Despite her prior history with America's Next Top Model creator and lead judge Tyra Banks, ninth-season champ Saleisha Stowers apparently feels she didn't have an edge in the recently concluded competition.

"Honestly, I feel that everything is done fair and square," Stowers told reporters during a Thursday conference call.  "There's more than one judge, and I really think that every judge has their own opinion on the show.  If they didn't feel like I deserved to be America's Next Top Model, than I wouldn't.  I did work hard to earn this, and I feel like I deserve it... I think I was chosen fairly like every other girl to be on the show."

Stowers -- a 21-year-old receptionist from Los Angeles, CA -- saw her relationship with Banks begin when she attended Banks' T-Zone camp for underprivileged girls as a 14-year-old.

"The camp wasn't a modeling camp," Stowers explained to reporters.  "It was more like for girls who [had] low self-esteem.  Girls like that.  It had nothing to do with modeling."

While the T-Zone camp experience may have had nothing to do with modeling, Stowers' participation in a Gen Art fashion show that Top Model's sixth-season cast attended as well as a subsequent runway appearance on Banks' syndicated The Tyra Banks Show talk show definitely had to do with modeling, no matter how you spin it.

"Yeah, I did do a runway show on the Tyra Show.  I did," said Stowers, who was one of about a dozen models that modeled designs by current Project Runway fourth-season contestant Rami Kashaou during a Tyra Banks episode that featured a fashion show of Kashaou's work.  "I do believe that it does help me a little bit... But I don't feel it affects what the judges think."

If anything, Stowers said her previous experience -- which also included a non-speaking role in a nationwide Wendy's commercial that aired last year -- made it more difficult for her to win the competition.

"I do feel like maybe [the judges] were a little harder on me.  But I do feel I was judged equally and fairly, like every other girl," she explained.  "I really don't think that any connection from T-Zone or the Tyra Show had anything to do with my critiques or judging."

While Top Model's eligibility requirements state potential contestants "must not have previous experience as a model in a national campaign within the last five years (including, but not limited to, appearances on television and print advertisements)," Stowers was presumably able to sidestep that because the Wendy's ad was considered acting rather than modeling.

(UPDATE: In a statement issued to E! News, The CW has confirmed that Stowers did disclose her Wendy's commercial role, and "after reviewing the commercial, it was determined that her appearance did not amount to 'modeling' experience, and therefore did not exclude her from participating in the show.")

"I've had prior little modeling gigs that I've done," Stowers told reporters.  "They were nothing like extremely big.  They were just certain little modeling gigs in L.A."

Stowers assured reporters the other Top Model ninth-season finalists "knew" of her previous modeling experience and her relationship with Banks.

"[It was] not something I wanted to use on the show because I don't feel that it had anything to do with how I was going to be judged or my position on the show," she said.
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Stowers defeated Chantal Jones, a 19-year-old student from Austin, TX, to claim the ninth-season crown.

"I think that she was more advanced than I was of course... Like I said on the show, I'm an amateur... I probably did look like an amateur because that's what I am.  Saleisha wasn't exactly an amateur," Jones told reporters during a separate Thursday conference call.

"When it came to [walking] the runway, definitely Saleisha was always everyone's biggest competitor, because her runway was incredible, she's very good and she taught us all a little bit, but we couldn't get it the way that she had it.  Saleisha was my biggest competitor when it came to the runway, hands down."

However despite her comments, Jones also said Stowers couldn't be considered a "professional" model either, and added that Stowers experience was "good for the competition."

"I don't think the competition should be all girls that don't know anything. If you throw a girl in there that has some experience and that knows what she's doing a little bit more, I think it gives the competition a little bit of an edge, and it really helps to see who rises to the top," explained Jones, obviously backtracking over her previous comments.  "I think that it's good that they put different people on there, and I think they should continue to do that... It makes you work harder."

Jones added that if she wasn't the one who was going to win Top Model 9, she'd glad it was Stowers.

"She's the only one that I would have wanted to win if it weren't me," said Jones.  "Saleisha's the total package, and I think she's going to represent America's Next Top Model really well.  I'm proud to have lost to her.  She definitely won.  I think that it was very fair."

About The Author: Christopher Rocchio
Christopher Rocchio is an entertainment reporter for Reality TV World and has covered the reality TV genre for several years.