On the season finale of the 23rd cycle of the reality competition series on Wednesday evening, 20-year-old Gants was crowned the winner by judges Tyra Banks, host Rita Ora, supermodel Ashley Graham, stylist Law Roach and Paper magazine creative director Drew Elliott.
Of winning the competition, Gants tells PEOPLE, “I’m super excited. I’ve known for quite some time, but it’s really exciting to have the whole public know as well.”
Gants admits that it took her “a while for sure” to even consider that she could potentially win the competition, and it was when she made the top six that “the motivation really kicked in.”
The Seattle native, who will be making the move to New York, says that her immediate plan is to maximize “the opportunities that are going to come from the show, really push myself as a model and try and create a modeling career for myself and then, from there, obviously I want to do more things. Pursue some of my other interests. I definitely want to model for a while. Find an agency, start working, making connections in New York, because it’s fresh city for me.”
The ANTM winner, who admits she wore “really dorky glasses” in high school, began modeling at the age of 16 — but it was only after a classmate told her that she was beautiful.
“One girl in high school told me I was beautiful and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s ever called me beautiful other than my family.’ And she’s like, ‘Hey, you should try modeling.’ And that was the first glimpse of like, ‘Oh my gosh, really? What? Me?’ Gants tells PEOPLE.
Although Gants is making big strides in her modeling career, it wasn’t always easy for her.
“I’ve never really been super super skinny and I’ve just had tape measures wrapped around every itty bit of my body. Just being told all the time that I’m too big and mentally feeling like I had to lose weight is not a good feeling,” Gants admits. “But that’s in the past and I feel good now. But definitely having agencies tell me over and over and over again that I need to lose wight as a 16 or 17-year-old, that was not easy at all.”
Despite facing criticism about her size in the past, she is now confident in the skin she’s in — and, in addition to her family, credits her fellow ANTM contestants for helping change her perspective on beauty.
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“Being on the show, these girls really helped me with my body image oddly enough. I’ve been in the modeling industry for a while now and my definition of beauty was just totally skewed by being in the industry so long,” she says. “The girls on the show would just be walking around and they’d see someone super curvy or interesting looking or whatever — all different shapes and sizes — and they would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so hot! Look how pretty that girl is!’ Like wow, there’s not one kind of beautiful. They actually really helped me with embracing things about myself that maybe I didn’t like as much beforehand.”
As for who she looks to for inspiration in her career, Gants lists her model look-alike: Gigi Hadid.
“This is cheesy because everyone says we look alike, but I really do admire Gigi Hadid’s career path because she can do the commercial stuff, she can do the high fashion stuff. And initially, she broke into the industry as someone who’s not typical model skinny,” says Gants. “She’s still very slender, of course, but she’s maybe not a 34-inch hip or whatever. She’s a little bit bigger like me and she’s been doing it. She’s doing great. She’s doing every type of modeling.”
With a schedule that is “moving at a million miles an hour at the moment,” Gants admits that balancing work and personal life can be difficult — but she has a supportive boyfriend back home who is constantly encouraging her to pursue her dreams.
“He’s the best human alive, I swear to God. He totally supports me,” Gants gushes about her boyfriend of almost a year. “He’s a businessman — he’s really, really smart — and so he just wants to help me push myself and accelerate my career, so he’s always thinking about ways to help me out.”
Although viewers witnessed drama between the contestants on the series, Gants assures that “the girls are really sweet and they’re lifelong friends of mine, even though it may not appear so on the show,” and adds, “They’re all good girls.”
The winner of ANTM will receive $100,000 and a commercial feature on behalf of Rimmel London. Additionally, the winner will be featured in a fashion spread in PaperMagazine, along with an exclusive one-year talent deal with VH1.