I first interviewed Wendy Fitzwilliam in the Fall of 2011. In that interview, we touched on many issues, such as: Miss Universe, being a single mother, her charities, specifically the Hibiscus Foundation and we also spoke about her work and plans for Caribbean’s Next Top Model. Now, two years later, Caribbean’s Next Top Model is a reality and is being broadcast throughout the Caribbean. I took this opportunity to have a follow-up with Wendy on the show. Here is Nu Woman’s Q & A with Wendy Fitzwilliam on Caribbeans’ Next Top Model.
Nu Woman: Wendy it’s good to catch up. When we spoke in the Fall of 2011 you had given me some information on Caribbean’s Next Top Model (CNTM). I believe it was in it’s early stages. It’s 2013 and the show is now being aired on many Caribbean stations. What other stations is the show on?
Wendy Fitzwilliam: Erica, thank you. I’m happy you are enjoying the show. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback and a few good critiques. The schedule for airing is on the Caribbean’s Next Top Model Facebook Fanpage at: https://www.facebook.com/caribbeansnexttopmodel
NW: What was the process like in making the show? From recording to editing and getting the sponsors, how difficult was it? Was it what you had anticipated?
Wendy: I’ve often compared the making of this show to Christopher Columbus’ journey to the West by which he “rediscovered” the Americas. Like Columbus, we planned. We worked hard to produce a ground-breaking show, for the Caribbean, which is about the Caribbean woman celebrating the Caribbean. The first time out is always very difficult. If it were not, someone else would have done this ages ago. Principal photography was a tremendous learning experience and so too has the editing process. We have been very fortunate to secure the services of Blue Collar Productions in this process who has worked on productions like Glee, Avatar and several other very successful movies and television shows. We have learnt so much from them. They’ve done an amazing job putting together a stellar show.
Our sponsors have been tremendously supportive during this process. Securing corporate support from sponsors such as: B’Mobile, KCL Capital Markets, Caribbean Airlines, Carlton Savannah,Chi, Sacha Cosmetics, TRINRE, Lime, Micles, Kalloo’s, Blue Waters, and Dominos was not easy but with a solid plan, such corporations have been truly committed. There have been several other companies without whose support the show would not have happened.
One can never fully prepare for a production of this magnitude but it lived up to my expectations and more. We had young women from all over the Caribbean who have the potential to make it in the fashion and beauty industry with dynamic personalities. They give “good face” and interesting stories. I’d say we have a winner on our hands.
NW: Tell me about your panel of judges, where are they from, their various backgrounds etc. How did you make the selection?
Wendy: We wanted a judging panel that comprised of members who understood the ins and outs of the Top Model franchise and who also have experience in the Beauty & Fashion Industries within the Caribbean and internationally. Thus, Pedro Virgil of Australia’s Next Top Model is our resident photographer and judge with a tremendous amount of experience. He has shot for Elle, Italian Vogue, Sports Illustrated, and many others. Richard Young is our resident Fashion Guru and has over 25 years of experience of training models in their walk & stage presentation. He has also executed the region’s most memorable fashion shows for almost 3 decades and has a vocabulary, diction & wit that would make Queen E II and Mom both proud & scared.
NW: We had spoken earlier about the top winner being signed to an agency, is there finalization on what agency will sign the winner yet?
Wendy: Yes, our winner will be signed to the Chicago-based agency, Factor Women.
NW: What responses have you been getting from around the region on the show?
Wendy: From the inception, there has been a lot of excitement about this production and that has continued. The reception across the region has been overwhelmingly positive. The excitement of seeing our beautiful selves and our beautiful part of the world, presented by us as we would like to be presented, has not waned. Whether tuning in only to criticize or tuning in because we like the show, we are tuning in and staying tuned in. The North American and the UK diaspora particularly, have gotten very creative in seeing the series which is not yet officially available in those markets. We have received requests from African markets for syndication also. This speaks to the level of interest in the show and it’s potential for longevity.
NW: Do you think that you have accomplished what you set out to do?
Wendy: Our goals for this project are very ambitious:
1. To create an economically viable TV production for the wider Caribbean (English, French, Dutch & Spanish Caribbean) that would present us at our best and close the language and cultural gaps that now exist;
2. Find a Young Model who can work in the Fashion Industry internationally.
3. Feature and celebrate the cultures, the fashion & the beauty industries of the Caribbean through our own eyes.
We are still aggressively working on number 1. I think we’ve nailed number 2 but you’ll have to wait and see. We have also accomplished number 3 but, this one is on-going and with more original programming to the world from us, about us, we will redefine the meaning of paradise in its many dimensions.
NW: What are some of the positives that you think the show will bring to the region?
Wendy: Firstly, the show celebrates our women and our fashion & beauty industries. From our designers to photographers to indigenous cosmetics, along with our language and our beautiful locations, these are all featured in each and every episode. The show celebrates several layers of the Caribbean without obviously trying to, in many ways. Let me explain. The girls and the fashion are obvious. From Sandra Hordatt swimsuits to Claudia Pegus Couture, our women and fashion are featured throughout the show.
TV is still the best way to promote anything over an extended period of time, particularly now that TV is supported by the Internet. Many of us, myself included, have moved our eyes from the TV set to our computers, tablets or smartphones but, the net effect is that these visuals live on for a very long time. I hosted an episode of “Wild On!” for E! Entertainment Network about Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival, while I was Miss Universe and it still runs 14 years later all over the world. One of the powerful characters of the show, of which we do not directly speak, is the Caribbean and the beauty of our islands. It is heavily featured at each shoot’s location, with the models, and is a powerful presence. In editing these shows, I’ve often found myself enjoying the location as much as the girls. A TV series has this effect for a very long time. Think New York City. It’s inner working is featured on “Sex And The City” or the Los Angeles of “Entourage”. I know of a few boys weekends away that shifted from Las Vegas to LA because of that show. CNTM has the potential to do the same for the Caribbean. We are so much more than our white sand beaches and good rum. On CNTM, we explore that “So Much more” and help to define it.
Additionally, CNTM stands out in this franchise of 42 versions of America’s Next Top Model because it the only Top Model that is regional and spans several countries as opposed to the others that are country specific. Thus, we have the opportunity through this vehicle to entice our populations to explore each others’ less familiar neighbours and the rest of the world. Each cycle can be filmed in a different location.
NW: How many shows are there in total?
Wendy: There are 11 shows in this cycle.
NW: What is the next step for CNTM?
Wendy: We wish our winner a stellar career in this field. This is a tremendous opportunity for a young lady. Of course, winning a show like this is the equivalent of getting into a great University. It’s what you do while you are there that will make all the difference. We expect this production, which is the first truly Pan-Caribbean TV production to be produced in the region, to spore several others and start a truly Caribbean TV industry not segregated by island or language.
In addition to speaking with Wendy Fitzwilliam about the show, Nu Woman was also able to conduct an interview with Kendra James, one of the Bahamian contestants, via the cast Liaison Officer Marissa Mohammed.
INTERVIEW WITH KENDRA BENEBY-JAMES FOR NU WOMAN MAGAZINE
Nu Woman via Marissa Mohammed: How were you selected for Caribbean’s Next Top Model? How did you learn of it?
Kendra: I learnt of the show through a website online and auditioned.
NW: How did you feel when you were selected to compete? How was the selection process done?
Kendra: I was very excited when I was selected to be a part of the show.
NW: On arriving in Trinidad what were your initial thoughts?
Kendra: When I arrived to Trinidad it was too dark to see much so I was excited to wake up and get things rolling. The following morning I remember just looking out of the window in awe of the distant mountains. It was beautiful.
NW: Were you nervous on the first challenge? What were your thoughts? Did you think that you had to represent the Bahamas?
Kendra: I was nervous and excited at the same time for the first challenge. A part of me really wanted to make my country proud, so that put the pressure on for sure, but I was mostly focused on doing my best for myself.
NW: How did you feel you did with the Carnival shoot? Have you ever participated in Carnival? Did you understand the Carnival concept?
Kendra: The Carnival shoot was amazing! I had so much fun and fun is what carnival is about.
NW: What did you learn from the whole experience?
Kendra: This whole experience has taught me to not be afraid to step out of my safe zone. I’ve grown so much since being on the show.
NW: Did you get to see a lot of Trinidad?
Kendra: I didn’t get to see as much of Trinidad as I would have liked but I got to see a good amount of it.
NW: Would you do it again?
Kendra: I’ve gained friends for a life-time from being on the show. There are definitely moments I wouldn’t mind reliving.
Published in Nu Woman’s Spring 2013 issue
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