Exclusive: Sheena Sakai talks 'America's Next Top Model' (Part 2)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 09/26/2011
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.
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 what she was up to professionally before appearing on the show a second time, whether she felt she was playing it safe in her Pink's photo shoot, how she believed the all-stars season differs from prior Top Model seasons, and what changes she saw in fellow former eleventh-season contestant Isis King after she had completed her physical transformation.
Below is the second half of our exclusive interview with Sheena. Click here to read the first portion.
Reality TV World: What were you doing up until the time you went on Top Model's all-stars edition? What were you doing professionally and how was everything going? Were you still modeling?
Sheena Sakai: Yes. I was doing commercials. I was more of a commercial model and print model. I've done different events and shows. I've been working on music. I traveled a lot, what else can I say? Life is good. Oh yeah, I started an online vintage shop, because that's something I've always done on the side.
I started to collect and started to sell some of my pieces. It's really hard to let go of it, but my apartment is getting crowded with clothes and I'm becoming a hoarder. (Laughs) So, I had to start selling some pieces and actually, I felt like I was a little shy about wearing my vintage clothes for the first time because part of me felt like, "Hey, maybe it doesn't match my personality."
They were telling me to dress really simple and not wear so much clothing with prints and brands. I was really low key about it, but this time, I know everybody is going hard bringing their stash. So, I made sure, "You know what? I'm going to come out being me." I did the show a first time, paid my dues -- I'm going to bring my vintage, I'm going to bring my style and not care.
Reality TV World: In your critique after the hotdog shoot, Tyra said you had so much more flavor in you but you were playing it safe in your photo. Did you feel like you really were playing it a little safe or would you say she was off-base? Do you think maybe they just picked a poor "best photo" in comparison to the rest of your film?
Sheena Sakai: I wish that she could be present at every single shoot so she could see for herself what goes on and how we interact with the photographer and how we do and how we move, you know? Honestly, I was doing really well. I got along great with the photographer. Me and him threw some jokes and some laughs and we really connected well.
He enjoyed filming me! He didn't say anything negative. [Jay Manuel] had something to pinpoint, but I did really well. I thought it was really smooth and I understood the direction. I understood the concept, and I did really well. I don't feel like I struggled. The shot that they chose was the shot that they wanted to criticize. That's the only reason, because I'm experience.
I may not consider myself a model, but I have taken tons of shoots. I've worked with tons of photographers. I have seen my best shots. If they let me pick or the photographer pick, then it would be a different story. But someone else is picking it, and they're picking it so they can nit-pick what they pick. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: Although you were only on the show for its first two episodes, how would you say the all-stars edition was different from your first experience on the show? Because especially when looking at the first panel and how Brittany had been eliminated although she didn't have the weakest photo, it doesn't sound like modeling ability is going to be the sole criteria in choosing the show's winner.
Sheena Sakai: Absolutely. That's a great question. This particular cycle is about being the whole package. It's about being more than just a pretty face, more than just a high fashion model. You have to have a set of a lot of other skills to be able to last in the industry, and I get what they're saying. I don't take that show very seriously.
In the real world, it does happen. It does work that way, but you don't have to go through kind of ridiculous training exercises to become those things. So, it happens everyday when you go to castings and when you're taking lessons, but at the same time, it's not a challenge where you're thinking of other people that way. It's silly.
But definitely this cycle is different because we've all been on it once, and out of hundreds of us that have made it to the final house, it's not down to 14. Not all the all-stars or all the fan favorites are on there I'm sure, because there's a bunch of us. But for what it is and what it's worth, they picked a really strong group and each of us have our own unique strengths.
Being in the first two episodes, it was a little disappointing, because I wasn't able to fully showcase all of my strengths and skills -- which I'm the strongest at. I feel like they've got their thumb down on me and Tyra had her thumb on me like, "Ah, I don't want everyone to see what you do. I don't want everybody to see that you can act" or something.
I don't know, because I want people to see that you don't take a good picture in my opinion. I don't know. That's how I feel, but at the same time, I don't take it personal. I do really well with what I'm doing at the moment and I'm fortunate to have a great team. So, that's that. At the end of the day, enjoy it. It's a television program. We're here to entertain you. Enjoy it.
Reality TV World: Isis was on your first season so what was your initial reaction when you saw she was going to be an all-star? After you spent a little time with her, did you see any noticeable changes in her performance or attitude especially since she was competing after she had completed her whole physical transformation?
Sheena Sakai: Absolutely. Isis was always my boo. I would stick up for that girl. I understand her very well and she definitely is more comfortable because she's finally able to be who she wanted to -- who she believes she is, you know? -- who she was born to be. That's so great feeling that, so of course, she's going to be more outspoken, more confident, more energetic.
It's great seeing her that happy. She deserves it. You don't understand how some of these people that are going through these transitions really suffer socially and emotionally. I'm very happy for her and I was so excited to see her. We were like, "Team 11!" It was just great.
Looking back, it would have just been heaven because me [Brittany "McKey" Sullivan] and Isis all get along and we were actually roommates in our cycle, so it would have been really fun.
Reality TV World: Was there any specific aspect of the competition you were looking forward to that you're maybe upset you're going to miss out on?
Sheena Sakai: Absolutely. I saw previews that LaToya Jackson was in there and they were in the recording studio and they were wearing Michael Jackson outfits. I was dying! I couldn't believe -- I thought, "Oh my God, I can do the moonwalk in stilettos." If they only let me do that, that would have been so funny.
Reality TV World: While you were on the show, who did you see as being your biggest competition and why?
Sheena Sakai: Honestly, I know this gets asked all the time but I'm just like, "I'm the only Asian girl in this competition." I'm always the only Asian girl. (Laughs) When I go to casting, I'm looking around and I'm like, "Damn, I'm the only Asian girl!" My agents are sending me stuff that's not for Asians, and I'm like, "Oh, okay!" (Laughs)
But you know, it's fun. And honestly, it's a competitive world. You have to be competitive, but the real competition -- I know this sounds cliche -- is yourself, because only you can make yourself better or you can make yourself worse by holding back or not believing in yourself. So, you're really at war from within.
Reality TV World: When you entered the house, was there anyone you were really surprised to see or disappointed to see would be joining you as part of the all-stars cast?
Sheena Sakai: I had no idea who would be joining. I was looking at blogs and thinking, "Okay, who can I speculate?" I thought [Jade Cole] would come and I always wanted to meet her. I thought it would be very interesting because had kind of a feud with [Gina Choe] from her cycle, and I really, really wanted to meet Jade because I wanted to show -- I mean, I'm sure she knows who I am too.
I think we're Facebook friends and I just wanted to meet her and really understand what happened that time with her and Gina and why they were going at it, and kind of just let her know, "Look, in our community, yes we're perceived this way, but you have to understand that there's this dynamic and there's this thing and there's that thing and you should understand your bi-racial."
I really want to have a political conversation with her in that regards, but I was not that surprised, honestly. I would have liked [Jennifer An] to be there, because I've met her here and there in passing and stuff. She actually looks just like my little sister. So me and [Laura Kirkpatrick], we actually got along really well because her and Jennifer are best friends.
And with Laura, I was learning Korean and she's really smart. That girl picks it up. She can speak Korean. When you get a chance to see her or talk to her or whatever -- nevermind. I don't know. I think she won to be honest. I think her and [Allison Harvard] won, but I was just kind of surprised to see -- who was I surprised to see?
I knew [Bianca Golden] would be there. I knew [Angelea Preston] was going to be there. I knew Allison would be there. I was surprised to see [Alexandria Everett] because I don't know -- I never watched the cycle after 14, I believe. So, I don't know any of the girls through cycles 15-17.
When I saw her, I was like, "Who is this chick!?" And I was looking at her picture and I was asking people like, "Wait a second. Is this Cycle 17 or is this Cycle 16?" So I was like, "Who is this girl?" (Laughs)
Reality TV World: What's next for you? What are your plans for the near future?
Sheena Sakai: I have a new show coming out on television called Noble Exchange. It airs September 27. I'm working on music. I'm getting back into the music game. So, I'll be recording some stuff very soon. I'll be performing and still acting. I'll probably get into independent films -- Die Hard type of films. I'm really into that whole cult classic kind of thing.