People have often encouraged Kari Calhoun to pursue a career in modeling, but she always had other plans.
“My degree is in apparel and fashion design,” the North Texas beauty says. “I’ve started an online boutique. That’s where my passion is.”
Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Coppell High School grad (Class of 2008) can be seen this season as one of 14 finalists on America’s Next Top Model. The long-running reality show begins its 21st cycle at 8 p.m. Monday on the CW network.
“When I was younger, my mom used to try to get me into modeling, but I never felt comfortable doing it,” Calhoun says. “After I finished college and moved to Los Angeles, I had been doing a little modeling, but mostly as a way to be in the right places and to meet the right people so I would be able to grow myself in the fashion industry.”
Then, almost out of the blue, along came a chance to do Tyra Banks’ competition show.
“I was at the gym working out and someone approached me and asked if I have ever tried out for America’s Next Top Model,” she says. “She told me about an open casting call. Since this opportunity was happening organically, I thought maybe it was something I was meant to be doing.
“So I went to the casting call and made it through each round until I actually made it onto the show, which is really crazy to me, because it’s something I never saw myself doing. But it’s been a great experience and I’m really happy about it.”
Calhoun still has secondary motives, mind you. For her, the goal isn’t to see herself on the cover of a magazine. It’s about generating interest in a business she calls get-glazed.com, which she says she hopes to launch later this month or in the very near future. (www.get-glazed.com).
“Any modeling opportunities that come from the show,” she says, “will be free advertising.”
That said, the grand prize — $100,000 from GUESS, whose advertising campaigns have launched many modeling careers; a fashion feature in Nylon magazine; and a modeling contract with Next Model Management — is not something to be taken lightly.
This will be the second season of a “Guys and Girls” format, in which seven men and seven women will live under one roof and battle for the Top Model title.
From the start, several guys on the show are quite taken with Kari, sometimes to the point that they don’t allow her much breathing room.
“There were definitely times when I remember being like, ‘OK, just give me some space,’ ” she says. “But I’ve always had a lot of guy friends, ever since I can remember, so having guys around doesn’t hinder anything that I’m doing. I definitely stay focused on competing.
“If I distract them, well, that’s great. But I’m not going to let them distract me.”
America’s Next Top Model is Calhoun’s first experience with reality TV, so having a camera shadow her every move felt weird at first.
“You become completely aware of yourself and everything that you’re doing,” she says. “But then you get used to it and tune it out.”
Even though the show hasn’t aired yet, Calhoun has discovered that there are quite a few people already sizing up the aspiring models on their blogs. She notes that it might have been a mistake for her to read some of the commentary about her, but she did it anyway.
“I think the public kind of views me as ‘filler,’ ” she says. “I’m quoting something that I read, where they said I was basically just taking up space and that I’m not necessarily going to win. I’m not sure what I give off to make them feel that way about me, but I don’t think of myself that way.
“And I hope, once people see the show, they’ll see me as someone who keeps true to herself. No matter what challenge we’re doing that week, I know who I am and I don’t change for anyone.”