Mary Alice Stephenson, co-host of America’s Most Smartest Model, is a fashion industry insider whose smart looks and smart tongue control her show’s pretty people. Each week we talk with her about issues on the show. This time the subjects are Angela’s future in music, Andre’s skills in front of the camera, and — what else? — V.J.’s sneaky-sneaky behavior.
VH1: Angela was not a happy camper.
MAS: Yes, she was really upset. I walked out of my place, as you can see on the show, which the producers were angry about. They were like, “You’ve got to stay there!” But by this time, I’d connected with the models on a personal level because I’d finally gotten a chance to interact with them. Ben and I were kept so far away from the models, you have no idea. We were forbidden to say goodbye to them. But because I’d gotten to have dinner with them, I knew them better at the end. With Angela, through the course of the shoot, she was supposed to direct herself. Roxanne Lowit [the guest photographer] and I pretty much stayed out of their way. I know Andre said that I would be directing, but that really wasn’t the case. If I was on the shoot, working the way I work for Bazaar, it would have been a lot different.
VH1: Andre seems to enjoy that strangling pose.
MAS: He was superior by far, and brought all of his experience to bear. But they cut out this dialogue when I saw that picture, of him holding her neck. I told him that the difference between this and choking someone with pearls is that this does not look violent.
VH1: And Angela got into the spirit behind the microphone.
MAS: She was singing all day long. She would forget that she was modeling when she was singing, and she would really get into it. I was completely blown away by her voice. She has an incredible talent! But in the end, when Angela was eliminated, I had to say, “Look, we found out that you have another gift, which is that you’re an amazing singer.” I think she could get work as a model. I think she’s beautiful. But I was shocked by her voice. I wish they’d shown that more. But in the end, I had to pick someone to go, and V.J. and Andre were stronger in front of the camera.
VH1: Depending on how you look at it, V.J.’s sneakiness hit new heights.
MAS: He was definitely watching Andre, but to me, that’s not being sneaky. That’s being aware of your surroundings. He knew Andre was good. That happens on a lot of shoots or at shows; the younger ones learn from the older ones. But V.J.’s pictures got significantly better as the day progressed. Roxanne even commented on it. He learned a lot through the course of the day.
VH1: Andre’s photos were markedly better than the others, though. He gave the camera something new in every shot.
MAS: He knows his strengths. There’s a certain emotion that he emits and certain moves that he does — like the scream — that he knows works. But he keeps changing, you’re right. I remember one of the first shoots I ever did, which was with Linda Evangelista way back when I used to be an assistant at Bazaar, being so impressed that she literally gave something different in every frame. Gisele [Bundchen] is like that too. You see how they move themselves. It’s great. No one wants the same thing all the time. You also have to create a character and react to situations whenever the client asks. V.J. was really inexperienced, but he demonstrated a lot of potential and learned a lot through the day. But Andre out-shot V.J. by far.
VH1: Did you learn a lot about them over dinner?
MAS: It was very late at night because we’d all gotten to Palm Springs that day. I talked to them about modeling and their private lives, and learned a lot about how each of them has been struggling individually. Angela and V.J.’s fathers aren’t really in their lives, and Andre lost his mother. I found out what drives these three. Some of it’s amplified for TV and how the producers edit them, and a lot of it is that they want to succeed. They might want to win for different reasons, but none of them are invalid. For Andre, it’s about proving something to himself. For Angela and V.J., I think it was the money.
VH1: And then there was V.J.’s not-so-glorious moment.
MAS: Everyone’s teasing me about that. It was so hard not to jump in there. Usually the photographer is so expressive about what they want, and I am too, but that wasn’t the point here. I didn’t have to direct Andre because he’s just so good, but with V.J. and Angela . . . well, especially with V.J. I had to ask him what he was doing. He went, “It’s my moment of glory!” and I was like, “It’s not so glorious.” But then he had the idea to jump in the pool, which was smart, and to surprise the girl, which was even better. Roxanne liked that because it was real and spontaneous. Angela has a body to die for and she’s a really beautiful girl, but it didn’t come across in that photo shoot. She didn’t give us a lot of choice. It wasn’t as playful as I would have liked. She was singing and that was fantastic, but it was almost as though we were shooting her as a singer and not a model.
VH1: Let’s talk about your guests.
MAS: There was Luke Storey. He styles Marilyn Manson, and he’s done Dave Navarro, Sheryl Crow, a lot of rock ‘n’ rollers. Roxanne was actually in L.A. to shoot an Yves Saint Laurent event for Vanity Fair. She shoots for so many different magazines — like every Vogue on the planet — and she literally took a helicopter in, just for that day. She had a lot of fun with it. Her first choice was Andre, but she did like V.J. She thought he had a lot of potential. The hair and makeup teams were from The Wall Group, a big agency in New York and Los Angeles. I’ve worked with them a lot at Bazaar. Then there was Jules K. She was there for makeup — she’s an amazing artist who’s done a lot of work with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll stars.
VH1: What happens on the show next week?
MAS: Well, there’s definitely a twist, as we all know. Their next challenge is a Bill Gates-type presentation. They have a short amount of time, and it has to be good. Andre’s really worried, but then he has this bright idea. You’ll see. There will be four guest judges: Cameron Silver who runs Decades in L.A.; Monique Lhuillier, a young designer based in L.A.; and on Ben’s side, he brought in a world economist and a former NASA scientist. Andre and V.J. had to create a presentation to sell themselves as America’s most smartest model.