"The Girls Wanted Me To Be Part Of The Group"Ė An Interview with America's Next Top Model 9's Heatherby Phil Kural -- 11/30/2007
Heather was the first girl in Americaís Next Top Model history to appear on the show with a disability. Heather suffers from Aspergers, which is a mild form of autism. Throughout the season, Heather was highlighted over this, but took some of the most amazing photos of the season as well. I had a chance to chat with Heather about her time on the show, and we talked about how the other girls treated her, if she felt she was being graded on a curve, how her Aspergers affected the way she approached challenges, and a ton more!
RealityNewsOnline: Hey, Heather! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. Had you watched previous seasons of the show and what factored into your decision to apply?
Heather: I saw the season where Caridee won. Honestly, thatís about it. I wasnít a huge fan of the show, sad to say, and I didnít really see any of the other seasons. Iím embarrassed to say that I didnít watch it, since all my friends did Ė they are the ones that talked me into going out and applying!
RNO: Obviously, your Aspergers was a big topic of conversation this season. Did you expect it draw as much attention to not only the show this season, but to you?
Heather: No, not at all! Honestly, I was expecting either no reaction at all, or a negative reaction. When I say negative, I mean that people would find out I have Aspergers and think that I was looking for pity or would want to be treated differently.
RNO: Going into casting, what did you think would be the biggest setback because of the Aspergers?
Heather: I figured that the biggest setback would probably be that I can be a bit awkward in social situations. In person, itís really weird to have cameras all the time, but I think that I did pretty well with the interviews. I was surprised how well I did with the cameras around, since I had never been around them before.
RNO: How did you feel it affected the way you dealt with the other girls and competed in the challenges and photo shoots this season?
Heather: I donít think it really played a part at all. Even the commercial that I screwed up Ė it was me psyching myself out. It wasnít so much my Aspergers. The only time that it really did have an effect on me was in the beginning with getting to know the other girls and communicate with them. Over time though, it got so much easier. All the girls talked to me and I realized how great every one of them was. Even Bianca! She is getting a bad reputation because she really was such a sweet girl.
RNO: Most of the season, we saw the other girls talking down to you or not treating you so nicely. Do you feel it was really that way or was it played up for the cameras?
Heather: It was definitely all played up. The girls never bullied me at all. The girls wanted me to be part of the group. I mean, the editing made me look good, but Iíd rather look normal and part of the group as an equal instead of an outsider that everyone picked on. I think that the editing tipped things in my favor, but I didnít do the editing so Iím not responsible for that. I keep finding myself having to reassure everyone that the other girls really were nice to me!
RNO: At any point did you feel some kind of resentment from the other girls because they felt you were getting special treatment, like when Chantal commented that nobody else had their lines read during the commercial shoot?
Heather: Actually, I agreed with her on that! I was really down on myself for having the lines read to me, and it was embarrassing! The only time I know that someone was saying things were unfair was when Bianca said that the panel loved me and I could do no wrong. She was frustrated at that moment, so itís all good.
RNO: What did you think of the judgesí critique for Jenah? I feel like if they were going to come down on her personality, they should have been doing so from the beginning!
Heather: I donít think that Jenahís personality was the problem. I do understand where the judges are coming from, saying that people wouldnít get Jenahís humor, but I didnít feel like it was a problem either, and that she was rude and ungrateful. That wasnít the case at all.
RNO: Do you think itís true when Jenah said it was becoming more of a personality competition instead of a modeling competition?
Heather: A little bit, but at the same time, not really. I think that if that were really the case then Jenah would have been sent home instead of me. They really did beat her up about that and the whole personality thing.
RNO: What really happened on your go-sees? Were you seriously lost for six hours in the same three or four block radius?
Heather: I donít think Iím really allowed to say how long I was out there, but Iíll just say it was a good while!
RNO: What do you hope to do from here? Are you interested in becoming a spokesperson for Asperger syndrome, or are you more interested in continuing to model right now?
Heather: I really want to continue modeling, but at the moment, I havenít really put much thought into it yet. Itís early in the game, and Iíd love to be a spokesperson for Aspergers, but that hasnít even been discussed yet.
RNO: Who of the final four would you say has the most potential as a model and who do you think is the most personable?
Heather: I think they all have different strengths that could help them win. Itís tough to choose one because I think they are all equal and all four of them really are good models. Itís a cop-out answers, I know, but itís how I feel!
RNO: What kind of advice would you give to other girls that are thinking of applying for the show, but also have the same type of anxieties that you have?
Heather: Be honest. Donít doubt yourself, and be calm. Make sure that you take something along that will relax you, like a stuffed animal or something from home that really makes you feel relaxed. Thatís what I did, and it really helped.
RNO: Did you ever get that chance to shower alone?
Heather: Ha! I didnít care if I was showering alone or not Ė I just wanted to get IN the shower! Period! I was so tired and just wanted to get clean. (laughs)
RNO: What are your thoughts on the whole judging panel? Were you expecting the judges to be more lenient with you, or did you feel that you were critiqued exactly how you should have been?
Heather: If at any point I felt that the judges were being more lenient on me and harder on the other girls, I would have asked to be sent home. I never wanted to be treated any differently because then it wouldnít have been fair. I wanted to be treated just like every one of those girls, and I think thatís the way it went down Ė we were equals.
RNO: Is there anything you would like to add or say to fans of the show?
Heather: Thank you so much to everyone for the support. Iím truly touched at how many people were inspired by me being on the show. I went on wanting to be a role model and show people that you can be different and still do well. I think I proved that, and Iím so happy that I was able to put myself out there for other girls that feel the same way.
RNO: Thanks, Heather!
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Phil Kural is an office manager at a law firm, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. You can send feedback to him at email@example.com.
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