'Top Model' winner CariDee English on her modeling career and her battle with psoriasis
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Since winning the reality television series America's Next Top Model in December 2006, CariDee English, a small-town girl from Fargo, North Dakota, was plucked from relative obscurity to be the new look for CoverGirl Cosmetics, the newest fresh face on the cover of Seventeen, and affiliated with the largest modeling agency in the world, Elite Model Management.
However, she feels her greatest accomplishment is being the spokeswoman for the National Psoriasis Foundation, in which she is a motivational speaker and gives encouragement to psoriasis sufferers. CariDee has even lobbied in Congress for the passage of a bill which would ask the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institute of Medicine to increase spending on finding a cure for psoriasis. You can read more about her role with the National Psoriasis Foundation here.
Wikinews reporter Mike Halterman sat down and talked with CariDee earlier in the week to discuss her own issues with psoriasis, how she has helped other sufferers in her role as spokeswoman for the Foundation, as well as what it's like to be a new model in New York City and her thoughts on how the fashion industry operates today.
This is the second in a series of articles with America's Next Top Model contestants. Articles will be published sporadically.
Intro and her Super Bowl pick
Mike Halterman: Hi! How are you doing today?
CariDee English: Fine! Doing good.
MH: So I heard you went to the Super Bowl last Sunday.
CE: Oh, no, I didn't get to go! I've been in New York for Fashion Week. Did someone tell you I went?
MH: Yeah, Jose [her manager at Elite Model Management] told me you had. Well, did you have a team to root for, anyway?
CE: Of course! I was going for New York! This was the first time that a team won in the state I was living in! I'm from North Dakota, and we don't have any professional teams, so it was pretty cool.
From North Dakota to the big city
MH: I'd imagine it's a big change moving from small-town North Dakota to New York City. What do you remember thinking in your first weeks in New York City?
CE: I don't know...it was kind of overwhelming! I remember being overwhelmed. There were trash and pigeons everywhere...and an endless amount of walking! But you know, I just love how big it is and how there are just...endless dreams. You have the opportunity to accomplish so much here.
MH: Did you miss home or ever think about just moving back to North Dakota?
CE: No, I could never move back to North Dakota. What would I do?
MH: Well, you were a fashion photographer, you could have went back there for some work...although I don't know how much you'd be in demand there.
CE: Yeah, it wasn't even an option! Not a thought.
On representing the National Psoriasis Foundation
MH: So you're currently a spokeswoman for the National Psoriasis Foundation. What have you found, in your interactions with others who have had the disease, are their reactions once the disease manifests itself?
CE: I think a lot of people try to hide away from it, and I want people to be comfortable in their own skin, no pun intended. I just want people to be comfortable with themselves, because I know I hid under clothes for years.
MH: In your experience as ambassador, what story touched you the most?
CE: It really makes me upset because there are a lot of great medications out there and the government won't fund payments for patients. There was a 9-year-old boy who was on a great medicine and then his insurance dropped him from it. It came back and it's now covered 95% of his body. You know, it's just heartbreaking to be able to be treated for it and then not be able to afford it.
MH: Were your reactions to psoriasis and discovering you had it comparable with those of other people?
CE: No, because I understood what it was when I had it. Other people may be scared of it when they discover they have it, because they might not know what it is.
MH: Did relating with others with the condition give you a personal boost?
CE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Seeing a little boy, healing and still living life, that's an inspiration to me. We're all just trying to be here for each other. No one person is above anyone else, we're just trying to support each other and find a cure together.
MH: As an ambassador for psoriasis awareness, you've become a role model of sorts to young girls and women who are afflicted with the disease. What kind of advice have you given to people coping with the disease?
CE: "I have psoriasis, I don't let psoriasis have me." Don't live your life through your disease.
MH: Do you think that having had obstacles like your psoriasis and depression have helped you enter the industry more grounded than other girls who may not have had such rough experiences?
CE: Yeah, I mean, I only know my own experiences, but I didn't take anything for granted. I was grateful for being able to start in such a difficult industry and having that background to be able to overcome things on my own.
On her former photography work
MH: You've worked behind the camera before you stepped in front of it; has this helped you as a model?
CE: It's helped me to understand the relationship and connection you need to have between a model and photographer, and what the photographer wants out of the model, like what art they want to create, and the importance of it.
MH: Would you like to step back behind the camera at some point?
CE: For fun, absolutely. I love doing that for fun, and...recreational, for sure. It'll always be a hobby of mine.
MH: Experiencing both the photography side of the spectrum as well as being in front of the cameras, what do you deem extraordinary in terms of the aesthetic? What is beauty to you?
CE: Beauty is having confidence. If a woman is confident in front of the camera, and exudes that confidence, then there's no room for error. So, confidence, definitely.
Top Model and her modeling career
MH: Obviously your experience on Top Model was very positive. However, has the experience impacted you negatively at all?
CE: I think the only negative thing about it is that fans seem to think that if you're not on the cover of all these magazines, that you're not getting work. Not everything is covered equally. It's a different age now that a lot of celebrities are on the covers of magazines, and people go "Oh, well, this show hasn't produced a Top Model!" We've been doing a lot of work in a lot of different things and I think people forget that.
MH: I've been following your career, and I've noticed you haven't been doing a lot of runway work as opposed to print modeling, which you've done a lot of. Do you have any fashion shows lined up in the near future?
CE: I've actually done a lot of runway work, but the thing is that the runway work never gets as much press as the print work does, so I've done a lot more shows than what people have seen on the Internet. It's difficult now too, because a lot of girls have to be skinny skinny now, and I think I have a good walk and a good spring/summer look, but you know, I'm a size 0. 0 or a 2. I went in to see a fashion designer for the winter designs and I knew I wouldn't be thin enough for this job, and I'm 125 pounds at 5'10". I'm a grown woman, I'm not prepubescent anymore, so if that means I'm not thin enough and that means I'll lose a job, then you know, I'll take that risk. I'm healthy.
MH: What is more fun to you, photoshoots or runway?
CE: I love photoshoots. Runway is great because you do quick hair, makeup, wardrobe, and you get a huge rush from that, but with photoshoots there's a sense of accomplishment, I can see what I've done and get totally "in my zone."
MH: We know you as wacky and fun-loving on Top Model. Since you've come to New York, what's the wackiest thing you've done?
CE: It's a hard question! I can't think of any...every moment is wacky in New York! I think one good moment was when my brother and I went out to Times Square at maybe 2:30 in the morning. We went to this 24-hour Starbucks and drank all this coffee, and then we had an artist sketch our picture, and then we went on a buggy ride and we didn't end up getting back home until 5 in the morning. It was a lot of fun.
MH: How do you reconcile the demands of a potentially busy modeling day with the need to let loose and be free-spirited?
CE: I'd just jump off the Empire State Building with a parachute. [laughs] No, I like to go out with friends, go dancing, hit the clubs, but if I have a photoshoot the next day, I just want to stay in with my boyfriend.
Looking back and what's coming next
MH: It's been over a year now since you won Top Model. Was 2007 all you hoped it would be?
CE: Yeah, and more! It was great. It was the best year so far.
MH: What one achievement was your favorite?
CE: Honestly, being the spokesperson for the National Psoriasis Foundation. Not just in the United States, either; I've been to Canada, all over Europe, I loved Switzerland, and then down to Argentina. I'm a global spokesperson for psoriasis, and that's fun to do.
MH: Anything coming up work-wise you want to share with us?
CE: Yep! I'm starting my own show with MTV, where I'll be the executive producer and host.
MH: What's it going to be about?
CE: I can't say anything yet! But it'll be very funny.
MH: And finally, do you have any special words for all the Top Model fans out there?
CE: Oh, Gosh, I have millions of words! [thinks about what to say] I feel like I'm accepting an award! I want to thank all of you for supporting me and I lean on you guys more than you realize.