Classic Curve: America's Next Top Queer Model
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As this season's competition on CW's America's Next Top Model heats up and lesbians—and straight men—everywhere play the semi-annual game of is-she-or-isn't-she to spot the queer girl in the midst (our money was on Ren), Curvemag.com revisits classic interviews with four former Top Model contestants—Kim Stolz, Megan Morris, Michelle Babin and Michelle Deighton—as well as the magnificent supermodel turned judge Janice Dickenson.
Model Citizen: Out Lesbian Megan Morris
Written by: Diane Anderson-Minshall
I’ve said it before but it’s even truer now than it was just a year ago: the CW’s America’s Next Top Model is the gayest show on television. With a host of super gay men—including drag queen-turned-runway trainer “Miss J.” Alexander and non-plussed but fabulous, silver-topped art director Jay Manuel—the show is gayer than Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But let’s not forget, this is a show about girls. And plenty of them bat for our team. Every year, thousands of women line up around the country to become one of 10 finalists who make it into the Top Model mansion for what essentially becomes a 12-week girlie slumber party. From season one, when black, bald dyke Ebony Haith lost out to tomboy Adrianne Curry, a decidedly bi-curious, Gia-like model who engaged in an awful lot of faux-lesbian frolicking with butchy smart girl Elyse Sewell, to the current season where not one, but two, openly lesbian women made plus a whole lot of bi-curious girls made it into the house, Top Model has been the only reality TV show to present a lesbian, bisexual or flamboyantly bi-curious girl to the airwaves every single season.
Some, like Sewell, who one said producers saw her short haircut and brought her on the semifinals as “a potential token lesbian,” have suggested that producers have a lesbian mandate. Others, well, we’re just damn happy with whoever is orchestrating this dykey little dramality. Since Haith’s reign, Top Model has introduced some of the more interesting queer girls on TV, including season five’s pixie butch Kim Stolz, season four’s Midwestern bisexual wrestler Michelle Deighton and season six’s bisexual law student Leslie Mancia.
And while women like Stolz laud the show for helping make changes in an industry where out lesbians are vastly underrepresented, lesbians are thankful for something altogether different: America’s Next Top Model offers up a televised vision of androgyny, even outright butchness, where at least slight masculinity appears to be requisite for actually winning (think of winners Naima Mora, Eva Pigford, Yoanna House).
This season there are actually two lesbians in the house, and, says finalist Megan Morris—who was sent packing after episode two—a whole lot of lesbian curiosity. Morris, who survived a plane crash at 9 (in which her mother died of hypothermia while saving her daughter’s life) and has little interest in becoming the next Tyra Banks, may just be one of the most interesting women yet to grace the show. Too bad viewers saw so little of her. We sat down with the part-time model, full-time business owner, to get the skinny on the woman who could have been America’s next top model. America’s Next Top Model kicked her off, but lesbian animator Megan Morris has a lot more in store for us.
I wish you could have strut your stuff a little more before you got cut.
I know! I guess I needed to make out with somebody or something to add drama.
One of the things you said as you were leaving is that you wish you would have let the judges see more of your personality.
Well, in front of the judges I was trying to be a little bit more reserved, and really take in their feedback. I wasn’t as much myself.
Judging day seems really difficult for the women since it’s a bit like you’re in the interview process at the same time you’re about to be judged on your week’s work.
It’s true, and … it’s on television so it’s just so different from like going to [a regular audition]. It’s much more high pressured.
What surprised you the most about the experience?
Going into it I had these expectations—I knew that they were going to put us in the most awkward of possible situations … to get a reaction from us. So what surprised me was … the actual shoots that they had us do … the themes of the shoots, like the wigs. It was just like, what’s next?
Like, what the hell is a weavologist?
Right, right, exactly. I was actually pretty excited about that shoot, because when they took us there, I was like OK, this is totally off the wall, they’ve got these crazy wigs that they want us to wear and this is going to be a really fun photos hoot because we can pretty much do whatever we want and … I was thinking that the photographer would want us to do something a little more off the wall and wild.
But that wasn’t what happened.
Actually the photographer [Tracy Bayne] was looking for the models to be very soft … very like quiet and like beautiful, you know? And I was like hoping that we could do something a little wild … more facial expression and, you know, things like that. I was pretty excited about it, so I was disappointed with … what she was telling us to do, versus what I really wanted to do in that shoot. I was also taking 99 percent of direction from the photographer because I was like, alright, well this is how she’s going to do it, this is how she wants it. I’m just going to do what she says. And I think that’s also why I went wrong on that photo shoot—just listening to her so much, not [following]my own [instincts]. You gotta listen to yourself.
Were you modeling before this?
Yeah, I did do some modeling. Nothing huge. Like I was going to sign up with some agencies but I had been moving around a lot — I’ve lived in Oklahoma and Utah, and then different parts of California and New York — and so I wasn’t about to just like, find this one agency.
That’s a lot of places for your age. Are you a bit of a nomad, or are you still finding yourself or what?
I think I am a nomad, but no, that’s not the reason why I moved. Initially it was for my dad’s business. He was an attorney, and he had different businesses in the United States and so we kind of followed him too, and you know, he ended up shutting down some of them and we’d kind of like stay in one place for a couple years, and then stay in another place for like six years as he was kind of like closing down different businesses, and after that, I ended up moving to Maryland to live with my aunt and uncle my senior year of high school and then I went to college in San Francisco so I ended up moving to San Francisco.
One of the things that the judges really liked was that you had this personal trauma in your background. How did you feel about talking about your mother’s death on TV?
I knew they would ask about that, but it’s not a hard thing to talk about. It was hard in general, at first, just to talk to the judges for the first time. They kind of throw you in there, and they don’t tell you who you’re about to talk to, because you go through a series of interviews … before the show starts. I like to tell the story because I think it’s not something that a lot of people would … relate [to]. People just haven’t really [met] a lot of people who’ve been in a plane crash and survived, so I guess I don’t mind telling the story at all. It’s a pretty interesting one I guess.
How old were you when you and your mother were in the plane crash?
That was in 1992, so I was almost 9.
That must have been really hard, losing your mom so young.
Yeah, it didn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure. It’s weird too … it seemed like it wasn’t as hard for me when I was younger, but getting older and through college and things like that seemed to be the hardest part of not having a mom, because I ended up not being quite as close to my father. [You just need] somebody to confide in, to talk about things and help you make plans. And to have somebody who’s … in the back of your head like this person’s always gonna be there. You know, that seemed like the hardest part really was when I got older, not having her. I put a lot of pressure on what I’m going to do with my future. And what am I going to do with my life? It would have helped to have a mother in my life.
Do you feel like you learned something from having gone through that?
I really do. I feel like it’s made me, I don’t know, maybe appreciate life more. But I’m definitely the type of person who’s willing to risk a lot more than a lot of people I know. I just, I feel that, you know. I feel like taking risks in life is really important and experiencing as much as possible is one of the most important parts of life, and that’s kind of one of the reasons I ended up going on the show because it’s like one of those opportunities … you don’t come across every day. You know, I’m not a fan of reality TV; I’m not a fan of television in general. I don’t even own a TV.
And yet you seem pretty savvy about it and recognize that there is a certain degree of arranged drama in reality TV.
Yeah, I guess. Also, it could have helped that I’m a media studies major. I majored in media studies and minored in African studies. I hadn’t seen the show before but I knew like what kind of stuff they were looking for.
Being a media studies major, do you feel like you were able to really utilize that kind of media savvy to your advantage?
I feel like I went in there knowing a little bit more out in the world … I also went in it, into the whole show, in a different mind state than a lot of the girls. A lot of the girls going into it, well, their life dream is to become a model, and that’s always been how it is them, and for a lot of the girls trying out for the show. But for me, it wasn’t. I mean, modeling is something that’s really fun but it’s not as important to me as other things, like career. [Modeling] is not what I look for as a career. So I went into it with a very laid-back state of mind. We’ll see what happens, and … see how far I can get in it and it doesn’t matter what happens either way. I was just excited to see what would happen, what would come of it, and that was the most exciting part for me.
Tell me about your new project.
I started a medical animation studio so it’s geared toward the medical industry especially for pharmaceutical companies … to show how any kind of [medication] functions in the body on an intracellular level. It’s really important to me. Most people are so unaware of what goes on in their body. A lot of people skipped out on anatomy and physiology classes just because it’s not interesting to them, and so, hearing that sort of thing, I wanted to create some sort place where people could go and they could find information but that’s actually visually interesting.
How fascinating. Were you doing this before you were on Top Model?
Yeah. I’m still looking for investors right now because we’d like to get a nice studio and things like that, but right now we’re doing start-up stuff.
You say, “we.” Is that you and a business partner or?
Me and a couple other people. I have a couple animators. I also have a collective that a friend and I started. It’s a collective of 15 individuals who specialize in different things, from computer animation to any kind of post-production. It’s basically like a post-production house.
And that’s in San Francisco?
The collective? We’re all over the states. Some of us are in New York, some in L.A. and in San Francisco.
I’m surprised that they didn’t mention that at all on the show. That seems like so much more of an interesting moniker than just “bartender from San Francisco.”
Right! You know, it’s so funny, because, I feel like they did end up creating these characters so that, you know, people could relate to them. Like, I was, “Megan, 23, bartender.” I’m not really, Megan, the animator, Megan the filmmaker, and you know, that kind of thing. [Laughs]
One of the bloggers for Entertainment Weekly described you as “Kim, but less gay.” Did you expect to get comparisons to Kim Stolz?
I thought about it. I mean, it had crossed my mind but … it did surprise me a little bit. I’m like, wow, I didn’t know people would really pick up on [me being lesbian].
In the past it seems like contestants have had sort of mixed reactions to like, lesbian or bi contestants. What was the response from the girls that you were in the house with?
It was actually kind of funny. Everyone seems so fascinated. They’re like, “Lesbian? What is this lesbianism?” It was like, OK, yes! They asked me questions … and it was kind of cute. I swear, like 40 percent of the girls were bi-curious at least. One [woman] was like, “If I wasn’t getting married next year, I would, you know, totally date you.” I was completely open about it on the show and I felt like, so much of the conversation with the girls was just like, “Tell me about lesbianism.” And they didn’t show any of that [on TV] and I was like, hmm, I wonder why. I’m guessing that they didn’t want another Kim on the show, which is understandable because they need to make it different every time.
They did at least show you talking with your girlfriend on the phone.
Yeah, they did it subtly. It was still kind of ambiguous to some people. I think that [viewers] could be like, “Is it like a close friend? Is it girl whose a friend?”
Are you and your girlfriend still together?
Yeah, we are still together.
What can tell me about your girlfriend?
She’s a fabulous, intelligent, beautiful girl. She graduated from the same university that I graduated from [University of San Francisco], but a year after me. She’s 22. She’s in PR and marketing and … she’s a very gregarious person. I feel like she’s my PR [person]. She’s a pretty awesome person.
Did she encourage you to go on the show?
A little bit. We were both kind of like, “Oh, should I do it? You know, it could be fun just to see what happens.” And she was like, “Yeah, do it! It’ll be awesome. You know, just go.” And I was like, alright. I called her up waiting in line and I’m like, “You know, there’s like 2,000 people here right now, I don’t know if I want to do this.” She’s like, “Just keep doing it, just see how far you get!” [Laughs] I was like, alright. Yeah, she’s great. She encourages me, and she’s the most supportive person in the world, which helps me so much, just [by] believing in me.
Since she’s in public relations, is she helping you figure out how to utilize your 15 minutes of fame?
Actually, it’s kind of funny. Like last night, I’m in New York right now and she’s in San Francisco. And she sent me an e-mail and she’s like, “You need to get contact information from every publicist who’s asked you questions and you want a copy of this and that.” And I’m like, OK, OK. So she kind of tries to play that role sometimes.
When did you know you were gay?
Well Courtney, the girl I’m with right now is actually the first girlfriend I’ve ever had. It was kind of funny how it worked out. [We got together] three and a half years ago, so I guess it was when I was 20. I had been dating guys before that. I was just like, nah, this is boring. I didn’t find a guy I ever liked, and then I saw this woman around campus and I was like, wow, this girl, she’s just so beautiful. It was kind of funny, because, a friend of mine had had a class with her … and she went up to her without telling me one day, and was like, “You know what? I have this friend, she’s tall, she has blond hair and she kind of likes you.” And she’s like, “Hmm, OK. Does she have a name?” “Well, her name’s Megan.” “Wait, I think I know who you’re talking about!” She had been seeing me like 6 months … noticing me, and I guess she like liked me as well, so it was kind of weird. Out of everybody at school, or anywhere, we both like, kind of noticed each other, and so we hit it off. Like, in three days, it was like we were together.
In great lesbian fashion.
Yeah, yeah, really! [Laughs]
Did you come out to your family at the same time?
Not at the same time. It took me a little bit longer to tell my family just because, I didn’t, you know obviously I didn’t know how they would react. I came out to my dad like a couple years ago … about a year after Courtney and I began dating.
Did your family’s reaction surprise you at all?
They were really supportive. My dad, yeah, it surprised me majorly. I was so scared to talk to my family about it and I was scared even, to tell my brother because … I didn’t want to lose their respect in any way. And I wanted them to know that just because of your sexual orientation, you’re still the same person, yada yada yada, that sort of thing. Once I told them, they were like, “You know what? Whatever makes you happy, I just want you to be happy.” They were a little bit surprised. But at the same time, over time, it was just like, it just is. It wasn’t so much as, oh, my sister or my daughter is a lesbian.” But more like, oh, OK, she has a girlfriend, and that’s that. So it’s much easier now.
What part of Megan before Top Model is different from Megan now?
I don’t think it’s really affected me that much. I’m pretty much the same person I was before. One thing that always disappoints me is when girls who make the top 10 cry when they get sent home and say, “I can’t believe I failed at this.” And I’m always thinking, out of all those people, you made it to the top 10! Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, it’s good to strive for the best … but, it’s a reality TV show … this isn’t your modeling career. What was really disappointing was seeing how, like Monique for instance, seeing how some of the girls acted. This is such a good opportunity for them and they’re taking it so far as to having such bad behavior. I was so, just, taken back. I was like, wow, I can’t believe that they would act like this. I was like, embarrassed for them. I was like, how could you do this? You have such a good opportunity and you’re being a crazy person.
Is there recourse for the women on there who are nasty and sabotaging other women?
They have certain limits. They want that kind of stuff on there. Like they want Monique there. But you’re not allowed to hit anybody. If you hit anybody, you’re out.
That’s good, at least.
Yeah, no fights. We did end up telling one of the directors and the producers about Monique and they were like, “As long as she doesn’t hit you, we can’t do anything.” That’s about all they do, say, “Hey you live with them, you put yourself in the situation so you’ve got to fight it out in front of the camera. Give us some entertainment.”
A few of the things that you’ve done are things that fill people full of dread, like coming out, being on a reality TV show, surviving a plane crash. Is there anything that you fear?
Obviously there are things that scare me but nothing ultimately scares me. There’s always recovery in any situation. Whether anything happens, I feel like there’s always a bright side to it, so it’s hard to say what one big fear of mine would be because there is always a positive you can make out of any bad situation.
What are your hopes and dreams?
At this point, I have a list of goals … things I have to do before I die. Get my business up and running. I really want to make a difference in the medical industry. There’s definitely a huge need for it. I’ve been reading a lot of literature on it. I’m also in the midst of writing a screenplay; it’s kind of based on my life and certain things that have happened. I’m partially into that, about halfway, so I want to get that finished and written by next May, and then I’d like to put out a feature-length film of that screenplay by the time I’m 27. See, I’ve got like little age goals. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, but it’s what I’m shooting for. I’d like to continue modeling … but it’s definitely not the ultimate thing. It’s not that I have to model; it’s something that I enjoy doing.
It’s more of a hobby. You’re not expecting to be Cindy Crawford.
Those are some lofty goals. It’s better to have one of those must-do-before-I-die lists when you’re 23 versus when you’re 40 so you have more time to get stuff done.
I suppose so. I’m looking at it at the point where well, if it doesn’t happen at least I have time to do something … more realistic.
Tell me what would surprise people to know about you.
I don’t know if it would … but I’m definitely the type of person who’s willing to do almost anything within certain [boundaries]. That’s not surprising enough.
Well, being willing to do almost anything legal is pretty surprising.
I want to go hang gliding. I’ve always wanted to do that. People think that’s scary. But then I wouldn’t go skydiving. Some people think it’s not [safer], but there’s something about [hang gliding] that sounds better than just dropping. Like those roller coaster rides that just go straight down and you’re sitting in a chair? I’m not in to that at all.
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