March 8, 2011
(She is the “siren” on the left.)
Diane Hernandez and Yaya DaCosta at Mentor Foundation Royal Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC (Nov 08)
June 24, 2010
In July of 2006, the Village Voice posted an online article about college students who also model. Cycle 3’s Yaya DaCosta Johnson discussed her experience modeling in conjunction with her studies. Here’s the text from the article (written by Christine Lagorio):
The Mind-Body Problem
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful—and smart: College students who model
Barely a semester into Yale, Robin Hazelwood, a chisel-jawed 5′ 9 1/2″ fashion model, got sick of the two responses she’d hear when a stylist or photographer discovered her Ivy League status. “You must be a genius!” was the most common, Hazelwood says. “The second was, ‘Well, there must be a lot of rich guys on campus.'”
“I think highly of myself, but I don’t think I’m exactly genius material,” says Hazelwood, now the author of Model Student: A Tale of Co-eds and Cover Girls(Crown), a chick-lit “cautionary tale” about the modeling industry. “But they would say it in all sincerity.”
Fat English-lit anthologies and fluorescent highlighters are foreign to the fashion world, but Hazelwood often had them in tow during her Yale years, from 1988 to 1992. She recalls cramming for a final during a shoot in the Caribbean—precisely where Emily Woods in Hazelwood’s roman à clef is found reading Milton on the beach by her feisty, gum-snapping hairdresser. (The coiffeuse’s reaction after flipping through Paradise Lost: “Good lord, you’re a genius!”)
As for the supposed rich guys, Hazelwood never needed them— she estimates she earned between $80,000 and $90,000 in the summer before her freshman year alone. Besides, Hazelwood explains over a Stoli soda in her Upper West Side neighborhood, “the broad strokes” of Emily’s character in Model Studentmirror her own experiences, and throughout the book, Emily’s love affair is with runways and glossy magazine pages, not a fellow student.
In her lucrative liaison —long weekends in exotic locales, designer gifts, all the lettuce, champagne, and coke she could consume—young Emily, who attends Columbia, feels like an Ivy League philanderer, Barbie’s evil twin in a sea of Dukakis T-shirts and frayed jeans. She vows to keep her modeling gigs secret from her studious roommates and friends, tucking her designer frocks into storage bags and ceasing-and-desisting all shoulder pad and eyeliner use. (This is a sacrifice: It’s New York in the late ’80s.)
The secret holds for a couple hours, until half the Columbia football team arrives on Emily’s dorm doorstep, checking out her lanky frame and asking to see her fashion portfolio.
Hazelwood says she psyched up for freshman year at Yale by telling herself, “OK, Robin, this is a very intellectual bastion. People are going to be in the dining hall talking about Nietzsche and Proust—very serious things. No one can know you’re a model.” Hazelwood admits she was wrong about Proust buzz, but was right that mentioning modeling brought to the surface assumptions that her latest intellectual pursuit was more nail polish than Naipaul. In her inability to hermetically seal her work life from her world on campus, Hazelwood’s Emily confronts stereotyping on both fronts.
Our culture is fascinated by the mind-body problem presented by people—especially women–who are both physically and intellectually stunning. Pop culture lets beauty and smarts duke it out in game shows, like the WB’s recent Beauty and the Geek 2. The Miss America pageant, which began as a competition of looks, later adopted talent and interview segments; now it’s billed as a scholarship contest. The assumed beauty-brains paradox provided a plotline for America’s Next Top Model, during which cycle three runner-up Yaya Da Costa, a recent Brown graduate, had a heart-to-heart with host Tyra Banks about her decidedly non-intellectual career move. (Tyra: “Do you think you are going to choose one or the other?” Yaya: “I think of it like this: I’m 21 years old.”)
Most models, like most ballet dancers, don’t graduate college. To really succeed takes a full-steam approach at a wrinkle-free age. And as Emily discovers, taking off days to cram for finals or attend college formals doesn’t make casting-minded agents happy. Top Model‘s Da Costa says she feels lucky to have waited to graduate before making a career out of modeling. But to her, modeling is still a “surreal world” in which it is difficult to practice any of the four foreign languages she speaks while getting her hair done.
“In modeling you put on a mask and accept that they don’t want to hear you, that they don’t really care what you think,” Da Costa tells the Voice. “You learn to just play the game, and it’s very light and fluffy and convenient.”
Stanford student and part-time model Logan McClure, 20, encountered academia’s backlash against beauty early and often. During her senior year in an all-girls Palo Alto high school shortly after she began modeling, her class considered hosting an end-of-the-year fashion show. The idea was quickly squashed by fellow students protesting the objectification of women. McClure kept quiet, thankful that no one seemed to have seen her latest catalog appearances.
Once in college, McClure didn’t attempt to keep modeling secret—mostly due to the implausibility of doing so: Within weeks of starting classes at Stanford, a rumor spread that she’d modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch (she hadn’t). Denial was useless, because she’d appeared in plenty of other catalogs and was going to castings three days per week. Her friends were fascinated, and only one professor has found out.
“There is a shallowness in the industry, and there are the eating disorders,” McClure says. “When I was in Greece I lived with a girl who only ate fruit— ever. But another girl there from Norway is probably the most beautiful person I’ve ever met and she’s the only girl in her engineering class.”
Hazelwood’s novel deals in the industry’s underbelly of sex, drugs, and collagen, but she hopes Model Student doesn’t come across as a bitter tell-all. At least she ‘s not bitter—she says her 13 years of catwalks and covers were worthwhile, because she didn’t miss too many lectures and got a lock on writing about an industry that is “darker and funnier” than even Zoolander portrayed. As for long-term side effects, Hazelwood says, “I’m reluctant to say it made me dumber, but my brain definitely thought more superficially. You kiss each other like 50 times when you say hello, but you don’t really know anything about them, you know?”
April 14, 2010
April 14, 2010
April 14, 2010
In April of 2006, Zap2it.com posted an interview with Cycle 3’s Yaya DaCosta Johnson with regards to her movie role alongside Antonio Banderas in dance flick Take the Lead. Here’s the text from the article (written by Hanh Nguyen):
On “America’s Next Top Model,” Yaya DaCosta was the brainy, Afro-centric runner-up on the show’s third season. Now she’s starring opposite Antonio Banderas in her feature debut “Take the Lead,” and reveals that acting was in the plans all along; modeling was a detour.
“When I was 11, I had taken classes and did some educational films. As far as my family was concerned, I’ve always been acting,” says the Brown University grad. “So I did that show kind of like taking a break from 30-page papers in school on midterm week. I was like, ‘Oh, that would be cute,’ but I didn’t really know what I was getting into. After that was over, it was over.”
She’s grateful for her experience, but was glad to learn from the “Take the Lead” filmmakers that she landed her role solely on her own merit, not the show. In the movie, she plays troubled high school student LaRhette, who raises her siblings while her mom works late and whose brother was killed by a fellow student. The bright spot in her life is afterschool detention, where ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine introduces the students to the finer points of teamwork and terpsichore.
Although DaCosta’s upbringing isn’t like her character’s, she had no problem identifying with LaRhette’s circumstances.
“My parents are educators, I had both parents at home … so it was more secondhand information,” she says. “I’m from New York City, from Harlem, and my ‘hood isn’t one of the nicest in the city. My friends when I was younger had more in common with LaRhette than I did on that level, but it was right there. All I had to do was go to my block.”
She had a bigger challenge with the ballroom dancing scenes, specifically following her partner’s lead.
“All the dance styles that I’d done before were very individualistic. I make all the decisions about what I’m going to do next with my body,” she explains. “This was completely different because it’s a conversation between you and your partner. You have to trust them and relinquish, as a woman, all of your decision making.”
DaCosta, who studied international relations in college, can speak four languages and is currently teaching herself Swahili. She’d like to model her career after “V for Vendetta” star Natalie Portman, another multilingual actress with political interests.
“I have a bunch of dream roles, but at some point I’d love to have an accent or speak another language in a film,” she says. “Or maybe action movies. Aside from dance, I play capoiera, which is a Brazilian martial art … And then I’d love to write some scripts. Look out for some really political stuff from me.”
Right now, though, she’s just enjoying the personalized, ghetto-fabulous earrings LaRhette wore in the film.
“I got to keep the backup ones. So I have my souvenir,” she says. “They’re cute. I wore them once … out in New York and people were like, ‘That’s not your name.’ I was like, ‘Wait and see.'”
“Take the Lead” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 7.