Models of confidence

The only Singaporean on the show made the walk of shame just one week into the first season of reality TV modelling series Asia's Next Top Model (AsNTM).

Miss Kyla Tan was eliminated after the first episode of the show, which aired last year.

But AsNTM 2, which premieres on Jan 8 at 9.40pm on Star World (SingTel mio Ch 301/StarHub Ch 501), will see Singapore doubling its chances with two representatives out of 16 vying for the coveted title.

Singapore-based Indonesian model-host Nadya Hutagalung and Filipino-Iranian host Joey Mead King return as judges. They are joined on the panel by new additions - US fashion photographer Mike Rosenthal and Australian choreographer Adam Williams.

We speak to Poojaa Gill and Nicole Lee, who promised each other from the start that they'd do better for Singapore this time round.


The 22-year-old, who was a New Paper New Face finalist in 2006, shrugged off her predecessor's failure. Reason: She has always aimed for nothing less than "being the best".

At the recent press conference for AsNTM 2 held at Ritz Carlton hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Miss Gill told The New Paper: "When I was 14, I was part of the pioneer batch at Singapore Sports School... in 2004 and at that point in time, I was the fastest sprinter for my age in Singapore.

"It's just in me that when I do something, I don't do it for the sake of doing it. I always want to be the best."

But being the best did not last long for the teen athlete.

A back injury in 2006 put an end to her hopes on the track. So she decided she would pursue her other dream.

Miss Gill, who stands at 1.69m and weighs just 42kg, graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with a degree in professional communications this year and is now pursuing modelling full-time.

She said: "It was after the doctor told me that I couldn't run competitively anymore that I decided to become a model.

"It was then that I decided to join New Face and that was the start of my modelling career."

Even though she did not place in the Top 3, the competition opened doors for her and led to her landing jobs for renowned brands like Volkswagen and a TV advertisement for Levi's latest Revel Jeans collection that is currently airing around Asia.

"The modelling industry in Asia tends to handpick girls who are Chinese and sometimes it can get a little tough for a dark-skinned girl like me," she said.

"I had to go through so many castings before I nailed that big Levi's ad which I never imagined I'd get... It really boosted my confidence. I thought to myself if the ad is being shown all around Asia, why not join Asia's Next Top Model?"


She may be living her fairytale now that she is an AsNTM 2 contestant, but life for the 24-year-old was far from peachy during her teenage years.

Having got into a relationship with an 18-year-old boy when she was 16, Miss Lee recalled the trauma of being "verbally abused and belittled". And that affected her confidence.

The fashion communication diploma holder from Lasalle College of the Arts, who is now a freelance photographer, said: "He made me feel bad about myself, about my body and about my looks."

There was hardly any family support too, as she claimed she hailed from a "typically Chinese family structure where children are not praised or complimented as much" and that led to her constantly "demeaning herself".

It was during this period that Miss Lee became anorexic. Her weight fluctuated between 45kg and about 70kg over four years. She now weighs 53kg and stands at 1.73m.

It was after one particular scare - when she fainted on the street in 2007 - that she finally came to her senses and resumed a normal diet.

She said: "I started trying to eat normally but I just ended up gaining so much weight because I always felt like I was so hungry and I couldn't stop eating."

But that wasn't the worst of what she called her "psychological disease". She soon turned bulimic.

"I would starve myself for the whole day, come home, have a pot of rice with just soy sauce and puke as much as I can."

Attributing her eventual recovery to her friends who kept pushing her to quit her bad eating habits, Miss Lee says she's "grateful" and "blessed" to have them in her life.

Even though she insists she's a more confident person now and is maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, she admits she has thought of sinking back into her bad eating habits.

She said: "Especially with (AsNTM 2), I was tempted to go back to it many times.

"Let's face it, all the girls in the competition are gorgeous and sometimes the pressure of competing does make me ponder... but I always remind myself that this competition is also about being a role model and showing people that you can be whoever you want to be without making yourself suffer."

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