Exclusive: Ondrei Edwards talks about 'America's Next Top Model'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/04/2011
Ondrei Edwards quit America's Next Top Model's sixteenth season during Wednesday night's broadcast on The CW after coming to realize she didn't have the focus to continue in the competition due to her grief from the deaths of two brothers.
On Friday, the 18-year-old retail salesperson from Atlanta, GA talked to Reality TV World about her America's Next Top Model experience -- including what finally made her decide she wanted to go home, why she had decided to go on the show in the first place, what her family and friends had thought of her initial decision to compete on Top Model, how her brothers died, and whether she has any regrets about her decisions.
Reality TV World: So when did you finally determine that you wanted to go home? Was there a certain event that triggered something or a moment where you just made the decision or had you basically been considering leaving since the beginning?
Ondrei Edwards: Well actually, what pretty much triggered it was the challenge that I had to do with the actor and from realizing that in real life I had a deeper problem, you know, that I needed to deal with. It was a part of being on the show and I needed to make the decision to go home.
Reality TV World: Some people -- including some of this season's other girls -- have questioned why you decided to go on America's Next Top Model to begin with given you had gone through such tragic events so recently. Can you address that a little -- I know you mentioned during the show that you wanted to take the special opportunity in part because it would have made your brothers proud, but given the way it played out, it seemed like you had really underestimated where you were in the grieving process.
Ondrei Edwards: Yeah, like I didn't realize how much I had a problem until a little after being on the show, and I think that with anybody, if you have an opportunity for yourself to especially do something with your life and better yourself and to make somebody proud, anybody would take it.
I didn't realize how much it impacted me until after staying there for a little while. Things began to unravel and I began to see that I had a deeper problem.
Reality TV World: What had your family and friends thought about it -- had they felt Top Model was something you were going to be ready to handle or had they had concerns about it?
Ondrei Edwards: Well, actually, everybody -- I don't think anybody even thought about -- everybody was supportive of me leaving, and it was something great, and they were very supportive and very loving. Even after the show and after I went home, they were just as supportive as when I was on the show.
Reality TV World: Had you told Top Model's producers about your brothers before the show started, and if so what had their reaction been -- had they voiced any concerns or had you meet with a psychiatrist to evaluate whether they felt you'd be able to handle the show or anything like that?
Ondrei Edwards: Yeah, I went through all that stuff. I really didn't necessarily really talk to the executive producers and from then on, it just seemed like it kept constantly getting brought up and yeah, it just kind of got worse from there with me being on the show.
Reality TV World: I don't know if you're comfortable talking about it, but if so, can you explain what happened to your brothers? You said during the show one was in some kind of accident and the other one was murdered.
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Ondrei Edwards: Yeah well one of my brothers was in an accident when I was nine-years-old and it happened a little after my birthday, and the one that just recently died was my brother Shasin and he got murdered in Texas by a guy that's actual in trial. It's still going on until this very day. It's not over, so yeah, that's what happened and we're actually still going to court dates and everything for it.
Reality TV World: I'm very sorry to hear that.
Ondrei Edwards: Thank you.
Reality TV World: Were you nervous to tell Tyra Banks and the rest of the judges that you wanted to quit since I'm sure many girls out there would have loved to be in your spot?
Ondrei Edwards: Mhmm. Yeah, I was nervous. Anyone would be nervous, you know? -- Telling people that gave you this opportunity and that would give you a chance to get a contract as big as that one -- and it was difficult and it was hard but it was definitely something that I thought about and I just didn't decide overnight that I wanted to go home.
I had to think about it. So, it was definitely hard for me to share that with them and tell them that I needed to go home, but I'm glad that they respected my decision to leave.
Reality TV World: How do you think the judges handled the news? Were you happy with their response because you said they had really respected your decision?
Ondrei Edwards: Mhmm. Yeah, I mean they weren't like giving me [difficulty] and everything like that. So, I really didn't receive a lot of feedback from them, but so far as them like allowing me to go home -- that issue -- they were respectful enough that they allowed me to go home. But I didn't necessarily really get a lot of feedback from Tyra or the judges. I got feedback from [Andre Leon Talley] but that's about it.
Reality TV World: When did you end up learning you didn't have the worst photo of the bunch and what was your reaction -- did you begin having any second thoughts about quitting or regretting your decision?
Ondrei Edwards: Oh, is that the first photo shoot that you're talking about?
Reality TV World: The second one. The photo shoot with the bees you participated in before leaving. You didn't actually have the worst photo of the week even though you said you weren't fully invested in it and everything.
Ondrei Edwards: Yeah, I actually didn't know that I had the worst photo until I just saw it with everybody else, so that was the first time I was actually seeing my photo. I wasn't allowed to look at it when I left, because I left before they even revealed the photo.
So, it felt good to know that I didn't have the worst photo. Even looking at the photos that I did take, I was very impressed with myself. But you know, I was happy with my photo shoot.
Reality TV World: So you didn't have regrets quitting at that point, knowing that you actually did well?
Ondrei Edwards: Absolutely not. I think that everything happens for a reason and so I'm glad, because I need that time to get away and deal with my personal issues, so I don't regret leaving nor do I regret doing the show at all.
Reality TV World: You said you were very happy to learn that you didn't have the worst photo, did you expect that you were going to have the worst photo since you said you didn't put 100% percent effort in?
Ondrei Edwards: Yeah, I was a little surprised because I didn't know how my picture would come out. I thought -- I tried giving it my all as much as I could -- and I wasn't doing it on purpose or anything like that, but it wouldn't make sense for me to have the best photo, of course.
But to see that surprised me, most definitely, to know that my photo was not the worst and how good it came out, so I was happy with myself.
Reality TV World: Did you have any modeling experience before going on the show and how knowledgeable would you say you were about the fashion industry then?
Ondrei Edwards: In the fashion industry, I've always been pretty knowledgeable as model, maybe not as much as some of the other girls would be. I never actually did any professional photography, you know, professional runway or anything like that. I did shots with [unintelligible] and she's a photographer. So as far as that was concerned, I didn't have much experience in the industry at all.
Reality TV World: You said you felt great when they liked your photo from the photo shoot with bees and Jay Manuel also said you had a "striking look" and he would definitely book you for a modeling job, but was just upset your performance fell flat. How did you feel when you heard Jay speak so highly of you when you watched the show at home?
Ondrei Edwards: It definitely felt good and I definitely didn't want to let anybody down. So the bad part was that I didn't know that I fell that flat, because looking back on it and looking at the episode, I didn't know that I'd be that bad.
But to see the photo shoot and to hear him say good things about it, that he would book me, I was proud at that moment, knowing that regardless of what happened, I will pursue modeling regardless of what anybody says or regardless of how the show went because America's Next Top Model did not make me. It definitely gave me a boost, but the model was there before I even got on the show.
Reality TV World: It sounds like you definitely want to pursue modeling, so what are you plans for the near future?
Ondrei Edwards: Definitely my plans are for the near future is to keep on in the industry and do the best that I can so far as getting my name out there and just doing it on my own. I plan on going further as time progresses. By this year, I want to know and be in full effect and in full action of becoming a model.
Reality TV World: What was the "bee" jewelry photo shoot like and were you scared to get stung or just simply being surrounded by so many bees while you would be opening your mouth and everything?
Ondrei Edwards: It was definitely an uncomfortable position to be in, but it was interesting. I had fun actually doing it because it was something I never did before, but it definitely taught me a lot.
With that being like one photo shoot for however long I was on the show, you will always be in a comfortable position, you will definitely be in an uncomfortable position, but it helps you be a better model learning how to deal with those situations, regardless of you being uncomfortable or not. So, I was happy that it was a "bee" shoot. I was more excited than I was scared.
Reality TV World: What went through your mind during the "inner critic" and how did you feel when you saw all the girls opening up? Was that tough to watch and was there maybe one girl in particular that really stood out for showing her emotions and progressing?
Ondrei Edwards: No, I was very impressed with Hannah's photo. It was really beautiful because it was the first time I was seeing it on TV. So, I applaud her for that. That was a really magical shot.
Reality TV World: Oh, I was referring to the "inner critic" challenge when you had to draw the pictures of yourself and everything. Was there any girl who opened up emotionally that truly touched you or that surprised you?
Ondrei Edwards: Everybody pretty much opened up and I was surprised to see that. Everybody had their own issues to deal with so I was proud of everybody... because I didn't know how everybody felt, like Kasia, I was surprised to hear about her weight and everything. But I was proud of her for that and I was proud of everybody.
Reality TV World: So going back to what you previously touched on, do you agree that Hannah had the best photo of the week from the photo shoot and were you surprised that Nicole got eliminated?
Ondrei Edwards: I was surprised that Nicole got eliminated and Hannah did have the best photo. Hannah had the best photo because I saw Nicole's photo before, and so the fact that she got kicked off was surprising to me because I didn't think that she would with her being such a good model and everything. So, it was a shock.
Reality TV World: During the premiere episode, what was your reaction when you thought you didn't make the cut after Jay handed everyone their envelopes and your picture was not inside and then how did your reaction change when Tyra told you that it was all a trick?
Ondrei Edwards: Everybody pretty much was shocked and happy at the same time. It was bittersweet because you're sad because you're going home and you're thinking, 'Well maybe I'm not good enough,' and all this stuff like that is going through your mind and all these emotions.
And then for her to pull down the veil and tell us that we were going to be staying was a good feeling. I was crying, everybody was crying, so, it was a crazy experience.
Reality TV World: There ended up being girls that had to go home when they believed they were the ones who were going to continue in the running for the season when they saw their photos in the envelopes. So, do you think the envelope process was worth the "life lesson" that a model needs to learn to face rejection, or do you think it maybe should have been handled in a different way?
Ondrei Edwards: No, I actually believed that it happened for the best reasons. You know that you're going to face rejection, so for me, it wasn't as bad. Of course I was in tears and I was sad, but people are going to face rejection and people are going to say, 'No.'
But that doesn't mean that you should be saying that you're not good enough to do it and stuff like that, because you know you're not always going to get a yes from everybody. So it definitely taught me something in that little short lesson that we had.
Reality TV World: What were your impressions of Alexandria and her potential in the competition? She said she wasn't there to make friends and she seemed to come off strong, especially when she was attempting to train Jaclyn with her runway walk.
Ondrei Edwards: I really did not let Alexandria get to me, because I honestly knew that she had a very strong personality and I saw that, and people like that, I really don't gravitate towards because they kind of think they can run you and all that stuff.
So, I pretty much stayed out of her way, not out of being fearful of her, but just the fact that I didn't want to gravitate towards her or give her any reason to think that she could overpower me.
Reality TV World: What advantages did you think you had over some of the other models?
Ondrei Edwards: I believe that if I did have an advantage over the models, I mean no one's perfect, but me being secure in knowing who I am and not being like, 'She's too short.' A lot of people would say, 'She's not pretty enough.'
But all my life, I've heard positive things and even the bad things, I never let them phase me, because people are entitled to their own opinion. People will always have something to say.
So if it was to be a news reporter or just random people saying negative things, I feel like my personality is strong enough and I'm a strong enough person to realize that I am beautiful. I am not the tallest, but it doesn't matter if you're tall or short. You can model. So, I think I have that advantage over a lot of girls.
Reality TV World: How did you get cast on America's Next Top Model? How did you end up on the show and was it your first time applying?
Ondrei Edwards: Yeah, it was the first time doing anything that crazy, because I was actually on my way home coming from Chicago, visiting some family members, when Top Model called me and told me they were having casting calls for America's Next Top Model and from there I started going to the auditions and eventually, I made the cut.