By Dennis Hensley
Originally published on Advocate.com June 10 2003 12:00 AM ET
Before showing Ebony Haith the penthouse door, America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks told her she had a chip on her shoulder and “a type of anger that makes you push yourself too hard.” Today, the booted would-be cover girl is all about sunshine and light. “I knew the show was a great opportunity from the get-go,” chirps the 24-year-old native New Yorker and the reality series’s sole out lesbian. “I don’t have any regrets. When it comes to looking at negativity, I’m like, ‘No way, I have to look at the positive.’ There is just no way I’m going through all this drama for no reason.” You mean, the bikini waxing agony, the catfights in the penthouse with lazy roommate Giselle, the judges’ brutal comments about the texture of her skin—she wouldn’t change any of it? “The only thing I’d clear up is the idea that I’m difficult to work with,” says Haith, who works as a makeup artist in Manhattan. “I take a lot of pride in my personality and being an easy person to work with. You guys didn’t really see it on TV, but I’m a total clown.”
Have you always been interested in modeling?Yes. My grandmother’s owned a beauty salon in Harlem for over 30 years, so it’s definitely something that I’ve been pursuing. Doing makeup and working with models, I was always getting, “Oh, my God, I’ve never seen anybody with your style,” or “You need to get on the runway.” So it’s always been something that I wanted to do.
I thought it was great that you were out and proud from the very first episode. Did you ever consider not revealing your sexuality until later?No. You gotta be honest with yourself. If I want to give my best outward self, I gotta start with that. I was 16 and out, honey, so this is something that I’ve lived my life to be honest with it. If I want people around me to give out honest information, I have to definitely give it. So when it was on the questionnaire, to me it was just another fact, like black or white, or what color are your eyes? I really didn’t see it anything as being something that would hold me back, especially in the modeling world.
Were you at all surprised that the more religious girls had a sort of negative reaction to your sexuality, considering that they wanted to be in the fashion business?Yes, that was shocking to me. I was thinking to myself, How much do you really want this, and how much have you really studied about the industry? I kind of let them run with their own tongues on that. I wasn’t necessarily surprised in what their opinions were, but just surprised that this is the career that they decided to go for.
When your girlfriend visited, some of the other girls didn’t seem to want to meet her. Did that hurt your feelings?Honey, you just got to see quick clips. The reality of what really went down was that Robin and Shannon did come over and introduce themselves. I really invited my girlfriend to visit me. It wasn’t for everybody else, but it was great that people were embracing of her.
Is the edited version that we see on TV representative of what really went down?You guys didn’t see a lot, honey. We really didn’t have as many arguments as it seemed, but there was a lot of drama that the audience didn’t see. Sometimes they’d overdramatize certain things, like my use of Vaseline. One of the judges kind of jokingly made a comment to me that you didn’t see, saying, “You know, girl, you lookin’ a little ashy.” So when I put the oil on, that was a joke toward her. I was like, “Ooooh, I got my Vaseline. You know, let me extra-moisturize.” Then they portrayed it like a big situation, where the girls had to have a meeting to ask me about my grease.
Do those little misrepresentations bother you?I know it’s all about the publicity, honey. It’s about making the money. I’m just excited from it.
What do your friends and family think of the show?My family loves it, honey. They couldn’t believe I actually stood up for myself. And my girlfriend, Ka, was very excited. She was actually the one that got me in the show.
The episode where your girlfriend visited and was so supportive came on the heels of an episode where Nicole got virtually no respect from her boyfriend back home. I thought that was an interesting contrast.It’s also weighing against the whole stereotype that being in a gay relationship is something that you say, “What should I put on my schedule? Lesbianism at 3 o’clock?” When somebody wants this in their life, it’s not a joke. It is something that is a part of us. It’s not just about sex. This is a life.
Have you been getting recognized a lot on the street?Oh, my goodness! Even from the first commercial, I started to get people on the street noticing me. Now, I’m getting people writing me poetry and calling me by name. They honk their horn and say, “Go Ebony!”
Have you heard from many gay and lesbian fans?It’s interesting. I’m really getting a lot of women sort of smiling and shaking their heads, with the energy of Oh, girrrrl, this is just the beginning. We need so much work and positivity out there. I’ll get a group of teenagers giving me hugs, and I know what hugs really mean, especially if it’s energy from young people that maybe have not come out or maybe other people aren’t always supportive of them.
The bikini waxing montage was insane and very entertaining. How painful was it?I have a fantasy about the Brazil wax. That it’s supposed to be beautiful, but oh, honey, it’s full o’ pain.
What’s your take on Miss Tyra Banks?I love Tyra. I refuse to knock her, honey. I think that she’s a very strong woman. I don’t always agree with all her opinions, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like her.
Was she around a lot or would she shoot her segments and then disappear?She spent time with us, made sure that we had things to do, and every night she could, she came out with us.
OK, fine, Tyra’s nice. But let’s face it, that former supermodel judge, Janice Dickinson, is the most deplorable person on TV.[Laughs] Honey, just full of luggage and baggage.
Thank you for confirming that. Are you going to stay friends with any of the girls from the show?Oh, definitely. Everybody has touched me in different ways. There was a young lady that didn’t make the top 10 who had adopted six brothers and sisters. I definitely will be in contact with her.
You roomed with one of my other faves, Adrianne, whose whole subtext is, “Anything’s better than the life I came from.”She definitely has had a lot of situations that she’s had to hurdle. She’s very true to what she seems, and she’s one that you can rely on.
Growing up, did you ever have crushes on models?Actually, no, I had a crush on Whoopi Goldberg. It was her personality. She wasn’t afraid to say what she needed to say.
You had to pose for a photo with a live snake. Who did you get along better with, the snake or Giselle?Definitely the snake. [Laughs]
What was the most fun thing that you did on the show?There was actually a scene that they didn’t show, in a limo in New York. I was yelling things at people in the street. It was so fun being able to be in that limelight for two seconds, you know, and just having all that attention and being able to say exactly what you want to say.
What’s next for you? Well, I actually have a variety of talents, you know, I sing, and definitely acting—theater and movies. Hopefully, 20 years down the line, my own talk show. We’re tryin’ to blow this up.
What’s your favorite photograph from the show?The group one that ran in Jet magazine. I actually bought that dress for like $3 in a thrift store on Prince Street.
Did you tell everyone it was from a thrift store?No, actually, you’re the first person. I wanted to save a little juice for The Advocate, honey.