Yaya came in second place, despite skin breakouts and photos that looked “too dancerish” for the panel of judges. No one can deny that she grew as a model as the show progressed, but she faced harsh criticism from the judges and fans alike for acting like a snob. Is that the way she really was, or was she a victim of editing? You decide.
Hi Yaya – congratulations!
You’re a trained dancer – what was your motivation to take the leap from dancing to modeling?
I’ve always been interested in modeling, and I’ve been told that I should try it. I thought it would be a good experience after college, and should do it while I’m still young since it’s a temporary career.
How do you feel about your editing?
It was difficult to watch, especially for my friends who saw a different Yaya than they were used to on camera. They know I’m not really like that.
I think my intentions were misunderstood. Modeling is such a different world with a different protocol. I’ve never been on camera 24/7, and you don’t know how you’ll react to that until you’re in the middle of it. I learned a lot from it though.
What was your favourite photo shoot, and which picture are you most proud of?
My favourite shoot was the one with the kimono and lingerie in Tokyo. It wasn’t my best picture, obviously, but the shoot was fun.
The picture I’m most proud of is the first one in Jamaica. At that point modeling wasn’t stressful. We were all still fresh and just doing what came innately.
Have you been recognized in public now, and how do fans react to you?
I do get recognized in New York City quite often; I’m approached my many people every day. People have been really nice.
What was going through your mind when you spit out the umemboshi? Did you realize it would be taken so seriously by the panel?
No, I didn’t realize that. Watching it on television I realized how badly it came off, but at the time I didn’t feel I had a choice. I have a very sensitive stomach, and I didn’t want to end up throwing up on their beautiful mats they have on the floor. I was trying to avoid a situation that would have been worse than spitting it out.
After the YJ Stinger shoot we never heard anything else about your pictures being too “dancerish”. Did it just cease to be an issue after that?
I don’t know. I don’t remember it ever coming up again after that on the panel. I guess it did just cease to be an issue.
Do you visit any of the message boards or fan forums online?
No, I don’t.
Nicole mentioned in her interview with me that you were the only one who she could discuss politics and world issues with. Do you think that the show caters to stereotypes as far as modeling is concerned? If so, is that one of the reasons you made sure people were aware that you were well-educated?
I went into this thinking that education would not be an issue at all. I didn’t really want to talk about it; that was never my intention. They are two different worlds, modeling and school. I don’t know how all of that was perceived by the public.
People who think highly of themselves are generally seen in a negative light. I never thought I was better than anyone else. I think you need different skill sets for different worlds, and I wanted to become more well-rounded as a person. I didn’t need to talk about my education, and when it came up I always tried to talk it down.
I had great conversations with Nicole, Toccara, Jennipher, and Kassie. They taught me about what it was like growing up in middle America. Everyone there was smart, not just me. Well, the people I mentioned above were smart, definitely.
When you packed your things for the show, did you forsee the need for the “Respeito” shirt?
Absolutely not. I got that shirt in Brazil, and the proceeds from all sales went to feed the hungry. They had all kinds of slogans – faith, love, peace, honesty. I normally don’t wear shirts with slogans on them, but this one helped charity so I picked it up. I just happened to have it in my bag.
How are you different today than you were before you went on the show?
People that don’t know me meet me now with preconceptions. I am now really careful not to dwell on that and continue to be myself. It’s a heavy weight for me to carry, and a big myth to disprove over and over again.
Will you continue to model? What other career aspirations do you have?
Yes, I will continue modeling. I am also interested in acting. I don’t know that I’ll ever dance professionally, but I will certainly continue with that as well. I’d like to write, teach, do all sorts of things.
Thanks very much for your time Yaya, and good luck to you.
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