In late 2004, Yoanna House, a lithe and animated 24-year-old, was hiding out in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, guarding a delicious secret: She had won the reality TV competition America's Next Top Model, and she was about to become a star. With Holly Golightly for a muse, House moved to New York City to launch her modeling career, wielding one advantage over the city's bevy of aspiring cover girls—she's already wildly famous. PT talks to the newly minted star about celebrity culture and the glare of the spotlight.
PT:You were working as a nanny not so long ago. How do you react now when strangers on the street scream your name?
YH:I don't know what to do. Should I smile and wave? Or if they ask me [if I'm that girl] should I say yes or no? People will just say, "Congratulations"—and I have to remember what it's for!
Do you have dedicated fans?
I've met some pretty big fans. In L.A., some guy was wearing my face on his shirt. Oh, my goodness. It took me a minute to realize it. I love hearing people say, "I would rush home to see the show." And it would be the most random people, like a schoolteacher, or a Wall Street guy who said, "I wouldn't want anyone to know, but... " The guys really like the cattiness of the show; they like watching the girls suffer!
Is there a bad side to the attention?
There have been times where it's really awkward. Sometimes, someone wants to touch you and feel your hair. It's just so weird. I don't want to be negative, but creating a boundary is hard. Or people ask questions, like "Where are you living now?" or "How much are you making?"
They think that since they've seen you in their living rooms, they have the right.
That's what it is. And people got really involved in the show, so they feel they know me.
As a little girl, did you fantasize about being a star?
I don't think I ever had a dream of being famous. I [just] thought, "As long as I make the runway." There's not as much attention put on models as on, say, Charlize Theron. So, I thought that fashion people would know me, but it wouldn't be like the average kid across the street would recognize me.
Do you consistently get recognized now?
Sometimes when I don't [get dressed up and wear makeup], I hear people say, "That's totally not her, don't flatter her." Yesterday a girl came up to me and asked, "Are you the girl from the show?" I had no makeup on. I said, "No." She said, "I didn't think so." And then she said to her friend, "I told you so—that's not the girl!" I laughed. People really examine you. They check your waist, your eyes, to see what color they are. They've seen you on TV, and so they wonder what you're like in person. I saw Drew Barrymore and I did the same thing.
And some people cry?
Yeah, in L.A., I ordered coffee from a teenage girl, and she started to cry. She said that I gave her hope, because she was a little chubby. [Yoanna shed about 40 pounds two years ago.] Another girl on the subway last week started crying, and she said her brother was a priest and they were praying for me—like, "That girl better win, Jesus." I was laughing, and she said, "It's the truth." She said, "You just don't know what you meant to me." The whispers make it seem like high school. I hear people whisper: "That's the girl from the show," or, "She's a lot taller in person."
So, have you been spending like a top model yet?
Does it count if it's on a credit card, and I haven't paid for it yet?
Sure, that counts.
When we were in L.A., I splurged on a Messenger Chanel sports bag. It was real sleek, but I thought it was more of an investment. It's a great handbag, for presentation, you know? I'm pretty simple [in my tastes]; I want to watch my money.
Do you miss the kids you were a nanny for?
I miss the kids, [my] relationship with them. They don't really get what I'm doing. They think, "Why isn't she here?"