Over the course of this cycle of America's Next Top Model, Melrose Bickerstaff was called every name in the book, and right now, I'm going to call her another one: misunderstood. Sure, the 23-year-old (or, in modeling terms, "Jurassic") San Franciscan is intense and may be a little lacking in the tact department, but she was hardly the villainess whom she was purported to be. A fierce competitor? Yes, absolutely. Driven to the extreme? Yup, that, too. (But Cycle 3 champ "Eva the Diva" Marcille had a much wider mean streak.) As I conducted TVGuide.com's farewell Q&A with Melrose, I couldn't help but feel kind of bad for her. She gave it her all, and all she got was this mere interview, no One Tree Hill gig. The least you can do is read it. (Thanks.)
TVGuide.com: There's a lot of stuff we're going to have to talk about regarding the fact that the other girls more or less seemed to... well, hate you. But whatever else we discuss, I wanted you to know that I truly believe you gave this competition 200 percent.
Melrose Bickerstaff: That's so nice. Thanks. I appreciate that. It's always nice to hear people being supportive, because I get a lot of the other end of it, too.
TVGuide.com: I bet. So are you doing OK? It's got to hurt to get that far and work that hard and still not take home the prize.
Melrose: It's refreshing to get that far, actually, because eventually, people had to see the real me. And I do think that as the competition went on, people understood that I wasn't about hurting people. What I was really about was being a true person, staying focused and not letting people throw me off track. It was great to make it to the final two, and it was even better to finish second in a way, because now I have the freedom to do whatever I want. I'm a winner to my family and friends and to everybody in my life who knows, loves and supports me. So I couldn't have come out of this better. I'm grateful for everything that has happened to me, and I have no ill feelings toward anybody in the house. I even wish CariDee nothing but the best!
TVGuide.com: And in the end, it's just an audition. If you didn't get it, hey, that's Hollywood, right?
Melrose: Exactly! You can't take it personally! I'm in New York right now looking at agencies, and a lot of them — even with the reputability that comes with having done the show — are saying, "23 is a little too old for us." So it's a challenge. But I know that whatever agency I wind up going with for representation now is going to be the best for me, and I'm going to work my ass off, and we're going to make a lot of money!
TVGuide.com: It's always funny for me to watch the show and hear people talk about how 23 is too old to be modeling. Is that going to be a cause for you, to go in and say, "Hey, I'm 23, incredibly hot and plenty young enough to be a model! This is ridiculous!"?
Melrose: You know, because I went to school for fashion design, I don't personally think that the industry has moved in a positive and productive direction in the last few years. Hiring 16-year-old girls to model sexy, provocative couture clothing is not realistic. No woman who has been out there trying to make a success of herself or supporting the fashion industry wants to see a 16-year-old girl doing curtsies in a Versace gown. They just don't. To see a 23-year-old woman who's been living on her own for a while, who still possesses beauty despite maybe having a wrinkle or two or an opinion about life... I don't think that makes me any less beautiful. In fact, I think it makes me more marketable and more beautiful! I'm sick of seeing these young girls in these amazing dresses. I want someone who knows what sexy really means. That's what I'm here to do, to change this industry!
TVGuide.com: They always talk about how in photos, they want to see something in the eyes. But at 16, you don't have a lot to put there!
Melrose: I don't think having led a life is a bad thing!
TVGuide.com: Send Lauren Bacall down the runway. She's still gorgeous!
Melrose: Exactly! Kate Moss is in her thirties, and she's on top of the world. I'm not saying I'm Kate Moss or anything like that, but what I am saying is that age is a number. It's all about what you possess in your eyes and how good an actress you are so that you can give the client what they want.
TVGuide.com: Well, I wish you luck with that — I couldn't agree more. Now let's talk about you and the girls. You guys didn't get along. Bottom line: Why?
Melrose: This is a TV show, and it's reality TV, which makes people think it's even more real, when in reality, [what you saw] is not the way that it happened. I walked into the competition, and yes, girls were intimidated. I spoke to the girls. I wanted to get to know every one of them, but some of the girls were not open, and some of the girls, when they heard me talk, weren't listening to me with open minds. They were listening to me and immediately thinking that I wanted to shut them down, when what I wanted to do was see every woman in that house empowered. I don't have any ill wishes toward anyone. When you first meet people, it's so important to have an open mind, because what happens is that if you think somebody has negative intentions toward you, everything that they say, you hear differently and you hear wrong. If the girls had been open to listening to me, they'd have learned things about fashion, because I studied fashion design for four years, and I've been modeling since I was 17. If they'd listened with open minds, they'd have known that what I was trying to do was help them.
TVGuide.com: Instead, you should have been treating that knowledge as classified information.
Melrose: I shouldn't have been trying to help them. But I learned really quickly when I was being called names and being alienated that this is a competition, and I'd better just look out for myself, because these girls are not necessarily the nicest. In this competition, when you're under these conditions — not enough food, not enough sleep, no music, no boyfriends — for three months, you start to get a little crazy!
TVGuide.com: Monique... I'm just sayin'.
Melrose: You know what happened? After it was over last week, I was doing interviews with Eugena. And I really learned to like her. So now, she's someone I want as a friend! I think she's a cool chick, and to be honest, when I was in the house, I didn't really see the girls objectively. I'd look at them and think, "Oh, maybe when I have my clothing line, they'll want to model for me." I really thought Eugena was my biggest competition. So during the competition, we didn't really get that close. But now that it's over, I think she's a great girl. Jaeda? She understood me and was hilarious. And she saved me more than once by making me laugh and making me feel like I was there because I deserved to be as much as anybody else. And I got along with the twins.
TVGuide.com: OK, you're making it sound like a very special episode of Full House or Tyra now.
Melrose: I did rub the girls the wrong [way]. I've learned a lot about myself from this show. I've learned how to communicate better. This show has been a blessing! How many people get the opportunity to watch themselves in the third person? Even if you're becoming this villain — they don't show me sharing my clothes, they don't show me doing anything nice — but even as I'm being cast in this role, I realize that it's part of my personality and something that I need to work on. I'm happy where I placed, and I'm happy that I came out of this with a few girls who really tried to get to know me and help me with myself. So yes, I didn't get along with some of the girls, but I did get along with others.
TVGuide.com: How did your family react to seeing you cast as Cruella de Model?
Melrose: They were horrified the first three or four weeks! They were like, "Why are they doing that?" But [the producers] couldn't make you look awesome and awesome. Then you'd just be awesome awesome! So you had to be kind of bitchy awesome, because it wasn't you. It wasn't the real you in that role.
TVGuide.com: How has the reaction been from people on the street?
Melrose: The first few weeks that I was in New York, a girl came up to me on the subway and said, "Are you that girl from that show?" She walked away, but I thought she was going to push me into the subway! That was scary! But other girls came up to me and were like, "Are you really that big of a bitch?" As the season progressed and people got to understand me more, they became really supportive. In New York, I even ran into this girl Sarah Young — who used to design shoes for Betsey Johnson, and is now creating a new clothing company with [Lost alumna] Michelle Rodriguez. Now I'm helping them design their spring 2008 collection.
TVGuide.com: Since modeling has an expiration date, do you see yourself someday devoting yourself strictly to designing?
TVGuide.com: Maybe on Project Runway?
Melrose: No. I'll never do another reality show. I live a very organized and self-evolving life, where I'm spending time with good people and I really learn from people's lives. I learned a lot from the show, but it was also really hard, because you have to give all of yourself to it. And me, in my career — in any career — I just don't have that much time to be that restricted. I need my sanity, food, sleep, water, music and my boyfriend. I wouldn't ever take back what I did, but I'll never be on another reality show.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.