Raelia Lewis talks about making America’s Next Top Model after trying four times
If at first you don’t succeed pick yourself up and try again, and again, and again, make a YouTube video about how great you are and then try again. On season 21 of America’s Next Top Model there was one model that followed her calling regardless of the rejections. After four tries Raelia Lewis became a finalist in the house with 13 other competitors. She faced challenge after challenge and continued to outshine the others. With her chocolate brown skin covering the frame of hidden talent, Raelia went on to make it until episode 10 when she was sadly eliminated but, that didn’t stop the Philadelphia native from pursuing her destiny. Walking the runway for Leanne Marshall, Lila Nikole, Betsey Johnson and many more; Raelie has transformed herself from walking the streets of Philly to walking the runways at New York Fashion Week. Now Raelia has signed with three different modeling agencies and is on her way to Cape Cod, South Africa this fall. I spoke with Raelia on her journey to becoming a fan favorite, living
in the house, life after the show and what made this time the charm.
How did you get started modeling?
I got started when I was about 15, I was scouted by a local agency but I realized that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in so when I was 18 I started traveling back and forth to New York.
How did you end up on season 21 of America’s Next Top Model?
I tried out four times originally, the first time I tried out I was 18, I tried out again at 19, and again at 20.I tried out for The Face next and they all turned me down of course, so I decided to take a break from it. The following year a girl from my high school actually hit me on Instagram and told me to send in some photos because they were casting for the 21st cycle. I sent them through and the rest is history I made the show finally after four tries.
While in the house what was your biggest issue or conflict?
I didn’t really have any issues, I was just so into the game I really wanted to win. I always worried about who I was going to be around or what the next challenge or photoshoot would be because it was always something crazy that we had to do. I also worried about what was the next look or the next time I was getting out of the house. It was fun and relaxing and I had the most fun in the house, but I was always worried about the following day when it was time to go on set or when it was time to work.
What was the one thing you remember most from being on ANTM?
The feeling I felt when I first made the house. When I first found out I was a finalist. They took us to the roof top and we didn’t know where we were going. Tyra Banks was on the roof standing alone and she said she was picking the top 14 at that very moment. We had no idea, we thought we were going to a shoot or something and it was actually the final cut. The feeling I had when I actually made it, my heart dropped like this is it!
What was one thing you took away from this experience?
I feel like it made me a better person but it kind of broke me in a way. It makes me look at the world differently, I’m more patient now, I’m not as hard on myself as I used to be, now every mistake is a learning experience so I’m okay with me more. I’m okay with looking silly, I’m okay with not getting everything right because I know eventually with practice and dedication I will keep going and getting better with time. I’m more aware of my angles and my body positions, the show showed me how to be okay with myself.
Since being on ANTM what has changed in your life?
First I moved to L.A.! I moved to L.A. about this time last year with a few of my cast mates from the show. My thing was about being signed and when I got there I was having so much trouble getting signed. I was getting told I was too tall, just all kinds of crazy stuff so I started doing research and I started to see that some of the agencies that were telling me I was too tall actually had white models who were my height or taller and I thought well that’s strange. I had a manager at the time and he kind of broke it down to me about being a black model. It’s tough just like being a black woman on earth, either you dive in or you gonna let that stop you and I decided well, I’m always going to be a black woman but I wasn’t ashamed of that and I wasn’t going to let that stop me. When I realized I needed to rethink my look I decided to go to Miami for a while. Then I got to Miami and I got signed, a few agencies turned me down saying “oh we’re not accepting models right now” it was some of the same stuff but eventually I got signed and I started working.
How do you deal with the “subliminal racism” in the modeling industry as a black woman?
I try not to allow it to take over the auditioning part but sometimes I walk in and I feel like all they see is my skin color, they don’t even see my beauty or my talent. They see a black girl and their like “oh no that’s not what we’re looking for” but I can’t let it distract me because if I let it limit me than I’ll never get to where I want to go; so when I walk into a casting room I’m well aware of the fact I could possibly not get this job because I’m black but that doesn’t mean I’m not a model it’s their problem not mine. I’m not going to put barriers up I’m going to keep knocking them down.
How have your fans been to you since you started the show?
They’re great and very supportive of me and my brand. I had a couple of events and they were packed. I had a watch party for the show and there were people there that I had never met in my life. I have these shirts and people are buying them even in Turkey, in places I’ve never gone through yet but it’s amazing what the show has done for my image.
While growing in this industry what are your limitations when it comes to modeling?
Now that I see how I want to promote myself and how I want my brand to be my limitations are nudity it’s just something I’m not interested in. I’m not into improv nudity either I don’t think it’s anything wrong with improv nudity but I want to do editorials, I want to do PSA’s, campaigns and catalogs.
What are your favorite beauty tips and secrets?
I learned from a makeup artist about putting a red undertone for dark circles so I use red lipstick. It’s just as effective as the expensive stuff. I also believe less is always better.
Who are your favorite designers?
I don’t have a favorite but Mara Hoffman and Betsey Johnson were my favorites to work with.
What is your motivation to keep going?
God, I’m a firm believer in God, this is my calling and when things go wrong I pray and let God lead me.
What new things are you working on?
I got signed to an agency in South Africa and they want me to come out there and I’m still signed to the agency in Miami and the one in New York.
Written by Royse Todd
Photography: Bellezza Moda | IG: @bellezzamoda
Model: Raella Lewis | IG: @raellalewis
@Base Models (South Africa)