When America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21 alumna Winnie Harlow spoke out saying that the reality show didn’t really do much for her modeling career, the internet broke out into a frenzy. But Yaya DaCosta, star of Chicago Med and ANTM Cycle 3 contestant, understands where Harlow is coming from.
“When Winnie posted that on Instagram about Top Model not really helping anyone’s careers in the modeling world, there was an outrage. A lot of people supported her and understood and a lot of people didn’t understand where she was coming from,” DaCosta told PEOPLE at the NBCUniversal Upfronts in N.Y.C.
“And so I’m really interested in truth. I think that reality TV is successful inherently because it’s based in illusion. And that’s fine — there’s something fun about that. But as long as girls who do that know that’s what it is. If you want to be a reality star, fine. If you want to be a model, get an agent. Do something else. I’ve always wanted to act so I’m just blessed to be where I am,” she added. ‘
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However, DaCosta is still grateful for everything Tyra Banks’ reality show did for her. “What I’ll say is that I’m proud of my younger self in that I was able to really learn from it, learn some valuable lessons, to grow up really quickly after some things that I was forced to face through that experience,” she told us. “I’m proud to have made peace with all the aspects of it. The fun stuff. The difficult stuff. I have a great appreciation for the experience, for sure.”
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Harlow sparked controversy last week when she appeared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and said she was surprised by the lack of opportunities she was offered after appearing on Top Model.
“[My success] started after the show, ’cause that really didn’t do anything for my career…which, it doesn’t do anything for any model’s career, realistically,” she said. “A photographer from London hit me up—major photographer Nick Knight—and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen your photos online, and I want to do a shoot with you.’ It went viral, and I got campaigns from there, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
After receiving backlash, Harlow clarified her comments with an extensive statement on Instagram.
“Lol the show films so fast so i didn’t get to elaborate but after it was known i was going to be on a reality show, no agency would book me, no one would work with me & i was told it was because I was now branded a ‘reality break out star’ not actually a model, before the show was even aired. I was going to give up on being a model and go stufy journalism which i always wanted to do :). Thankfully a stylist showed Nick Knight a viral YouTube vide of me from 2012 and he reached out to shoot in London.. my first time every abroad 😫🙏🏾 i was shook and honoured,” Harlow wrote.
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“This was after it was in tabloids that i would be on the show, but before it actually aired (filming was in February and it aired in September). The only person on set for this shoot who knew I was going to be on ANTM was the makeup artist. From that shoot Nick booked me for my first ever world wide campaign with Diesel Jeans and said i should come to London to teach models how to be fluid with their bodies while modeling which i couldn’t wrap my head aroudn because on the show i was always told i wasn’t a good model.”
She added, “From that Diesel campaign i got casted as the costar for the brand Desigual and the next year was casted as the brand ambassador which had my face plastered all over the world in every major city including in Times Square. I’m equally grateful for every single opportunity I’ve been given. And I also want to be honest. So many girls as me how to get on ANTM to become a supermodel. Honesty shouldn’t be misconstrued as ‘shade.’ From my experience the best way to become a model is to find a reputable agency who believes in you and work hard, not being on tv as they’re 2 different industries.”
— with reporting by Dave Quinn