Can she stay on Top?

If America's Next Top Model winner Jaslene Gonzalez has her way, no one will ever dub her a reality show has-been.
By Kevin Aeh
Photograph by Erika Dufour
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I’VE GOT A BRUSH ON YOU Hometown glamourpuss Jaslene Gonzalez won’t settle for just being a Top Model.
Styling: Kiyomi Kimble; Hair & Make-up: Christine Stahl; Candy bead necklace by Wendy Mink, $88, from Plein Aire boutique.

Jaslene Gonzalez promises she won’t be competing on Celebrity Apprentice, or any other reality show for that matter.

“No, no,” she says emphatically. “I’m at a different level now.”

Unscripted television is so last year for the Humboldt Park native—literally. It’s been almost a year since Gonzalez became the first Latina winner of America’s Next Top Model. And instead of wasting away as reality-TV roadkill (we can think of only a handful of reality “winners” who have made something of their 15 minutes of fame), Gonzalez remains optimistic that she has a bright career in high fashion ahead of her.

So, what exactly has this hometown hero been up to since her ANTM win? Get this: She’s been living in New York and working as a model. On a typical day, Gonzalez says she attends about three or four casting sessions, and she books about five photo shoots a month. In addition to making appearances on the two Top Model cycles (Tyra Banks calls them “cycles” instead of seasons, okay?) since her big win, Gonzalez also has appeared in the ad campaign for urban clothing line Lot 29 (which included a billboard in Times Square), was nominated for a Teen Choice Award and appeared in New York’s Fall Fashion Week in February (in the Project Runway and Armani Exchange shows). When visiting town recently to pose for the cover of this magazine, she also shot an ad campaign for online retailer Shop Bop and filmed a cameo for the movie Humboldt Park, starring Debra Messing and John Leguizamo.

While film cameos seldom land you on the cover of Vogue, they’re jobs other models with only a year of experience couldn’t easily get. Gonzalez admits the Top Model connection has its pluses and minuses. “I don’t know if [casting directors] sometimes hold that against me because they think I’m just a reality star,” she says. We pressed her for more details, but Gonzalez always puts a positive spin on things. “It’ll be a bother at times and I’ll probably sit there and dwell on it for a few minutes,” she says, “but as I go on and prove myself through my work, hopefully I’ll get better results with my castings.”

She’s also seeing results in the gossip columns. When Snoop Dogg recently threw a CD-release party in New York, gossip websites like tmz.com reported that Gonzalez was denied entrance to the bash. Perhaps Snoop doesn’t care for Tyra Banks and anyone associated with her? “No, [the press] twisted it around,” she says, explaining the space was simply at capacity and no one was allowed in at the time she arrived. “I just came at the wrong time. But I ended up going to Butter and hanging out with Jay-Z, so it ended up well.”

Another Internet battle Gonzalez fights is the reporting of her height. She says she’s 5'8", (a height her PR rep assures us is respectable for working models), but many websites list her as 5'7". (And at the TOC photo shoot, our associate photo editor, who’s 5'7", noticed Gonzalez was about as tall as she is.) Once again, Gonzalez doesn’t let it become an issue. “Look at Kate Moss,” she says of the short supermodel whose height has been reported as being anywhere from 5'5.75" to 5'8". “I carry myself as a very tall person, and I’m 5'11" once I have on my six-inch stilettos.” (Which, using that math, would make her 5'5". We’re just saying.)

Instead of dwelling on those negative aspects of fame, Gonzalez plugs along with her career and her causes. As the spokewoman for Liz Claiborne’s “Love Is Not Abuse” campaign, Gonzalez speaks about her personal experiences with relationship abuse and even recently appeared on The Tyra Banks Show to meet a young woman she inspired to leave a bad relationship. Gonzalez credits the ANTM process with helping her break free of her own abusive relationship. “We’re at peace now,” she says of her ex.

Gonzalez tries to make it back home at least once a month, mostly to visit family—instead of hanging out at old haunts like Tokyo 21 (where rumor has it Gonzalez may have spilled the beans about winning ANTM last spring). She also dines at Puerto Rican restaurant Coco Modern in Humboldt Park. “Anything that Grandma cooks in the kitchen, [Coco has],” she says. “Also, people who I’ve grown up with either work there or come there, so it’s a nice place to relax.”

Not that she has much time to relax. Gonzalez is prepping for a trip to Amsterdam, where she’ll promote her cycle of Top Model, which is just now airing there. The trip fits with her plan to conquer Europe. “That’s my next focus,” she says. “I’m trying to showcase myself more as a high-fashion model, and I want to take it further. I want to be a supermodel.”

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