I've got no beef with the CW's America's Next Top Model for choosing Saleisha Stowers as this cycle's winner. She's pretty, personable and even managed to rock a botched Katie Holmes haircut. But when she declares that she wants to be not just America's Next Top Model but America's Next Top Role Model, I have to say, "Hmm." Isn't she the same contestant who delighted in Heather's shower-time torment, backstabbed buddy Bianca and helped seal Jenah's fate by misrepresenting her as aloof? She is, as a matter of fact, one and the same. So before I give the 21-year-old secretary my stamp of approval and bask in the knowledge that I'll never again have to hear about Nicole or Jaslene's grating lives as CoverGirls, on TVGuide.com and your behalf, I have a few questions for her.
TVGuide.com: Have you gotten tired of being congratulated yet?
Saleisha Stowers: Yeah, I have! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Over the course of the show, I think it's safe to say you proved how much you wanted to win. But you also came off very smart and down-to-earth. So, um, why modeling?
Saleisha: You know, I really just love the whole thing. Everything about the fashion industry, from the hair to the makeup to the stylists.... When you all work together, you can create an art form. It's so beautiful, and it's something I really love to do. I love having these nice clothes on and taking photos or walking a runway. It's an adrenaline rush for me and a passion of mine, so I went on the show fighting for it!
TVGuide.com: And you really did have to fight! That hairdo alone!
Saleisha: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, it was very difficult for me at first with the haircut, but I took it for what it was and realized that I've got a great opportunity and I'm not going to let this hairstyle stop me from getting my dream. So I just put the hairstyle aside and worked it!
TVGuide.com: And if Tyra Banks says, "You look great with this hair," what can you say?
Saleisha: "Thank you. Thank you so much!"
TVGuide.com: Exactly. So tell me about the fashion show. When Chantal knocked over the poor guy on the stilts, did you think to yourself, "It's over — I've got it!"
Saleisha: I honestly did not know [that had happened], because I was walking off the runway at that time. She didn't tell me until after the runway show was over. I was absolutely in shock for her, because if that was me, I don't know what I would have done! But man, I was just glad that she wasn't hurt and the guy wasn't hurt, because that would have been really bad. But things happen like that, you know? It was unexpected!
TVGuide.com: I don't know that we ever heard from the stilt guy again. Are we sure he survived?
Saleisha: I don't know. I'm thinking that he's OK? [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Was it actually a real fashion show? Because as far as I could tell, the only people you were walking for were the judges and a whole lot of extras!
Saleisha: Oh, no, it totally was real! Like, we totally had the designer there, the girls were there.... It was a full-on fashion show, and it was intense. It was hectic backstage and crazy, but it was something I enjoyed. It was the opportunity of a lifetime! That moment was just amazing!
TVGuide.com: Some of those clothes looked like bondage wear. How many people did it take to get you into and out of them?
Saleisha: Oh my god, you don't even know! It was so hard trying to get these dresses off because they were so tight and had so much going on. It took, like, three people to get them off. And the jewelry as well! It was crazy, but once you got the outfits on, they were amazing gowns!
TVGuide.com: That jewelry looked like you could put somebody's eye out!
Saleisha: [Laughs] Yeah, and you could kind of see at the end of the show when Chantal and I were hugging, our earrings got stuck together!
TVGuide.com: You did not want to pick your nose with those dagger things on your fingers!
Saleisha: You would probably cut through your nose!
TVGuide.com: Some people have suggested that you were a lock to win Top Model from the beginning because you'd been to Tyra's self-esteem camp. What do you say to that?
Saleisha: Honestly, I feel that — how do I say this? — they're not really seeing what the camp was. It had nothing to do with modeling! I was 14 at the time, and I'm 21 now. It was years ago! I'm a totally different person now than I was then! I learned a lot and the camp did help me become the woman I am now, but I don't know that the camp had anything at all to do with how the judges critiqued me or even them wanting me on the show. That was all based on my photos and how I did in the competitions.
TVGuide.com: So Tyra didn't say, "Hey, Saleisha, it's been almost a decade. Why don't you come enter my contest?"
Saleisha: No, it's definitely not like that.
TVGuide.com: When you were in the final two, would you have preferred to be competing with someone you weren't quite so close to?
Saleisha: I wanted it to be Chantal! I said from the beginning that I wanted us to be in the final two, and I'm glad it turned out like that. We both worked our butts off to get to that point.
TVGuide.com: Any regrets about throwing Jenah under the bus at what turned out to be her final panel?
Saleisha: I just told my true feelings. Jenah's a great person. I just went out there and said how I felt, and that was the best I could do. I wasn't going to go out there and lie. It sucks that you have to say that, but you do have to be honest. Do you want your sisters or people looking up to a person who is, you know, like that? You have to be honest with yourself.
TVGuide.com: I think it's interesting that you're worried about young girls looking up to Jenah, because I don't think I'd necessarily want my little sister looking up to you. I mean, you were pretty nasty to Heather, you sabotaged Bianca in the go-see contest. I know nobody's perfect, but....
Saleisha: Yeah, nobody's perfect. And you've got to look at the little things that I did. That was nothing compared to what other girls did. You also have to think about how the show plays off everything. They can turn things into 15 times more than they were, you know? I'm a very kindhearted person. Heather knows that I love her to death. I really got along great with her.
TVGuide.com: Do you regret the way the show edited those incidents?
Saleisha: No, honestly, I don't. I chose to go on the show. Of course, I could have handled situations differently, but you've also got to remember that you're away from your friends and family, you're with 12 girls you don't know, and things happen. You do it out of stress. I probably should have gone about it differently, but I didn't and I can't take that back. But I totally understand where you're coming from.
TVGuide.com: When Jenah broke down in panel and told the whole sad story about how she had to raise her sisters, was there a moment where you sort of panicked and said, "Oh crap! Tyra loves a transformation! I'm screwed!"?
Saleisha: At that point, my heart went out to Jenah because I really understood where she was coming from. I wanted the judges to reach out to her and really listen to her, because like I said, she is a great person, and people go through things in their lives. You can't help who you are and what happens in your life, but I didn't have any doubt or nerves. I was just like, "What's going to happen? Who's going to be in the final two!"
TVGuide.com: It went from panel to group therapy!
Saleisha: [Laughs] I know! It was a great moment, though. We all learned something new about each other that night. It was a great experience. It was emotional, though, 'cause we cried our eyes out. But it was a great moment and one we'd been working so hard for.
TVGuide.com: What were the tears for on your part? Even when Jenah was eliminated, you and Chantal were a mess!
Saleisha: I was honestly so happy at that moment, I didn't care if I won or lost. I was just so happy to make it to that point. I had fought so hard just to prove that I could do this. Just to be there, I was so overwhelmed. It was amazing just to have those feelings. I'd never felt that before, and I just let it go!
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about the final CoverGirl commercial. What the hell were you guys trying to sell?
Saleisha: Wet Slick Fruit Spritzers.
TVGuide.com: Do you think they made up that name deliberately to be impossible to say over and over again?
Saleisha: It's a tongue-twister, but it's a really cute name! It attracts young girls. I mean, once you hear it, you're like, "Oh, that sounds all fruity and good!"
TVGuide.com: Was the tongue-twister element what gave you such a hard time with the ad?
Saleisha: I think what happened to me is that everything got to me. That was the moment that I let everything in the competition really get to me. I had the lines down, I'd memorized them, but something just triggered like, "This is your last chance to show the judges that you can do this, so you'd better give it your all!" And then you have [the rep] from CoverGirl there, and that makes you even more nervous. So I broke down and had to step off set for a little while and just talk, and I immediately felt better.
TVGuide.com: Can I make a request as you go forth in your CoverGirl career?
Saleisha: [Nervous] Sure....
TVGuide.com: Jaslene's "My Life as a CoverGirl" commercials were sort of painful to watch. Can you maybe bring a little bit of energy to yours?
Saleisha: [Laughs] Oh gosh, Jaslene is such a sweet girl! I'm definitely a very perky person. When I talk, there's energy coming out of me. So I'm definitely going to go out and do my best with that! I'm so excited to even have "My Life as a CoverGirl," so I'm probably going to be crazy energetic!
TVGuide.com: I actually thought your first CoverGirl commercial was beautiful — better than the last one.
Saleisha: Thank you so much!
TVGuide.com: When Tyra said they were disappointed in everyone after that first spot, I was like, "What more do you people want? She sounded like a human being! You never get that in a CoverGirl commercial!"
Saleisha: [Laughs] I really thought I did well on that, too. That was my first time doing a commercial, and it was hard! But I took in the critiques and tried to apply them to the next one. Sure, I broke down a little bit, but I'm still sitting here as a Top Model, and I feel really good! I'm happy with how everything turned out on the show, because I worked hard. I really did!
Now read our Q&A with Top Model runner-up Chantal!
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