upermodel Tyra Banks and her crew are back on UPN this fall, scouring the country for America’s Next Top Model. This season, the band of model hopefuls included 19-year-old Julie Titus, an Indian American from Kent, Washington. Titus was eliminated from the competition in the third episode for being a little bit too honest (she confessed to Banks that she had other aspirations besides modeling), so we caught up with her to get the behind-the-scenes scoop.
What prompted you to try out for the show? Had you done any modeling before you tried out for the show?
No, I actually did a pageant before, but that was something my mom forced me into.
My best friend had watched the first season of the show, and he called me and harassed me to do it. I tried out for him. Later, I found out that my local radio station was having a contest. The first five people they picked for the contest would be the first five people to audition for the show. I was picked. A couple of days later, I got a call that I made it past the first round. I get a second call [that] I had to videotape myself. A week later, I found out I got to go to LA for the show.
I want to break the stereotypes of what people think of Indian women or Indians in general.
Do you think the show was true to the reality of what happened?
A lot of it was accurate. A couple of things here and there were blown out of proportion—like Cassie’s bulimia. It wasn’t that big of a deal. They made it sound worse than it really was.
You said one of your goals was to create a new image for Indian women. What did you mean?
I just want to break the stereotypes of what people think of Indian women or Indians in general. The categories are mostly being a doctor, engineer, or having something to do with computers–especially because a lot of times that’s what our parents want us to do.
My mom thought I was doing some kind of porn scam!
Speaking of parents, how did your family feel about you going on the show?
Oh, everybody was against it. They said stuff like, “Modeling is such an unstable career” and “It’s like you’re doing a porno.” My mom thought I was doing some kind of porn scam!
So they didn’t really know much about the show?
They had no idea. When I told them I was trying out for a show, they were like, what is this show, what’s it all about? My mom knew who Tyra Banks was, so I explained what the show was about. My dad said, what is this, a black model search?
So how did you convince them it was a good idea?
I told them if I could use this to become a model and get myself set, I could incorporate what I do with my main goal, which is to get into apparel manufacturing. They knew I’d do what I wanted to do, anyway.
So they got over it, eventually?
Well, they didn’t like some of it. We did this ad in People magazine for Lee Jeans where we were topless. They weren’t cool with that.
I’m a big ABCD. I don’t speak a lick of Malayalam.
But my parents are a lot more liberal than some other parents. At first, they were against me doing this. Then all of a sudden, I called my mom from the show one day, and she was like, “Hiiii, my famous daughter!” [Titus mimics a thick Indian accent.] I was like, “Wait, who is this?”
You’re Malayalee. Do you identify with Indian culture?
Actually, I’m a big ABCD when it comes to that. I don’t speak a lick of Malayalam. I am a big fan of the food, though.
What’s your favorite Indian food? From the show, it seems like you’re a bit of a foodie.
Biryani. Yeah, they have clips of me on the Internet always eating. [Laughs.] I was chomping away. Sometimes I didn’t even have basic table manners!
The show really focused on you being Indian. Do you think they did that at the expense of showcasing your personality?
I was kind of mad that they didn’t show more of my personality. I’m just this goofy, funny girl. The basis of all my humor is my mother. That’s the one thing I had–I’d start talking like my mom [imitates a stereotypical desi accent]. So the girls gave me the nickname “Curry Mama.”
But I’m just goofy. Like, that whole time, with Janice, when she had a comment to say about me, I wanted to say, “I see your Botox moving, but I can’t hear the words coming out.” I was seriously biting my tongue. I guess I didn’t want to seem bitchy on TV. (Laughs.)
I saw the other divas around me, and they were like, “Ooh, where’s the camera?” and did a little dance in front of it. I just kind of laughed and thought, “I’ll sit in the background and watch you make a fool of everyone.”
But my parents are a lot more liberal than some other parents. At first, they were against me doing this. Then all of a sudden, I called my mom from the show one day, and she was like, “Hiiii, my famous daughter!”
You were really rocking clothes that mixed Indian and Western sensibilities. Is that your style?
Yeah, I love wearing Indian jewelry. I’ll wear a regular T-shirt with some bling. It is kind of what my style is. When I threw the tika on, I just felt like it.
What was up with some of the “Kama Sutra” comments you received during the swimsuit shoot in Jamaica?
That kind of annoyed me. They were saying “Work it, girl, work it like the Kama Sutra.” J. Alexander was going off, saying, come on, do those Hindu poses, and I was like, “I’m not Hindu.” But I knew I was going to get those stereotypes. If someone crossed over that line that wasn’t OK, then I would have stepped up and said something. Curry Mama’s gonna kick some a**. (Laughs.)
I did get another comment about being Indian. One of the girls said, “Let’s all be honest, and say what we felt when we first met each other.” So Toccara says to me, “Julie, can I tell you something? I don’t think you’re going to be America’s Next Top Model.” I asked why, and she said, “I don’t think America’s ready for an Indian model yet.” I just walked out to get something to eat. Two other girls came up to me and said, are you going to kick her a**? I was shocked that she said that.
You did get booted, but it was because you told the judges you wanted to break into modeling as a stepping stone to starting your own apparel manufacturing company. Do you regret being so honest?
I wish I could have rephrased it. But the bottom line is, I would have said the same thing. It just tripped them out that I had other aspirations than just being a model.
You said you specifically want to do men’s apparel. Why?
Everybody goes so crazy with women’s clothes–it’s not even fashion anymore, it’s costume. I just think guys look better in their clothes. My dad always dressed up in really nice suits for work. I thought, guys should wear suits all the time. And I want to incorporate Indian style, too. I was so excited when I met designer Anand Jon on the show.
What was that experience like?
I saw him walk into the room, and I went crazy. I mean, I’ve studied his work. But he was an interesting character. I wouldn’t want to hang out with him, that’s for sure.
I was kind of mad that America’s Next Top Model didn’t show more of my personality. I’m just this goofy, funny girl.
I respect him as a fashion designer. But he was very, very rude to some of the girls.
He seemed so boring to me. I asked him what part of India he was from, and he asked me, what part of India are you from? So I said I’m from Kerala, and he looked at me kind of crazy. He’s Malayalee, too. He asked me if I knew any Malayalam, and I said I only knew the bad words. Then he says, “Shouldn’t you be serving us or something?” [Titus and the other cast members had to serve four of the girls who won that week's model challenge.] So I walked away, cursing at him in Malayalam. He said, “Oh, so now you know it?”
And he smelled bad. The girls looked at me and were like, are all Indian guys like this? And I was like, nope, just this fool right here. Later, my parents told me that they know him through family friends.
So what’s next for you, now that you won’t be cursing out fashion designers in Malayalam?
I’m back in Kent, finishing up my associate of arts degree. But I’m still pursuing modeling at the same time. I actually have been talking with a modeling agency in Washington–it’s supposed to be the best agency in Seattle.
So no regrets about doing the show?
Oh yeah, it was an interesting experience. I had a good time.