Ousted 'Top Model' Heather Kuzmich: 'I was hoping to be a role model'
By Christopher Rocchio, 11/30/2007
When Heather Kuzmich was growing up with Asperger's -- a mild form of Autism that hinders her social interaction and verbal communication -- she said she didn't have a role model and felt "kind of alone."
"I was hoping to be a role model to girls who really weren't told they were beautiful at first and do have a little bit more problems than the girls who do have confidence and really do want to do modeling," Kuzmich told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"I really was not expecting to get so far...I'm my hardest critic by far. The [judging] panel was nothing compared to my own critiques. I'm usually very nit-picky when it comes to my art, and so it was no exception when I would see my [photos]. You know, I did great. But I could have done it better."
The 21-year-old college student from Valparaiso, IN was constantly praised by Top Model's judging panel for taking some of the best ninth-season photos, but her difficulties meeting new people and subsequently communicating with them hurt her, especially when it directly contributed to her ouster.
"I really don't think [the way I was eliminated] was unfair," she said. "If I was supposed to be eliminated -- that was the best possible way I could have been -- instead of me not being able to do my picture or perform properly."
During Wednesday night's "go sees," where the remaining girls met with various modeling-industry clients, Kuzmich visibly struggled to locate her client's Chinese offices and was disqualified from the challenge for finishing 40-minutes late.
"The problem was the fact that I could not read Chinese and that I terribly underestimated Chinese traffic... I was very lost," Kuzmich said. "[I was eliminated] because I was late. That is probably the best way I could have gotten eliminated. It's a pretty big bummer that I am eliminated, but I couldn't have asked a better way to be eliminated."
Kuzmich also experienced problems during the previous week's broadcast of the CoverGirl commercial photo shoot, in which she struggled to remember her lines and had to have Top Model art director Jay Manuel feed them to her.
"It was very hard for me because I did not want to be seen as having a special advantage over the girls," she explained. "I really do want to be treated like everyone else. That was the last thing I wanted to do. It was very embarrassing for me that he had to feed me the lines but I still messed up... I guess I choked."
Following the commercial shoot, Top Model creator and judge Tyra Banks commented that Kuzmich having the lines fed to her could be construed as "favoritism" since none of the other girls had that luxury.
"I believe I was treated just the same way as all the girls," said Kuzmich. "The fact that they think I did get treated differently is kind of a little bit weird hearing that. I really never heard anything like that from their end."
Kuzmich said she auditioned for Top Model in Chicago at the request of family and friends.
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"They basically kept on bugging me until I said, 'Okay, fine. I'll do it. But I won't guarantee I'll get on the show,'" recalled Kuzmich. "Somehow I got on... It's really my family and friends convinced me to go on."
While she was "confident" at the start of the competition, she tried to stay "pretty humble" and deal with not being able to speak with those who had encouraged her to audition.
"The biggest adjustment was not being able to talk to my family and not being able to have any communication outside of the house," said Kuzmich. "That and living with 14 other girls, plus a camera crew. I made friends with the girls, I was civil to the camera crew, and I tried not to make their job any harder than it already is... I also tried to keep myself as pleasant as possible. The situation was stressful enough, I didn't want to add any more stress to it."
Kuzmich said her Top Model journey gave her "more confidence" and allowed her to be more "trusting" in herself.
"I do still want to pursue modeling. I had a fun time when I was on the show," said Kuzmich, who is currently enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Art, where she majors in game-art design. "I just want to still go through college to make sure I have a back-up plan."
Since she's returned home from filming, Kuzmich said she's been surprised by the "fan-gasm" reaction she's received from the public.
"I was going on the show not really expecting myself to make that much of a dent," she said. "All of a sudden, everyone's like, 'We love you!' I'm like, 'What?! This does not make sense!'"