Though tooch toppled booch on America’s Next Top Model’s 20th cycle—the first season when creator and host Tyra Banks invited guys into the competition—cycle 21 saw some serious contenders among the male models. In fact, only one beautiful lady stood before Banks as ANTM entered its two-episode finale.
Would a man finally be on top? (Spoiler warning: The following post contains details about ANTM’s cycle 21 finale. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the episode.)
The cycle’s penultimate episode saw frat boy Adam rally to take the top photo for a second week in a row. With Will called second, Keith found himself in the bottom two with sole remaining lady Lenox. After Lenox’s total score fell well below Keith’s, Tyra was shocked to discover the series would have its first-ever all-male finale.
With three very different models, who would smize his way to victory? Texan dance instructor Will, who struggled with his competitors’ biases against a gay guy potentially taking the title? Athletic, seductive Keith, who was competing in honor of his late father? Or Adam, the strong, screaming type who had run afoul of Tyra after she smelled alcohol on his breath at judges’ panel?
And America’s Next Top Model is…
The former NFL wide receiver talked exclusively with EW about being the first Top Model with a Y chromosome, which Kelly Cutrone zinger hit him hardest, and what it’s like when everyone starts calling you “Manaconda.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations! It was super-surprising, even Tyra, to have an all-male top three. And since you’d just survived the bottom two, that must have been pretty amazing. How did it feel in those final moments as you learned whether you’d made it to the finals?
KEITH CARLOS: It was very suspenseful. My chest was in my stomach. It was a shock. I couldn’t believe it. I was overjoyed, and I was happy to still be in the running.
In addition to being the first guy to win Top Model, you’re also the oldest model to win (aside from second-time contestant Lisa D’Amato during All-Stars). You’re blazing trails!
[Laughs] I’m bringing mature back.
You had a real roller coaster in the last couple of weeks—you had the Best Photo two weeks in a row, then you were in the bottom with Lenox. Did that get to you psychologically?
It really didn’t get to me because I’m used to ups and downs. I correlate everything to football because that’s where I learned a lot about dealing with the ups and downs. I just knew I had to take the critiques and apply them. I knew that I would be okay as long as I kept my challenge scores high and gave an okay-to-stellar performance at my photo shoot. It was just a game of numbers.
How did you approach competing against Adam and Will?
We all have great looks, we all have our own looks, and we all bring something different to the table. … I really can’t control what they do; I could only control what I would do. I just had to make sure that I left everything out there on every photo shoot so that I gave myself the best chance to win.
Did you perceive one guy as bigger competition?
I always looked at Will as huge competition. He has a great look—he’s a model all around. The only thing I knew that worked against him was his size [6’5”]. But Adam had a great performance. Every week at the end, he was winning everything, and I’m like, “Uh oh, what’s going on here?” It really put the fire underneath me, and I knew I had to do something.
What was on your mind during the final runway show?
I usually use the idea of my father and my mother being in the crowd. Before the show, that’s really hypes me up and gets me prepared and gets my jitters out. As I’m walking, I focus on the critiques. I’m breathing. I’m making sure my eyes are open because I have a tendency to let them drop because I have little squinty eyes. I’m actually thinking I’m hearing Miss Jay’s voice in my head. I’m just trying to deliver.
As you mentioned in the final episode, you chose the hashtag #TheOne for your very first runway challenge on the show. Did the meaning of that hashtag change over the course of the competition?
It’s changed now. I picked #TheOne because the number 1 is very significant to. Number 1 because of my football jersey number. And I wanted to be the first male to ever win a cycle, and that’s something I kept in my mind and something that I prayed for every night. I was something that I really just burnt into my belief system and my faith, and I really just pushed that. And it worked for me. And I’m The One.
Speaking of your football career, how have your former teammates reacted since you’ve been on the show?
Everybody wants to be a model now. Before it was, “Don’t model. You have too many tattoos, blah blah blah.” But now everyone wants to model: “Hey Keith, can you help me? How do I get started?” So I think I’m starting something here. [Laughs]
Looking back over the competition, what was your proudest moment?
I loved every moment, even though it was high-stress. If I had to pick one thing, it would be leaving America and going to Seoul. That was my first time leaving the country. Actually being in Seoul and learning the culture and seeing something different—it really opened doors for me, and I feel like now I really want to travel and get out more.
What was toughest in terms of the modeling itself?
Actually my toughest and my favorite are the same: The first shoot for the opening credits, with the water. I got my first Best Photo and won the runway challenge. That was tough—being drowned and trying to keep a strong, Blue Steel face. It was tough all around, but I pulled it out, and I feel like I conquered a demon.
Which critique at judging hit you hardest?
I never really took the criticism personally. I took it and tried my best to apply it. But one time Kelly Cutrone really got on me about having a suit—it was a tailored suit, I thought I looked good. Everybody else thought I looked good, then she told me I looked like I work at telephone company, that I was like a Mormon. I was, like, “Wow. How did she think of that?” [Laughs]
On a lighter note, we have to talk about the time Tyra called you “Manaconda.”
Has the nickname stuck? Or have you gotten some teasing from your friends?
[Laughs] Yes. I hear it every day, whether it’s social media or at home. My mother calling me “Manaconda” was weird. I was like, “All right. That’s enough.” But I’m getting used to it. It’s definitely growing on me.
And, I have to ask: Are you and (your alter ego) K-Songz sharing the award? Does he have an acceptance speech?
[In seductive K-Songz voice] Yeah, baby, you know ummm… it’s a little something like this: I just want to thank everybody out there for supporting me the whole cycle. And Tyra, baby, thank you. This is amazing.
Did K-Songz come out for the sexy photo shoot with Tyra after you won?
You know what? That’s the one time I can honestly say that K-Songz got shy, so Keith had to take over.