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Exclusive: Sheena Sakai talks 'America's Next Top Model' (Part 1)


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 09/23/2011 

Sheena Sakai became the second girl eliminated from America's Next Top Model's all-stars edition's second episode during Wednesday night's broadcast on The CW.

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On Thursday, the 24-year-old who previously appeared on Top Model's eleventh season, talked to Reality TV World about her America's Next Top Model experience -- including whether she was shocked to be eliminated, what her biggest goals were for competing on the show a second time, whether she believed her "unexpected" branding image fit her personality, and why she still remains confused about her "Harlem but not Hoochie" persona.

Below is the first portion of our exclusive interview with Sheena. Check back with Reality TV World on Monday for the second half. 

Reality TV World: Were you shocked to be eliminated or did you somewhat see it coming beforehand?

Sheena Sakai: No, because I figured all the things they were getting ready to do on this cycle, I would have done really well. And it wouldn't have made any sense, because I would have just excelled in it -- besides the whole fashion modeling aspect or taking photos or whatever, in their opinion.

But I'm not shocked. I actually -- I was almost disappointed because I really wanted to do this for my fans. I really wanted to be a part of this whole circus and entertain everyone. That was the only downside, but other than that, I don't take life very seriously. I don't take the show seriously, so I just rolled with it.

Reality TV World: You said in your final words that you came onto the show with a bigger dream and a bigger goal in mind. What exactly was your dream and your goal? Could you talk about that a little bit? 

Sheena Sakai: Absolutely. The biggest goal was to bring more presence in the Asian-American community within the media and my dream was to continue to inspire a lot of these young individuals, young teens, from all over the country that have reached out to me over the years and have constantly asked for advice and have been appreciating me being myself and not being afraid to go out there and put myself out there and express myself.

And so, I really felt like it was my homage to the fans and it was sentimental for me. I just wanted to be able to inspire all these young Asian-American girls that sit at their television and don't really have someone to look up or to really follow, and to feel like they fit in -- like they are a part of this culture, this society in entertainment.

It's starting to change and it's starting to get better. You're seeing a lot more of the Indian-American and Latinos and Koreans -- they're all coming out little by little.

Reality TV World: You touched on this a little, but why did you want to go back on America's Next Top Model and what were your goals for competing on the show again?

Sheena Sakai: I didn't even know it was for Top Model when I first was told about it. I was really excited about the idea of branding. It was something me and my team, or my agents, were talking about anyway. And so, to do it on a television scale would have been great exposure and it would have been a lot of fun.

When they were telling me that the fans had requested us to come back, I felt honored, and I felt like it was my homage to pay back to them. A lot of them have been reaching out to me through the years and wanting to go back on TV, so I felt, "This is a great opportunity." It was like, "It's fitting for the right time," and this time they were telling me it's more than just modeling.

It's not focusing on that. It's focusing on branding yourself, utilizing other talents that you have to be recognized in the media where there's acting, hosting, music, and because one of the producers knew personally what I was capable of, she really encouraged me to take interest. And I did, so I came back for all those reasons. All I asked was to just not mess with my hair. That's all I request.

Reality TV World: When you discovered the fans had taken a poll and gave you the brand "unexpected," what do you think they meant by that and what did that image mean to you? How difficult was it for you to portray "unexpected" on film?

Sheena Sakai: I felt like they were on-point when they chose "unexpected," because you don't normally see a lot of tall Asians in America anyway, and the way that I'm built and the way that I carry myself is not what you expect from most Asian Americans. I felt like when they were telling me I'm being unexpected, I thought that maybe I shouldn't take it so literal.

But then again with this show, if you do it literal, they'll criticize you or castrate you or whatever. But then when you do it opposite, then they'll criticize that. So you really can't win. It's a double-edged sword. You can just cross your fingers, do what you feel, and hopefully they'll like it, love it, hate it, whatever.

But I just thought the sentiment of being yourself, be everything that you are as your brand with your name -- just be yourself. I went in there and was myself, got my favorite turkey burger, put some flowers on it and made it all pretty.

Reality TV World: Your persona this season was "Harlem but not Hoochie." Could you talk a little bit about your thoughts on that image? It obviously is referring to how you had straddled a pole once upon the photographer's request and often posed sexy during your photo shoots throughout your first season on the show, which the judges called hoochie at the time. So would you say you liked that persona they gave you or were you frustrated that that kind of came back to haunt you when you were a little unhappy about the word hoochie to begin with?

Sheena Sakai: Girl, let me tell you something, I still to this day honestly don't in the world know what a hoochie is. I asked all my friends in the hood and my friends in school or wherever they are -- all from walks of life -- and I said, "What is a hoochie?" And everybody pretty much comes down to the "hood rat."

I am not a hood rat, and no where in the entire episode of my cycle did I ever show my ass or cleavage or anything that was revealing that way. So where they got hoochie, they must have just nit-picked my sexual charisma or something.

Anytime you see a woman with beautiful curves who is very confident and sensual, they're just going to go and call it hoochie because I had swag and I had a hood accent or whatever you want to call it. They wanted to show that element and call me a hoochie because they had nothing up on me, girl.

They can't call me a diva, they can't call me a b-tch, they can't call me the shy quiet one. So they were like, "Oh, let's give her hoochie." That's what I think, and I'm not frustrated. I actually know that I am not that way or that word, so it doesn't bother me.

But when I came on this cycle, I said, "Look, you may have called me things that are not who I am and this is my opportunity to let you know that look, that was uncalled for and you were wrong. This is who I really am and if you want to focus on branding and focus on who were are as individuals and our unique talents and why we're back, then this is that time."

So all things aside, they actually didn't mention that word during the photo shoot. Jay, actually, didn't even bring it up. It was not even an issue at all. He didn't see hoochie, clearly. He saw sexy. He saw confident. He saw Jessica Rabbit, and you know, that's actually one of my icons. Jessica Rabbit and [unintelligible] I really, really love. Those are my two icons.

So I try to embody that and I feel like being sexy and sensual is a very positive thing for a woman, and you have to embrace that no matter what size you are, no matter what you have, no matter what assets you carry.

Reality TV World: If you could have changed the name of the "Harlem but not Hoochie" persona they gave you, what would it have been?

Sheena Sakai: I would change it to Hawarlem, because I'm from Hawaii and I live in Harlem currently and I breathe both elements of my home life and my current life into one. I would say I am that divalicious or sassy girl Sheena Sakai from Hawarlem.

Reality TV World: The judges always commented on how beautiful you looked in person but would say it often didn't translate into your photos. Why do you think that was and do you think it's something you could fix or no? That must have gotten a little frustrating to keep hearing them say that.

Sheena Sakai: Yes, because I think it's -- like I said, I don't take this show very serious. They have to find reasons to criticize you because that's what makes it interesting. I know what I'm involved with and signed up for and I'm fully fine with that, but in the real -- and I've been a working model and I've been a working television personality and all that -- I know what my angles are.

I know that a lot of it is lighting, a lot of it is knowing your angles, and they are choosing the pictures that are not my best angles even though I'm working it the best I can. I've taken tons of photos. I've had many photo shoots and I work with many photographers, and they can all tell you that I can move and I can work in the camera, and I have great shots.

You can see for yourself on my website and such and so forth. I've taken really serious pictures but they're just choosing the really soft ones that I give. (Laughs) But it's all good at the end of the day and not everybody can afford to -- I mean, let's be real. It's entertainment. It's the entertainment industry -- glamour, beauty -- People have to get plastic surgery done all the time to change their face, change their nose.

People speculate Tyra Banks and Ashlee Simpson have fixed their noses for entertainment or for being in the limelight. So, whatever the issue is, whether it's true or not, I'm sure that it's a large part of the industry and that's why they have to maybe resort to certain things like that. You see it left and right.

So, I want to be natural and that's probably the price that I have to pay is having a terrible picture on Top Model (laughs) for not having any plastic surgery on my nose or something. I don't know.

Reality TV World: When we talked to you after your first Top Model season, you said that being in the cast was like being back in high school because of all the little cliques and drama. Would you say that was the case this time around or did you get a different vibe from the all-star girls in the house?

Sheena Sakai: I definitely got a different vibe. What's interesting is that when we're all together and in front of each other, no one is really talking crap or throwing shade. It always happens in the interview and then you see it once it airs, like, "Oh my God! You said that? Why would you say this? Why would you say that?"

It's pretty surprising when you feel like that person was actually really cool with you face to face, and then here they are saying something behind your back. It's kind of rude. It's more than rude, it's shady. So my experience first hand with them was that everyone was kind of like supporting each other.

It felt like a sorority because we all shared this common bond that we had this experience together. This is not easy. The average person would probably crack under the pressure. As you can see, girls really lose it emotionally and mentally because it's an unnatural situation. So, you really have to be prepared and very strong and focused, because you can lose it.

This time, I think we were a little bit more prepared. They did me a favor by releasing me early so I don't have to deal with that drama and I was free, but as you'll see, the girls probably will react to that situation under those circumstances and that's just the downside. But you know, it's give and take.

(Photo credit The CW)


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