Last year, when Sports Illustrated sought an unknown model to pose among the more famous figures in its annual Swimsuit Issue, the magazine announced the winner on an episode of NBC’s Dateline. This year, the network has turned the search into a full-fledged, six-episode reality series. Premiering on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m., Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search features 12 finalists who’ll be winnowed down to two by a panel of judges — former SI swimsuit model Roshumba Williams, NEXT Model Management president Joel Wilkenfeld, and Jule Campbell, the SI editor who founded the Swimsuit Issue. Viewers will vote in February for the winner, who gets an SI Swimsuit Issue spread and a $1 million contract with NEXT. (SI, like EW.com, is owned by Time Warner.)
We’ve prepared a portfolio of the competitors, none of whom has had any national exposure until now. As we await all the drama of tan lines, secret cellulite, and casually catty, ego-shredding commentary, read on for early info from the judges and aspiring models.
HOMETOWN Windsor, Conn.
DAY JOB Student at Central Connecticut State University
HOBBIES ”Is shopping a hobby?”
MODEL ROLE MODEL Tyra Banks. ”I saw her get punk’d once on MTV and I was very impressed with the way she handled herself.”
WORDS OF WISDOM ”Love yourself no matter what. Stay healthy and positive.”
ADVANTAGES She befriended fellow Nutmeg State native Michelle Lombardo, last year’s winner, and picked up some camera tips.
DISADVANTAGES She may not be up to the physical challenges, and may not want it badly enough, says judge Wilkenfeld.
HOMETOWN Little Rock, Ark.
DAY JOB Model
HOBBIES Skydiving, water sports
MODEL ROLE MODELS Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum
WORDS OF WISDOM ”Stay grounded.”
ADVANTAGES Her blond girl-next-door quality and Southern charm
DISADVANTAGES Is she too artificial? She has breast implants, and judges frown on her trailer-park fashion sense.
HOMETOWN Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
DAY JOB Student (at Sacred Heart University in Santurce, Puerto Rico) and model
HOBBIES Dancing, writing poetry, volleyball
MODEL ROLE MODELS Elsa Benitez, Gisele Bündchen
WORDS OF WISDOM On keeping fit: ”You can cheat once in a while — it’s fun to.”
ADVANTAGES Her fiery Latin look
DISADVANTAGES She appears frosty in photos, Wilkenfeld says.
DAY JOB College student (at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami) and model
HOBBIES Basketball, running, dancing
MODEL ROLE MODEL None. ”Aside from Mom there was never anyone I really looked up to.”
WORDS OF WISDOM ”Know yourself first, before exposing yourself…before you take those chances — otherwise you’ll be taken advantage of in this business.”
ADVANTAGES She may be more mature than the competition.
DISADVANTAGES At 27, she is the oldest model competing.
DAY JOB Web designer
HOBBIES Tennis, bowling, designing clothes
MODEL ROLE MODELS Roshumba Williams, Kate Moss
WORDS OF WISDOM ”Never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough, because you are! A woman’s value alone is precious.”
ADVANTAGES Six years of modeling experience
DISADVANTAGES Other contestants say they resent her ”Miss Diva” attitude; judge Williams says she has love handles.
HOMETOWN Mesquite, Texas
DAY JOB Model
HOBBIES ”Reading! I am always reading. I also love to clean and organize.”
MODEL ROLE MODELS Kathy Ireland, Kim Alexis
WORDS OF WISDOM ”We all look different and there is room for everyone.”
ADVANTAGES She’s got a head for business; she holds a degree in public relations and marketing.
DISADVANTAGES Her presentation may be too mechanical; ”Stop posing,” say the judges.
HOMETOWN South St. Paul, Minn.
DAY JOB Student (at Augsburg College in Minneapolis) and sales associate at Baby Gap/Gap Kids at the Mall of America
HOBBIES Basketball, volleyball, dancing
MODEL ROLE MODELS Roshumba Williams, Cheryl Tiegs, Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, Niki Taylor, Molly Sims
WORDS OF WISDOM ”God is my idol because I believe we should want to look up to and try to live our lives by the way our creator intended us to.”
ADVANTAGES She has a Julia Roberts smile, says judge Campbell.
DISADVANTAGES Lack of experience. She’s not graceful, Williams says, and may be overly fond of her favorite foods, ”turkey and bacon sub sandwiches and cheesecake!”
Sabrina Marie Sikora
HOMETOWN Macon, Ga.
DAY JOB Student (at Wesleyan College in Macon), website producer, host of the Cox Communications cable TV show Unique Discoveries
HOBBIES Photography, listening to jazz
MODEL ROLE MODELS Vendela, Kimora Lee Simmons
WORDS OF WISDOM ”Exercise is great but Pilates is fabulous!!”
ADVANTAGES She’s proud of having a ”real woman’s figure (I have a booty like J. Lo and Beyoncé).”
DISADVANTAGES She has a booty like J. Lo and Beyoncé.
DAY JOB Model
HOBBIES Reading, writing, acting
MODEL ROLE MODEL None
ADVANTAGES She’s young (the youngest of all the competitors) and eager.
DISADVANTAGES Williams says Jenna has an asymmetrical face.
HOBBIES Dancing, waterskiing
MODEL ROLE MODEL None
WORDS OF WISDOM ”I feel most comfortable in bikinis.”
ADVANTAGES Possibly the brainiest contestant, she has a degree in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.
DISADVANTAGES She may be too broad-shouldered, the judges say.
Shantel Yvonne Van Santen
HOMETOWN Spring, Texas
DAY JOB Student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth
HOBBIES Painting, dancing, video games
MODEL ROLE MODELS Marissa Miller, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen, Cindy Crawford
WORDS OF WISDOM ”True beauty is found within yourself.”
ADVANTAGES Maternal advice: Her mom was also a model.
DISADVANTAGES She’s susceptible to self-doubt and nerves under the pressure of competition.
HOMETOWN Glenview, Ill.
DAY JOB Student at Loyola University of Chicago
HOBBIES Winter and summer sports
MODEL ROLE MODEL ”I don’t have just one favorite — they’re all fabulous.”
WORDS OF WISDOM ”I never had an opportunity like this presented to me before, so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s see what happens.”’
ADVANTAGES Fresh face, blonde ambition
DISADVANTAGES Homesickness. Also, according to the judges, her hair is overprocessed.