Interview with 'Top Model' All-Star Shannon Stewart-Ratliff: 'I Didn't Allow the Industry to Change Me'
Interview with 'Top Model' All-Star Shannon Stewart-Ratliff: 'I Didn't Allow the Industry to Change Me'
Meghan Carlson
Meghan Carlson
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
As the only one from the very first cycle of America's Next Top Model -- way back in the ancient year of 2003, when ANTM was on UPN, when only 10 models made up the original cast, and when the final prize included a contract with Revlon instead of Covergirl (WHAT?) -- Shannon Stewart (now Ratliff) perhaps had the most to prove of all the ANTM All-Stars.

She didn't need to prove she could model (Shannon's been active in the industry since she came in runner-up to Adrienne Curry), but that she could adapt to the many changes on the show since she last appeared. Top Model is a different beast now than it was then, especially this cycle, which has become more about marketing than modeling.

Shannon held her own in the competition, and made it to the Final 6. Though she sat out of her final shoot, and never won best photo or a challenge, Shannon's longevity in the competition proved she was indeed able to adapt to the new, more outrageous Top Model -- though in our interview yesterday, she admitted she wasn't a huge fan of the show's editing and focus on negativity.

One adaptation Shannon refused to make, one thing she wouldn't budge on, was her moral conviction. The all-stars got all the way to Greece before the shoe we all saw coming -- the "Shannon won't pose in underwear, so Top Model is going to try to force Shannon to pose in underwear" shoe -- finally dropped. Even though Tyra called Shannon's choice to sit out of the photo shoot "noble," she was sent home. And even though some things about the All-Star cycle really bothered her (more on those below), Shannon remains positive about her experience:

Hi Shannon, how's it going?

Good! How are you doing?

Good. You sound really upbeat, and I'm glad to hear it.

You know, I'm normally always upbeat. But for some reason on the show, I'm usually crying, or I'm quiet. I'm like, "Ugh." Please. But no, I'm a really happy girl. I'm really content with my life.

Why did you decide to come back to All-Stars? And how did the experience live up to your expectations?

Well, I decided to come back because when they pitched the idea to me, it was supposed to be about branding, and what you wanted to do and where you saw yourself and where you wanted your career to go. Like, if you wanted to act, or host, or sing. So I really liked the concept. I also wanted to go back for my fans. I wanted to show them that I still remained the same girl. Even, so many years later, that I didn't allow the industry to change me. Because I had met some people who were like, "Oh, don't worry. In a few years you'll be doing what you said you won't be doing." And I was like, "No, I won't. You don't know who I am." They're like, "We'll see. We'll keep an eye on you." So to all those people, I wanted to show them that I still achieved my dream of being a model, even though I'm not willing to do anything for it.

And no, it did not live up to my expectations, because I thought the show was going to be different than what it was. It wasn't about branding. It was just basically about making a TV show.

Yeah, everyone I've talked to has expressed either frustration or outright anger about the way that the cycle played out, and even about the way things changed between when it happened and when it got to TV.

I agree with all those girls. If we're all saying the same thing, it really must be true. You'll continue to get more, I'm sure. It's frustrating because, who likes to be lied to? No one likes to be lied to. Everyone likes to be told the truth. For me, I'm not a quitter. I've been taught to persevere and not give up. Keep trying. So once I got on the show and I saw, like, "Oh, great. This is so not what I thought it was going to be," I'm just not going to quit, because I wasn't taught that way. So I gave it my best and tried my hardest. At the end of the day, whatever happened was going to happen.

Was there anything in last night's episode that we didn't see, in terms of you sitting out of the photo shoot and then explaining your choice at panel?

Well, there was a lot at panel that I said. I was not aired saying anything, basically. And I was up there for a long time, talking. So hopefully they air that in the recap episode, because people were just like "...OK." You know. I guess I did a good job defending myself, so they couldn't air it.    

It did make it look like maybe you didn't have a good explanation, and that's why the judges were confused.

Yeah. I explained myself pretty well. Some of the girls came up to me after and said, "You explained yourself really well. You did a good job." I was glad with that. You know, the public only sees so much. It's kind of sad that it's done that way. Looking back, when Jay was talking to me, I was like, "Oh my gosh, they're airing it like I was confused." I'm not confused. I know what I will do and what I won't do.

Even with Bianca, that whole argument was blown out of proportion. It wasn't even like ... it's like we're filmed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the public only sees 42 minutes of that a week. So it's like ... I don't cry for no reason. We actually got along. She has great style, by the way, and around the house, we had fun. And it's like, they always have to make it bad. I don't get that. Why can't they air things that are actually good? Even in the news today. Why does everybody thrive on bad news, or breakups, or divorces? I thrive on good news. I love good stories. But it is what it is.

Did you feel like things had changed a lot from cycle 1? Or did those editing issues come up when you watched your first cycle?

They did, actually. Like, the bathing suit shot that they showed of me when they said, "She'll pose in this suit but she won't wear underwear," that bathing suit shot was edited. They edited part of my bathing suit out. If you watch it, my bathing suit top is actually bigger than what they showed in the picture. They did that to me again in the Stuff Magazine photo shoot. I was pretty thin in season one. I was only 18, I hadn't filled out yet, and I have a high metabolism anyway. Like, I couldn't get cleavage if I wanted it. So I was like, "What?" And if I had thought about all these things, maybe I wouldn't have gone on All-Stars, but I totally forgot about what they did to me with those two pictures. I don't know, I guess I try to take the best in people, because I want people to take the best in me. I guess I was just deceived. It's not fun, but I took a stand for what I believe in, and I stayed true to me, and at the end of the day, I'm happy with what I did and the way I handled everything. 

Well, speaking of good news: What was your favorite part of the whole experience?

I loved going to Greece. Greece was absolutely gorgeous. Every morning I got to wake up to the sunrise glistening over the water, and it was breathtaking. The food does not compare. It was delicious. And definitely meeting the girls. Even though people come from different backgrounds, and people are different from you, I've always believed you can learn something from everybody. I loved getting to know those girls. They're all special. I have friends now for life, so that's another good thing.   

Who do you hope will win?

I'm not even trying to be politically correct, but whoever's supposed to win is going to win. You know, it's the show. But I like Lisa, I like Laura, but then Angelea, she's from the Blue Room, she was one of my roommates ... so, I can't readily pinpoint anybody. At the end of the day, whoever fits their mold, that's who's going to win.

The Blue Room? That's what you called your bedroom?

Yeah, we had ... our ceiling was like the sky. It had clouds, it was beautiful. So when we tweet sometimes, we're like, "Blue Room, baby!" Alexandria, Angelea and I. We had the best room, I don't care what everybody else thinks. We loved it. So yeah, I have to root on my roommate, too!

One of the most memorable moments of the season was the music video challenge. Had you ever sung before? Because your vocals sounded pretty solid!

No, I had never sung before. Allison and I ... let's see. That was like 12 or 1 in the morning. We were dead tired. We already had an elimination that day, I think. I don't remember what we were doing, but it was busy. Then we found out we had to sing, and Allison and I were, like, rolling. The girls in the house thought I get funnier when I'm tired. And I was like, "I don't sing! You've got to be kidding me. I'm going to be one of those people on American Idol where they're like, REJECTED." But it ended up turning out. I tried my best. I had never stated that I wanted to be a singer, nor do I think I'm going to be one. But that's another thing ... that's not part of my brand. Why am I singing? I'm going up against Lisa, who can sing really well, who makes music videos, who already had songs out. How am I going to win against her? And that's not even part of my brand. Sheena -- Sheena could actually sing, and she didn't even get the chance to showcase that because she was eliminated. How is that being fair to her, because that's actually one of her strengths? So. But now I'm going to be on iTunes, which I never thought I would be on. So that's pretty exciting.

Top Model gives you the opportunity to do things I'm sure you never thought you would -- for better or for worse, right?

[Laughs] Exactly.

What's next for you? And how can we keep up with you?

I'm on Twitter. It's @shannonstewart1. I also have a website: I'm currently working on a fiction and non-fiction book with a lady named Tricia Goyer. One's going to be about my life, showing the ups and downs and yet me staying true to myself and achieving my dream, because really, anything truly is possible. I also am speaking. I want to get into more hosting jobs. I still want to model, and one day I want to have kids. I love kids, and I want to share some love. I just love to love.

(Image courtesy of CW)

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