Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print

Classic Curve: America's Next Top Queer Model

(page 5 of 6)

A Bi Top Model: Michelle Deighton

Written by: Malinda Lo

Photo: Tracy Bayne/UPN

A reality series about girls who want to be supermodels doesn’t seem like it would be particularly gay-friendly, but UPN’s America’s Next Top Model, hosted by gay-boy favorite Tyra Banks, has become one of the queerest unscripted shows on prime time. There’s modeling coach Jay Manuel with his perfectly coiffed silver locks; judge Nolé Marin, who comes complete with his pet Pomeranian; and runway trainer J. Alexander, who can walk better than most women in a pair of 4-inch heels.

And then there have been the contestants themselves. The first season included out African-American lesbian Ebony Haith, who invoked the homophobic wrath of her conservative Christian loft-mates when she brought her girlfriend over for a visit. This past season, 19-year-old Michelle Deighton, a former wrestler from Terre Haute, Ind., came out as bisexual in an on-air confession to the other contestants. This time, none of the girls even blinked an eye before offering Michelle acceptance and support.

The series has been open to queer contestants from the very beginning. According to casting director Michelle Mock-Falcon, the show’s 14-page application has included an option for contestants to indicate whether they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend since the first season, in 2003. During the months-long audition process, when thousands of supermodel hopefuls are winnowed down to a final 14, the producers search for a unique blend of personality and style but aren’t concerned with sexual orientation.

“‘Look’ has nothing to do with that,” Mock-Falcon explains.

Michelle Deighton made it through to the top six, but was eliminated after the judges concluded that she didn’t have the nerve to survive the cutthroat world of professional modeling. I chatted with her while she was taking some time off with her family in Indiana before moving to New York in June to pursue her modeling career.

When you first auditioned for the show, did you come out as bisexual?

No, actually, they had no idea about it. No one knew.

What was it like coming out on the air?

I really didn’t think about it, and when I did start talking to Noelle, that was not my intention. But I ended up coming out and she’s like, oh, well, that’s not a big deal. … I was actually floored by their reaction, because I thought I was going to get a lot of negative feedback … and they were like, that’s no problem. So that was really amazing.

On the show it seemed like you didn’t really get along with the other girls. Did you feel like an outsider?

Kinda sorta. I have one or two friends and I hang out with them, and that’s about it … and between my family and wrestling, that takes up a lot of time. I don’t really have much time to go out and party and hang out and stuff. So I’m definitely trying to spread my wings now and go do that, but at the time, on the show, I just tried to stay to myself, keep out of the drama, keep out of the little catfights and tiffs and all that. But obviously I didn’t stay out of the drama too good [laughs].

Did your parents know you were bisexual when they saw you come out on TV?

They didn’t know at all. So we sat down and had a talk about it, and it … kind of shocked them at first. They’re not completely accepting of it, but they’re kind of like 50/50. They still love me for who I am.

So the show prompted you to come out to your family?

Oh, yeah. I never even considered telling anybody and I think that’s where my low self-confidence came from also. Because … hiding that I was bisexual also hid a lot of my other emotions that I needed to express, so when I did come out as bisexual, that helped me … be who I am. It made [me] a lot happier.

How do you feel about coming out to the public?

I’m kind of glad that everyone knows. I had one person walk up to me and be like, oh my God, what you did is really amazing. And I’m like, what, really? I didn’t really think about it before, but that’s really awesome.

Has it helped you get any dates?

Not so far, but I’m working on it. [Laughs.]

Are you dating now?

No, but I’d like to. Because I’ve been hiding that I’m bisexual for so long … I just dated mainly guys, so it wouldn’t be obvious that I was into women. But now I think I’m ready for a relationship with a woman. Definitely.