She broke boundaries on the 11th cycle of America’s Next Top Model, as the first and only transgender (but she prefers the term “born in the wrong body”) model to ever grace the show’s runway.
But that’s not the only thing Top Model fans remember about Isis King, 25, who came back for the All-Star cycle to focus on and promote her work as a model, designer, actress and speaker. Armed with her branding word “inspirational,” it seemed that the All-Star cycle might finally give Isis the platform to move beyond the ‘transgender’ label and show off her talents on her own terms.
Unfortunately, Tyra and the Top Model judges had other plans. They didn’t feel that Isis was inspiring enough in her latest photo, and she was the third all-star to be eliminated from cycle 17. But it’s just onward and upward for Isis, who told me when we spoke, “I naturally excel. I don’t think, “Oh, I have to do better than you.” I just do.”
Here’s what Isis had to say about the highs and lows of her second time on Top Model, and where she’s going to take her inspirational story from here:
What made you decide to do the All-Star season? Did you have any reservations about it?
I did, but I decided to do it because we were pitched the All-Star cycle being about branding. Focusing heavily on branding, and also focusing on you and your individual divisions of interests. Meaning mine is mainly acting, and fashion design and motivational speaking. A lot of girls had other things they were interested in and they were doing as well. And we were basically pitched an idea to help brand these things. That’s why I initially came back, but then I quickly learned that it was just another season.
Why do you think that is?
I have no idea, but most of the girls I’ve talked to — all the girls I’ve talked to — they feel the same way. So I don’t know why. I know I’m not crazy and it’s not just me.
Were there any elements or challenges that you did think were helpful, in terms of branding yourself?
Definitely learning my brand, more about my brand, and the word “inspirational,” and hearing what the fans’ feedback is. A little bit more, just to help me … I mean, it’s kind of something you already know, but just hearing it keeps you a little bit more focused on why they like you, and what you can do in the future to keep that.
You said you’re focusing on acting and designing. What opportunities are you looking into there?
I’m going to film my first full-length film in the Philippines called Hello Forever, later this year. I have been doing script readings and off-Broadway plays, and I did a cameo in a film, so I have been working on acting and really trying to break through. That, and also my designs. I’m self-taught, and I went to college on a full scholarship for design, so that’s always been my passion, but because I’m just so divided into so many different categories now, so many different interests, I don’t really have the time to sit down and spend that many hours straight, you know, by myself. I don’t have a manufacturer or a seamstress, it’s just me doing it. So I mainly just design when it comes to red carpets for me, or appearances, and hopefully by me showing my designs on TV, there will be maybe a design house or something where someone will take interest in me, and I can maybe turn that into something greater. I’ve gotten all positive feedback about my designs, and everybody loves them and they want to know where they can get them from, so hopefully one day it will be mass-produced and everyone will get the benefits of one of my amazing gowns or dresses.
The show kept emphasizing your transition. On the one hand, it’s something that makes you special and memorable, but it also seems like something you’ve been ready to move past for a while. So how do you balance that?
Definitely, I was really shocked to see my old picture in the first episode, because I told them I didn’t want that. So I was really shocked with that. I’ve never been the type to dwell on it. I like to talk about it if it comes up, and I talk about it when I do my motivational speaking, to educate. But other than that, it doesn’t define my everyday life or who I am. What defines me is my talent. So I came back, and I never wanted Top Model to be focusing on that at all. It was just about my talent and my capabilities. So, you know, it’s really disappointing, but at the same time, I think it helps in the education department, when it comes to me telling the world, “This is what it is. But then also, this is what it can be.” You don’t have to focus on that. Your whole career doesn’t have to be, “Oh, I’m transgender this, transgender that.” Just be you. And people will accept it.
What did you think of Camille’s comment during the photo shoot about how she thought she needed to deliver more because how can a transgendered person do better than an “actual, real woman”? How do you respond to that?
She kind of warned me ahead of time. She kind of blamed it a little bit on editing. Like, they interrogated her. Honestly, I’m not mad. Everybody has their own opinion, but at the same time, they can’t put words in your mouth. So, with that being said, it is what it is. I think that’s really between her and her fans, because a lot of them are really serious with that comment. But I’m not upset. I’m not there to try to change anybody’s opinions about me. I made a lot of great friends, but I came there to show what I’m capable of. Focusing on my talent, and that’s how I always am. So if you feel like, “Oh, I have to do better, I have to do better,” then that’s your insecurity. You know, I’m not going in thinking, “I have to do better, I have to do better.” I naturally excel. I don’t think, “Oh, I have to do better than you.” I just do.
Who are you rooting for to win the All-Star cycle?
Definitely Bianca, Bre and Allison. I love all of them. I love most of the girls in the house, but I have a special relationship with Bianca. We were friends before we worked together a few times in the past few years. And I met Bre on the set of The Tyra Banks Show, and she was really sweet. I’d never met Allison but I just felt like she would be an amazing friend. I really bonded with those three, so I would like to see them, any of them, win.
It sounds like the experience wasn’t everything you hoped it would be. But did you have a favorite part of being on the show again?
My favorite part was meeting all the girls. This time around, just being more comfortable and meeting a lot of new people, and making a lot of new friends. It was great, in that sense.
You can stay up to date with all of Isis’s future endeavors and thoughts on the rest of this All-Star cycle by following her on Twitter at @MsIsisKing. And just to prove that she’s well worth the follow, here’s a recent tweet about her time on Top Model: “Well they didnt show all of my lesbian action, I grabbed more ass in that house then a NBA players in the locker room after a winning game!” Awesome.
(Image courtesy of CW)
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