Whitney Thompson, winner of <EM>America's Next Top Model</EM> Whitney Thompson, winner of America's Next Top Model

 Are we at last at the end of the era of stick figures on the catwalk? If America's Next Top Model winner Whitney Thompson has anything to say about it — and does she ever! — the answer is a resounding yes. But before the 20-year-old Floridian takes off to change the world, TVGuide.com rang her up to discuss what's really important: her bitchy housemates, Tyra Banks' mind games and that questionable Anna Nicole Smith makeover. So pour yourself a diet soda — no, a regular soda — and enjoy!

TVGuide.com: After being in the bottom two four times, how shocked were you when you won this thing?
Whitney Thompson:
[Laughs] Did you see my face? Pretty shocked! I never really thought that I would make it as far as I did. You tell yourself every week that you’re going to, and then when it actually happens, you think, “What? Are you sure?” It’s shocking.

TVGuide.com: Week after week, the judges seemed to be gunning for you, and yet they kept passing you through to the next show. That had to mess with your mind.
It really [did]. “You’re fake! You’re ugly! And… we’re keeping you.” They definitely try to break down everyone’s ego on the show, which is great, but it’s incredibly humbling. You really have to remember that it’s constructive criticism. They really are trying to help you, even though sometimes they do it in the nastiest possible way.

TVGuide.com: Do you think Tyra might have cut you some slack because she really wanted a plus-size model to win this time around?
Definitely not! I worked my butt off every single week. One thing that separates me from other plus-size models who have been in earlier cycles is that I’m saying, “I’m not emaciated, I’m not starving myself and yet I’m considered plus-size. Why is that? Why is a healthy size considered too big?" So I have this message that I’m trying to carry with me. It was incredibly difficult, but I kept thinking, “If I don’t make it, then who is going to be a role model for my 13-year-old cousin? Who are the first-graders that I teach in elementary school going to look up to? Are they going to be a completely lost generation because all of their role models are in rehab or have eating disorders?" I told myself that failure was not an option and pushed through.

TVGuide.com: The judges kept ragging on you for being fake, but when I watch a CoverGirl commercial, they don’t exactly strike me as spontaneous. What am I missing there?
As a viewer, you see me 24/7 on camera. You see everything that I do, everything that I say. As a judge, they see me 10 minutes once a week at panel. We’re standing there, we have one picture, we say about two sentences and that’s that. Then we say our goodbyes. I’m sure the judges have a different perception of me after watching the show — now they can see my personality. I mean, I think if I was fake and pageant-y, I probably would have had a lot more friends and been a little nicer in certain situations. But I’m pretty blunt. So I think the judges just got the wrong impression, which is incredibly difficult to overcome.

TVGuide.com: Speaking of being blunt, some of the other girls have said in their exit interviews that you’re not as nice as you seemed on camera. 
[Laughs] I’m sure they’re not happy that I won. I’m sure that’s a difficult thing to deal with. But I actually made a lot of friends in the house that they didn’t even show on camera. So I thought I looked a lot meaner on camera [than I really am], because they don’t ever show me being friends with Anya or Fatima…

TVGuide.com: Fatima? Seriously?
: Um, no, not Fatima. But Marvita or Stacy-Ann and Lauren. I had really great connections with a lot of the girls, but they made it look as if we all hated each other.

TVGuide.com: It’s gotta be tough for them to think, “Oh, I should be a model! I’m really, really skinny!” and then you come in and take their big qualification away!
: Exactly. You see them salivating over my food, and I’m sure that was difficult for them. But of course, I think it was even more difficult for me, because they could all gang up together and say, “Oh my God, do you see Whitney?” I had nobody that I could say, “Let’s go eat some ice cream!” to.

TVGuide.com: Let’s talk a little about your makeover. Were you happy to get that 20 pounds of blonde hair?
I actually anticipated that they would shave my head, so I was thrilled to have long blonde hair. I expected the worst, so not getting that, I was happy. The blonde hair is really girly and feminine, and I have a really strong bone structure. It really just gives me a lot of possibilities.

TVGuide.com: Now that you are a Top Model, how do you get the industry to accept you?
I’m really, really dependent on my fan base. I’m not sure they realize that, but if these people support me or even another full-figured girl, then that’s good. They won't buy from [designers] who continue to use emaciated models who are starving to death. That’s where it counts [in the wallet]. Hopefully, my fans are going to say, “We want more!” and word will spread and I’ll get bigger and bigger. In so many people’s minds, being a model is the be all and end all when it comes to beauty. So if I girl who’s not emaciated can be a model and be on these magazine covers, that means that’s beautiful to them. Hopefully, those people can stop hating on themselves and start respecting their body.

TVGuide.com: It must be an incredible feeling to know that there are people out there who will be having a burger tonight and not feeling guilty about it.
You know, I received mail even before the show ended, before I even won, and it was just incredible. Boys and girls from all over the world have e-mailed me to say, “I had an eating disorder, and I’m seeking help because of you. I just look up to you so much because you’re so confident with your body, and I want to be like that.” And I have to say, that having people look up to me and respecting me as a role model is so satisfying. That’s the best reward that I could possibly have.

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