Shei Phan hasn’t been an overwhelmingly successful contestant on Cycle 2.1 of America’s Next Top Model. If we’re talking about photos, Lenox Tillman has had Best Photo three times in a row. For runways, eliminated and now newly returned Chantelle Brown has a walk to be feared. And challenges, well, they’re mostly up in the air on who wins those. But just because Shei hasn’t been a focal point in the house doesn’t mean she hasn’t been quietly rising up from the sidelines.
I can’t say I remember a time where Shei was deemed competition by the other contestants. For the women, Lenox has been the top contender. Despite her lack of confidence and presence in person, Lenox can deliver one hell of a striking photo. For the men, it’s often Will Jardell. Cheekbones to die for and continuously bettering his modelling through photos week after week, Will is a force to be reckoned with. And Shei has sort of just been… there. Her critique from Tyra Banks is that she is too sexy. Her photos in the beginning of the competition were cited as “hoochy”. Shei was often reminded to tone it down for photos.
Over the weeks, Tyra has demonstrated how Shei can become less sexy and more model-esque just by contorting her body in slight different angles. It hasn’t been obvious but Shei has listened. It’s finally beginning to show in photos now that America’s Next Top Model is closing in on the top 7 contestants. But despite having one of the most dramatic makeovers this season with her monotone hair, Shei hasn’t delivered very strong photos, presence in ad campaigns, or a walk to kill for in runway challenges (despite having previous experience as a model on the 3rd season of Project Runway).
Until last week.
This episode changed my opinion of Shei. She killed it in the challenge and even in her photo shoot (albeit — as usual — the judges at panel could not come to a unanimous positive agreement). The challenge was runway shows in which the contestants needed to vie for a space for three different productions. But, of course, space was extremely limited. Shei landed all three — the only contestant of either sex to take part in all three shows.
She had confidence. She had presence. And the clothes looked phenomenal on her. Shei glowed for the first time thus far in the competition. Upon winning the challenge, Shei was confident, not cocky, unlike contestants who have won in the past. Both during and behind-the-scenes of the runway she has been a enjoyable person to work with. Just as she has been during photo shoots, while some others (looking at you Mirjana) have been a headache for photographers.
Her photo for last week was gorgeous. Well, unless you asked Kelly Cutrone who has said Shei seemed to be modelling for a wig campaign instead of a shoot for Mitch Stone’s Essential Hair Products. And I’ll admit, the hands are a bit pose-y and Modeling 101. I can’t say with confidence that Shei is modelling H2T (Head to toe; one of Tyra’s favorite catchphrases). But the face. Her expression is so lovely. Soft and beautiful despite the physically demanding complications she had while balancing on recently sent home contestant, Denzel Wells. Her face, her cheekbones, the lighting and makeup are beautiful overall. I’m no official judge but I also don’t care what Kelly has to say about it. Her judgement was wrong here, end of story.
What’s important to note is Shei still has so much room for growth. Unlike, say, Keith Carlos who has been deemed a one look hook. Or Adam Smith who hasn’t shown much development in his photos for a few weeks now. She listens — to contestants and to her mentors. Careful not to allow them to trample all over her but considerate of their criticisms. An open mind and a strong sense of self can carry a model along way within America’s Next Top Model and out of it.
So many other contestants lack the presence and confidence Shei exudes naturally. She doesn’t have to be loud like Mirjana to get attention. She doesn’t need cheekbones by the Gods like Will to standout — not that Will would ever give them up. She also doesn’t have to be negative to have others build up her confidence like Lenox. After last week’s episode, Shei just is and maybe, fingers crossed, she is going to be on top.