel that it was going to be your week to get eliminated?
Whitney: No way! They didn't show this on television, but Mr. Jay told me that [the role-playing photo shoot] was my best performance to date and that I really modeled my tail off. He said I did an excellent job, so I was really confident going into panel. I was totally shocked when I was in the bottom two, and was even more shocked when I was eliminated.
TVGuide.com: Did you like the photo they picked of you?
Whitney: I thought it was cute. You know, there probably was a better one in all of my shots, but I thought it was cute. I thought there were other models who... you know, I'm not going to say that.
TVGuide.com: Aw, come on!
Whitney: I'll just say that I thought my shot was really cute.
TVGuide.com: Spoilsport. I have to say, I often wonder if they pick a photo that's not the best when they're ready for that girl to go.
Whitney: Yeah, you know, honestly, throughout the entire competition, I knew that there were better photos of me than the ones that they picked. But you have to be ready for that. Girls say that every single season, and... I think it was Jade who got eliminated because she would always complain about the fact that they didn't pick her best photo. But sometimes you do wonder, and you really wish you could sit down and go through those frames to see if there was a better shot.
TVGuide.com: What do you think made them want to keep Jael as opposed to you?
Whitney: Jael makes for great reality TV. [Laughs] She's a riot! Bottom line. The one thing that I was going to say before but decided not to say was that when I was watching the episode, we actually didn't get to sit in on each others' photo shoots on that particular shoot, but when I was watching Jael on camera, I was like, "Wow, she seems all over the place!" And then they sent me home instead of her, although we were in the bottom two. They gave her a second chance even though it seemed to me that she was all over the place! But she makes for great reality television.
TVGuide.com: So they're just holding onto her for the comic relief she'll provide when they do the competitions that involve speaking.
Whitney: Of course! Jael is a freaking riot, let me tell you. And she's not just hilarious on television, but in person, too. We all said from the get-go, "Jael is going to make this show," and they haven't even been portraying her to her utmost potential. I'd hold onto her, too, if I was looking to get ratings!
TVGuide.com: Personally, I just want to hear her try to say "Easy, breezy, beautiful... CoverGirl!" with that voice of hers. Do you think the panel would have gotten rid of you a week earlier if not for the fact that they didn't want to send home the two plus-size girls back-to-back?
Whitney: I don't think that it was because they didn't want to eliminate two plus-size models in a row. I think [I lasted an extra week] because I had Tyra in my corner the entire time, and, you know, she makes the final decision. But I had a hard time finding the balance between the extremity of the photo shoots and being a model at the same time, and that's the reason they got rid of me.
Whitney: Are you going to continue to pursue modeling or, since you're such a natural at it, will you try acting?
Whitney: I'm totally going to continue modeling... and acting, too. I pride myself on being multidimensional. I might even have a talk show. Who knows? I think that last night when I said, "I don't know if I'm going to continue modeling," that was at the lowest moment of defeat in my entire life. That was definitely a moment when I let somebody tell me that I couldn't, and I believed them. I pride myself on being the type of person who, if someone tells me that I can't, I prove to them that I can. So I've been practicing with modeling, having mirror time with myself. I'm going to continue to build my portfolio and continue to model. And I'm definitely going to hit the pavement hard, hitting agencies and seeing what I can get out of the whole thing, because I believe that I've got what it takes. I made it this far out of thousands and thousands of girls, so obviously I've got a little something. I'm going to roll with it and see what happens.
TVGuide.com: Do you think the presence that you and Diana were on the show will have an impact on future seasons?
Whitney: Totally. I think that we opened the floodgates, definitely. Not only that, but Tyra being a fuller-figured woman now who embraces her curviness and embraces the fact that she's beautiful and sexy, and Jennifer Hudson coming onto the scene, and even the Grey's Anatomy women being thicker women... all that opens the door for more plus-size girls to go and audition for the show. I would totally encourage them to do so, because although I wasn't able to take the prize and neither was Diana, I think now there's more of an outline as to what we need to do in order to win America's Next Top Model. And I hope that in future cycles, they get designers in the runway shows that can fit a plus-size girl who makes the finale.
TVGuide.com: Was that an issue at all for you in the way it was for Toccara?
Whitney: Yeah, at some points, because there were some dresses that, while they fit me, you have to remember that I have really big boobs and a butt and thighs, so if I'm wearing a dress that's lowcut, I'm going to look extremely sexy, whereas if someone like Brittany is wearing that same dress, she would look high fashion. I was like, "I can't do anything about my breasts." And they said, "Maybe we need to get you a minimizer." But this is something that I love about myself. Why can't we find something that accentuates my body rather than trying to hide it?
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