As a spunky redhead with an inspiring backstory, a worthy goal (to become the first gay America’s Next Top Model winner) and an amazing modeling portfolio, Kayla Ferrel of cycle 15 came in as one of the frontrunners in America’s Next Top Model: All-Stars. Personally, I was pretty sure — and hopeful — that we’d see her in the finals.

But, once again, I was very, very, tragically wrong. Last Wednesday, Kayla was sent home, partly because her photo portraying Snooki wasn’t quite “hot mess” enough for the judges’ tastes, but mostly because Tyra thought that, week to week, Kayla was becoming a “watered down” version of her former self.

On the contrary, Kayla told me when we spoke on Friday, she wasn’t watered down this cycle. Instead, the show essentially (and rather ironically) set her up for failure, using the word that helped her succeed in cycle 15: “free.” Here’s Kayla to explain:

How do you feel after the whole all-star experience? Do you feel like an all-star?

Yeah, I mean, I guess when I talk to other people they’re like, “Yeah, on cycle 15 you werre definitely one of my favorites.” So I definitely think I’m an all-star when it came to my cycle 15, and yeah, I had a good experience. I had a lot of fun with it.

The last time we talked, I guess it was about a year ago, after cycle 15, you said you were heading to Tokyo. So what have you been up to in between?

I’ve actually done pretty well over there. I’ve done some work in February. I have a lot of jobs. I actually signed with an agency out there, so I accomplished my goal when it came to that. But I only signed as an international model, so I only get to go out there four to five times out of the year. I do go for about four to six weeks, and they book me with a bunch of jobs. I have a blast every time I go out there. I’m really excited because I’m going in February. And this time I told Laura I was gonna take her with me for at least one of the weeks. She was really excited.

I can picture the two of you having a hilarious reality show.

You should see us together. She’s like country bumpkin, and I’m kinda like not country bumpkin, so the two of us together… It’s pretty funny.

To be honest, I wish that we had seen more of you this season. What do you think about how much you were shown this season?

I just feel a little bit gypped. On my cycle 15, they showed me a lot. You got to see a lot of my background and my past, the reason I was there and who I was. And I feel like on this cycle, the all-stars cycle, you have so many stand-out personalities like Laura, or Lisa, or maybe Angelea or Bianca. It was kind of like, they really didn’t show me like they did on cycle 15. My number one goal in actually coming back to all-stars was so that people could see a different side of me. Because on cycle 15, I was airing out a lot of dirty laundry, and I was very emotional, and I was going through a lot. I was 19 years old. It was a learning experience for me. And then in this cycle, they don’t get to see that I actually had a lot of fun. This girl would be like, “You’re like the funniest person I know.” I cracked jokes and I always messed with them. We had fun. They really didn’t get to see that. They showed me like I was the timid girl from cycle 15. I’m kind of disappointed that who I was wasn’t necessarily shown how I wanted it to be, but it is what it is. I had a good time.

From what you’re saying, it sounds like they edited you to support what the judges were saying about how you seemed like a “watered down version” of yourself, or something to that effect. What did you make of all of that feedback?

I started to develop a tough skin. Because when I went in front of the judges, I felt like they never really had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback for me from the beginning of the cycle. In cycle 15, I’d say a good 95% of the time it was always positive. I really heard positive things. I was happy and confident, I was really doing well. Even though I wasn’t confident in myself. It was really weird, but I was confident I was doing well in the competition. Then this cycle, I’ve grown so much, and a lot more confident about who I am, and now they’re saying, “You’re a watered-down version of yourself.” So for me it was really frustrating. I was so confused, and I’m like “No, you’ve got it wrong.” In cycle 15 I was unconfident, I didn’t know who I was. I needed guidance and I needed help to figure out what was going on. I needed someone to talk to. This cycle, I’ve actually been able to talk to someone, I’ve done counseling and figured out who I am. I am so much more confident. I’ve gone on, I’ve modeled and I’ve had a career overseas. But now they’re saying I’m a watered-down version of myself? I didn’t get that. I felt I was a lot more confident, but it really didn’t feel that way on TV.

I wanted to ask you about your branding word, “free,” which always seemed like a trick, because you’re being forced to be “free,” and you’re under all these restrictions and you have to follow all these instructions for every challenge. So how do you be “free” in that environment?

I don’t even think you can fully understand how stressful it really was. I’m modeling, and I know what to do, I know how to model. But then you hear Mr. Jay saying, “I don’t feel like you’re being free.” For me, free was a meaningful word because it was something I really did pick in my cycle 15. It had meaning behind it. I picked that word. It wasn’t given to me. It was something I chose. So, to be given that, at first, I was like, “This is great.” But it ended up leading to my demise, because I’d be on photo shoots and they’d be like, “You’re not free, you’re not free.” It’s such a vague word. It can mean something to one person and something else to another. How I felt, I was being free. I was like, “I’ll do whatever the hell I wanna do!” That’s my version of free. But it wasn’t their version. So for me, it was negative being given this word that was so vague. Some girls had words that were very understandable. Like you understand what that word means like, “pure” or “angelic.” I don’t remember their words, but some of them were a little bit easier to portray.

I’ve got some questions from our readers for you. One of them wants to know: Are you planning on keeping your hair red?

I am. I personally like my red hair. When I first was told I was gonna get red hair on cycle 15, I was so scared. I was like “No! I’m going to look horrible.” But I actually love it. I love my red hair. The only reason I dyed it back in the first place was because I had been working in Japan. My agent was like, “We need you to be something that’s easier to book you with. You know, red hair is so distinct. The black hair will be so much easier to book you with a variety of things.” Now my hair isn’t as red as it was, but it’s still red. So I can still book jobs. I’m really happy with it, and I’m definitely keeping my red hair.

That’s great. It’s sort of a signature look for you now. How has Top Model changed your life?

Top Model, honestly, cheesy as it sounds, has really helped me learn who I am. I went into the show like a bottle. I had all these things held in. Originally, I was like, “I’m going to the show and I’m going to have fun,” and then when I got there, it’s like all these things that I never thought would come out, came out. Since then, I was able to grow and fully understand myself. As much as I’d like to say that I hate that I said as much as I said on Top Model, it actually helped me grow as a person. If it wasn’t for Top Model, I don’t know how long I would have been holding all that baggage in. It actually helped me become kind of who I am now.

Are you happy or sad that you were eliminated before next week’s music video challenge?

[Laughs] Um… happy! I’m not very musically inclined. And I’m definitely not a good writer. I never really did very good in school. I kinda went from home to home, so I went from school to school, too. Maybe that was why. But yeah. I’m nervous for the girls. I’m definitely gonna stay tuned in and watch that one, because I don’t know how would I have handled that. It would have been horrible. If I wasn’t eliminated this week, it probably would have been next week, anyway.

So is it safe to say that you’re rooting for Laura?

I’m in love with Laura, and I would love to see her win. I’m also really rooting for Alison, too. Me and her, we ended up pushing our beds together and becoming really good friends inthe house. We would stay up and talk to each other all night about everything. I just think she’s so original and so unique. You know, you don’t know a lot of Alisons, you know what I’m saying? I kind of think that’s what an all-star needs to be. Someone who’s really unique and original. So part of me wants to say Laura just because I love her so much. Another part of me thinks Allison would be a really good fit for what an all-star should be, so I don’t know.

(Image courtesy of the CW)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.