December 10, 2005 06:00 AM

Tyra Banks called it: The girl was born to be a model.

But before being crowned the fifth winner of UPN’s America’s Next Top Model last Wednesday, Nicole Linkletter, 20, says, I always thought I was cute, but I don’t know if everyone else agreed with me.

Maybe not when she flubbed the TV commercial challenge ( I couldn’t remember my lines! ) or lost her composure posing as a statue when pigeons landed on her ( the grossest feeling ). Still, the 5’9″ Grand Forks, N.Dak., native – who has big-city plans – went on to land the $100,000 Cover Girl cosmetics contract and other career-launching prizes

In her favor, the University of North Dakota marketing major was a big fashion fan who took lovely pictures that judges Twiggy and Banks consistently cooed over. The camera is in love with her face, says show creator Banks. She has a sweet, approachable beauty.

Plus, she managed to stay mostly above the fray when accused of stealing granola bars from competitor Bre Scullark, who retaliated by pouring Linkletter’s Red Bulls down the drain. (What did happen to those granola bars? Linkletter thinks the crew may have tampered with the box to hide the brand.)

Next for Nicole? Moving to either New York City or Los Angeles and pinching herself regularly. Sometimes I consider calling someone and being like, Did this actually happen? she says of her win. Or did I dream this up?

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