Meet the Inspiring 2020 'Sports Illustrated Swimsuit' Model Search Finalists

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit continues to shatter perceptions and break boundaries across the industry. The historic franchise hosted its annual Model Search for the 2020 issue last July in Miami, and the open casting call provided an opportunity for both new faces and established models to meet with the team, share their stories and show why they would be a great addition to the 2020 issue. The result is a diverse, empowering and strong group of 16 women who represent SI Swimsuit's steadfast commitment to inclusivity. Read on for more on each finalist's inspiring journey

01 of 16

Christie Valdiserri

12. Christie Valdiserri
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 25

HOMETOWN: West Chester, Pennsylvania but I live in Los Angeles now.

OCCUPATION: I am a professional dancer, fitness instructor, dance teacher, model, and public speaker.

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNDED: I own a bikini in every single color under the sun.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Always listen to your gut. You can be whoever the hell you want to be. Never give up on what you want out of your life. You will always be okay, no matter what. Remember to take a moment everyday, to be grateful for all that you do have. Especially the little things. Your energy and personality shine way brighter than your exterior looks ever will. Stay true to who you are at your core, dream hella big, go out there and make a change in the world!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I was inspired to attend the Model Search in Miami when I finally had enough strength and confidence in myself as a bald woman. In 2018, my friend attended the open call, and I remember thinking to myself, "Wow I can't do that until my hair grows all the way back in. No way would I ever be picked with these patches let alone ever feel brave enough to put myself out there,” (this was when my hair was growing in but very unevenly). Then it had all fallen out again in April 2019, and I told myself, okay I can either continue to drown in this pain and let it dictate my life, or I can take the power back and own this look. When I saw interviews of MJ Day speaking about there being NO rules and then saw Winnie Harlow, Hunter McGrady and Halima Aden all over SI Swimsuit, I knew this was my moment to be a voice for all the women and young girls who cry every day because they just want to feel normal again.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My first SI Swimsuit memory was definitely on Thanksgiving Day probably when I was about 10 years old. We would always go to my aunt and uncle’s house to celebrate, and my uncle would always call me Christie Brinkley. And I remember being like, "I know we have the same name and all but who is she? Why does he always call me that?" Then the following year, he had brought an SI magazine with her on the cover and I was like, "Oh yes! Call me that all you want, I wanna be like her when I grow up!"

02 of 16

Courtney Lynne Smits

1. Courtney Lynne Smits

AGE: 23

HOMETOWN: Woodbridge, Virginia

OCCUPATION: Psychological Operations Specialist in the United States Army Reserve, student working towards a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communication with a double minor in Sociology and Social Work

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 57

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Don’t take life so seriously. It's hard to imagine that everything that happens during those formative years will not necessarily determine your path in life! Embrace the opportunities you are given and appreciate the people you have around you who support your journey. Laugh at yourself when you make silly mistakes, know that sometimes it's OK to let go of what does not bring you joy and cut people loose who drain your energy with negative attitudes.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI? I attended with several of my friends from the Miss USA pageant. For years I have enjoyed looking through the pages of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, admiring not only the diversity of all the models that have graced the pages, but to know their stories and to read about the exotic locations where the photo shoots took place.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I remember seeing my first issue when I was young. I was with my mom at a bookstore, and while she looked at books, I spotted the magazine. The models were just as beautiful then as they are now! It’s amazing to know that a girl can open the magazine and see herself in one of the models. I hope to be selected as one of the final six — I'd love to represent military women in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, because badass is beautiful!

03 of 16

Djaniel Carter

Djaniel Carter; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 24

HOMETOWN: Mesa, Arizona

OCCUPATION: Professional Dancer

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 1 bikini and 2 one-pieces

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Life is unpredictable, and it can be hard. Don’t ever give up on what you love or who you love. No matter what happens, you must keep going. There isn’t a dream too big or too small. You’re the most powerful when you believe in yourself and your purpose. Stay true to you always!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: The women that I’ve seen in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit inspire me. Every woman’s story is so unique in their own light. That really encouraged me to continue to share my light as they have. Specifically, in 2018, I saw a woman walk the runway with an artificial limb. I thought that was so cool and extremely inspiring. It gave me hope for a dream which at the time I didn’t think I had the strength to achieve. It was very special for me to see how inclusive Sports Illustrated Swimsuit truly is, in everything they do. I felt like they would accept me and my story, so I decided to give it a shot!

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I’ve always wanted to be a part of Sports Illustrated Swim. It’s been my dream for a very long time. When I first got into modeling, it was one of the first dreams I spoke about. I look up to Tyra Banks and believe strongly in her spirit and the way she moves through the modeling industry.

04 of 16

Kathy Jacobs

Kathy Jacobs; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 55

HOMETOWN: Calabasas, California

OCCUPATION: Actress, model, age inclusive activist, petite model activist

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 17

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Whatever problems you are having now are only temporary and in time will be nothing but a blur to your future self. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out exactly as you thought they would, just keep on going. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to kiss some frogs to get your prince and remember if it quacks like a duck it’s a duck!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH: I’ve entered the SI Swimsuit Model Search and flown to Miami twice. The first time I didn’t make it past the first round. But I didn't give up! I felt a burning desire to try again and to be part of a change in the way society views women over 50.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: Cheryl Tiegs was the first SI Swimsuit superstar I remember when she was wearing a white swimsuit in a waterfall. I remember thinking it must be amazing to be her. I could almost hear the waterfall!

05 of 16

Brielle Anyea

4. Brielle Anyea
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 24

HOMETOWN: Baltimore, Maryland

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: Over 70.

OCCUPATION: International model and blogger

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Embrace your power and beauty. Love, confidence and strength will take you anywhere you wish to be. I’m certain you will do great things one day.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I’ve always wanted to model for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit since I first started modeling almost five years ago. Inclusion and representation are important for me when it comes to fashion and media. After I started getting jobs, it gave me the energy to keep trying for the bigger opportunities. It would be amazing to see a model like myself in the magazine as that would be a first!

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: Seeing Tyra Banks when googling her photos when I was younger. I idolized Tyra and seeing how she was able to accomplish so much and build an empire all while being herself, encouraged me to go for what I want. She’s so sexy, confident, and fearless. I live for her covers!

06 of 16

Katina Taylor

Katina Taylor; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 43

HOMETOWN: Pampa, Texas but now live in Plantation, Florida

OCCUPATION: Founder and Director of Camp Katina, a non-profit gymnastics and life skills camp for underserved youth, community activist, model and single mother of three

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 5

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: True beauty and confidence comes from within. Work on and value your inner beauty; how you treat others with kindness and compassion, honesty, loyalty and courage. These attributes shine bright and help you have self-respect, self-love and humble confidence which will help you in all aspects of life.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: My 3 children; Isaiah, 16, Mason, 15 and Zoë, 14, inspire me every day to be my best self. I hope this teaches them to be fearless, spontaneous, adventurous and to live life to the fullest going after what makes them happy.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: Heidi Klum, Petra Nemcova, Marisa Miller were the radiant beauties that were shining bright on the covers of SI Swimsuit when I was a college girl 20 years ago. The legendary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit brand has featured many top models and to have a chance at shooting with the best editor, photographer, glam squad and crew in a beautiful location would be a dream.

07 of 16

Tanaye White

Tanaye White; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 27

HOMETOWN: Southington, Connecticut

OCCUPATION: Model — I quit my corporate job two months ago

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 20-ish?

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: You are beautiful even with braces — boys just don't realize it yet! I admittedly spent many nights crying myself to sleep as a pre-teen/teen because none of my crushes liked me while all my other friends were getting boyfriends. I vaguely remember having Natasha Bedingfield's "Soulmate" on repeat on my iPod.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: A few months prior to my first try at the 2018 SI Swimsuit Model Search, a friend and I were sharing our goals and passions, and I admitted for the first time to anyone that I had always dreamed of becoming an SI Swimsuit model. Not too long after, I saw the flyer for their open casting call. I thought it was fate. And I made it so close last year that I knew I had to give it one more chance in 2019.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: The first time I ever saw an SI Swimsuit issue was when I was a child roaming the grocery store aisles as my mom shopped. I remember seeing a beautiful woman on the cover in a two-piece. My first reaction was to divert my eyes before my mom saw me looking at it. My parents raised me a bit strictly, but I'm grateful for it. I don't think I was allowed to wear a two-piece until my later teen years! But, when I decided to go to the casting, I asked for my parents' blessing first.

08 of 16

Ashley Alexiss

Ashley Alexiss; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 29

HOMETOWN: Boston, Massachusetts

OCCUPATION: Founder and owner of Alexiss Swimwear, entrepreneur, plus size model

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: The limit does not exist! My bikini numbers just grow and grow.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: It gets better! I grew up severely bullied and really questioned my purpose. I’d tell her I was proud of her and that one day, she would be using what she’s going through now to help better herself and others in a positive way. Everyone has an opinion and you can’t change that, but you can change how you react to it and how you let it affect you. Stay strong, beautiful, it’s only up from here.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I’ve been working incredibly hard in this industry for over 10 years and have had to do it all on my own; without an agency or a manager because I’m short and I’m plus size. But I’ve come really far, and I felt like I was truly ready to try for SI Swimsuit’s Model Search. What SI Swimsuit is all about and who I am, seem to go hand in hand. I was given the opportunity to be the first, petite, plus-size model to walk down that SI runway (and in MY swimwear!) and it was beyond my wildest dreams.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My first memory, I was about 6 or 7 and just loved the Tyra Banks cover. I remember it being such a huge, iconic moment. She was unapologetic about being herself and she had curves. It’s the first memory I have that made me feel inspired by someone. My favorite cover star is probably a tie between Tyra and Ashley Graham. Ashley being on the cover represented girls like myself and gave me even more pride in my body.

09 of 16

Florinda Estrada

Florinda Estrada; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 29

OCCUPATION: Flight attendant, Model

HOMETOWN: Monroe, New York

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 7

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Dream big. Fear is the only thing standing between you and your wildest dreams. It may be hard sometimes, but part of your life purpose is to be fearless anyway. Remember that what other’s think about you does not define who you are. So be easy on yourself, stand up every time you fall, trust the process, ignore your ego, and most importantly — be kind to every single person you meet.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: The wisdom of my brother! Last year, I wanted to attend the open call but I was in the middle of jobs and convinced myself that financially, I wasn’t in a place to fly myself out to Miami for multiple days. I told myself that if I received a response from my video submission, that I’d figure out any way to get there and make it happen. I never received a response so I didn’t end up going and said “It’s fine, I’ll try again next year when I’m more settled in my new job anyway.” Fast forward to this year and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit casting happened to be at the tail end of a very long two weeks of being away from home on a volunteer mission in Puerto Rico. I almost talked myself out of it but my brother reminded me of what I’d mentioned a year prior.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I had always seen the magazine around when I was a teenager. I’d see the girls on the cover and remember wanting so badly to just be them, yet always felt like I couldn’t. That’s why seeing Ashley Graham on the cover was a game changer. I remember it just took my breath away. It felt like the whole world stopped for a moment to open such an important door for so many people around the world. It reminded me that anything is possible and that even I, at a size 14 — can be a cover girl or in the pages of one of the most iconic magazines of all time.

10 of 16

Miki Hamano

Miki Hamano; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 28

HOMETOWN: Hokkaido, Japan

OCCUPATION: Model

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 20

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: You’ll be surprised to see what career you have in the future, so never give up on your dreams. I love you!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: Last year I wasn’t brave enough to take myself to the open casting call. I was overwhelmed by the number of women attending and I was also very insecure. But afterwards I started to regret not trying. Watching everyone’s casting videos and listening to their stories inspired me to attend the model search in Miami this year. I wanted my story to inspire others and I couldn’t let myself down again.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I grew up in a small town in Japan, so I found out about Sport Illustrated Swimsuit when I started modeling professionally about two years ago. It was before Miami Swim Week began, all of the sudden I started seeing many open call submission videos for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit on my social media and I got very curious about what their videos were for. Then discovered what an impact it has on women all over the world, and how they are breaking barriers in this industry. That’s the time I thought I wanted to be a part of such an inclusive community!

11 of 16

Jamea Lynee

Jamea Lynee; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 20

HOMETOWN: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

OCCUPATION: Model

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: I tried counting and I gave up!

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Beauty, the world is yours. All the things that you thought were important, the decisions that you made, the friends that you hung out with, the advice that you listened to, the family talks — they will get you to where you are today. I’m proud of every corner you decided to turn down, because that led me here. I love it here!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: Last year I went to the model casting in New York, I ended up not getting it. I knew I wanted to try again and fortunately this year, I was in Miami during the open casting call, so my agent told me that I should try out again. Of course, I didn’t think twice!

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I’m surely not a newbie to knowing about the SI Swimsuit franchise. I’ve known about SI Swimsuit since I was born. My entire family is crazy about sports, especially football. My grandfather was a faithful SI subscriber, and always had the latest issue. I used to love playing in his magazine collection, and he’d be so upset when I tore the pages out of all my favorite models. So, to be a part of a franchise I was so amazed by as a kid, is a dream come true. Not only for me, but my family as well. I promised them that one day they’re going to flip the page, and BOOM...it’s me.

12 of 16

Salina Jade

Salina Jade; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 24

HOMETOWN: Concord, New Hampshire

OCCUPATION: Model/Actress/Server

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: Between 10 and 15 bikinis.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF? I would tell my 13-year-old self that everything she is thinking and dreaming about right now is for a reason. You are currently manifesting a reality you will someday live out. Don't lose sight of what you want and where you want to go because all of that daydreaming and work you will do will get you through the next several years. Remember where you come from and that you are tough and can make it through anything. Enjoy your small town and being a kid, but remember you are going places.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI? From the moment I saw the very first announcement that SI Swimsuit was holding a first ever open casting call, I knew that I was going to submit myself. I was already a huge fan and follower. It was the first year I moved to N.Y.C. and I remember seeing their Instagram post and I got this overwhelming feeling that it was something I really needed to do. Even when I didn’t make it the first year, or the second, I never debated about re-submitting and here I am on my third year of casting and I made it through!

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I remember always knowing about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. SI Swimsuit really started to fascinate me and make an impact on me when I was watching the behind the scenes footage, “The making of Sports Illustrated”. I remember being captivated by what I saw and the way those involved were describing the process and the experience. It seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

13 of 16

Soraya Yd

16. Soraya Yd
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: Astoria, Queens

OCCUPATION: Model, On-Camera host, and my mom’s part-time caretaker

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: Over 30

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: I would tell her that everyone is different and that’s what makes us all so special and unique. I would tell her to embrace who she is and keep on shining. The universe has a plan for her and to just trust the process. To always be genuine, dream big, and go forward with lots of gratitude. Always live life to the fullest and take risks. That nothing is impossible when you put your all into it, because if you can dream it, you can be it.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: Once I heard that the SI Swimsuit team was holding open castings, I knew this was my shot. I realized that they were taking risks, and that it was time for me to do the same. I also knew that with every month that passes, my mom’s severe Alzheimer’s is getting worse. If there was any opportunity that I could share part of my dream with her, my chance was now.

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: One of my first SI Swimsuit memories was when my older sister brought home the 1998 SI Swimsuit magazine with her idol, Heidi Klum, on the cover. From that point on, Heidi Klum’s image and name were forever branded in my memory. She had such a strong presence; so powerful, yet very feminine. My sister loved how effortless she was with her modeling, she felt Heidi Klum was sexy, yet playful, and her poise was one of a kind. My sister saved that magazine and looked through it so many times, that I can still remember how weathered the pages had become. I’ll never forget that SI Swimsuit cover and what it meant to my sister and me.

14 of 16

Ariadna Gutiérrez

Ariadna Gutiérrez; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 25 years

OCCUPATION: Model and actress

HOMETOWN: Barranquilla/Colombia

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 35

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Life might seem a little complicated and uncertain, but no matter how unknown everything seems now, there is always a purpose and with time you will see that. Trust life and the universe no matter how hard it can be.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: My agent inspired me. She was one of the first people to believe in me and motivated me to attend. Sometimes in life we just need a little push from someone we love. I am very grateful for her!

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My best SI Swimsuit memory was actually being at the model search and meeting the models — the ones in the current issue and the ones who are in the final 16 with me. Also meeting two of the most inspirational people, MJ Day and Yu Tsai was a true honor.

15 of 16

Nour Guiga

Nour Guiga; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 26

OCCUPATION: Model, content creator and work in a restaurant

HOMETOWN: I grew up in the small beach town of Hammamet, Tunisia, but have lived in L.A. for the past two years

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 50

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: You're going to become so brave and smart and that people won't only appreciate you for how you look — so you should definitely stop punishing yourself for eating an extra croissant!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: When I was working in Paris and going through difficult times battling an eating disorder, I remember seeing Sports Illustrated Swimsuit pictures, videos, model interviews and finding SI Swimsuit’s messages of diversity and self-acceptance very comforting. When I decided to get back into modeling, my goal wasn’t to just be a model anymore, but to inspire and encourage younger generations of women and men to learn how to appreciate, love, and respect their bodies as they are. What better way to do that than by working with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit?

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My first memory of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit was when my sister's best friend, Kenza Fourati, was featured in the magazine. I was much younger and remember everyone was very impressed, so I looked up SI Swimsuit online. It was like nothing I had ever seen before! I vividly remember seeing Kate Upton on the 2013 SI Swimsuit cover, showing off her beautiful curves in Antarctica. Seeing the cover felt very reassuring, because it was the first time I noticed someone resembling me body-wise being celebrated for the way they looked.

16 of 16

Clarissa Bowers

Clarissa Bowers; Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

AGE: 22

HOMETOWN: Umatilla, Florida

NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNDED: 37

OCCUPATION: Neuroscience Student, Oral Maxillofacial Surgical Assistant and Model

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: I would tell her that the world is bigger than she realizes, and she should take every single opportunity she gets to see more of the world and all the beautiful diversity that it holds. I would tell her that her worries aren’t as big as she thinks, so she should be kinder to herself and soak up every moment of her journey, because it's a cool one.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I’ve admired SI Swimsuit's efforts to show the beauty of all women, regardless of shape, size, or skin color, for years. When I heard that they were holding an open casting call, I knew I needed to be a part of it, or I would always wonder "what if." And one of my goals in life is to never have to look back and say, "what if."

FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My freshman year of high school, I remember seeing a 2012 issue of SI Swimsuit in the checkout line at the grocery store which had Kate Upton on the cover in a bikini. I remember thinking she looked so gorgeous, healthy and she looked happy.

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