Bradenton’s Top Model still dreaming large

While Jessica Santiago only lasted two weeks on CW’s hit show “America’s Next Top Model,” the Bradenton teenager still has her eyes fixed on being a runway diva.

The 19-year-old was eliminated during Wednesday night’s episode. Though the judges agreed the former Braden River High School student had the looks for the competition, they said her beauty didn’t translate as strongly in her modeling photos.

Santiago, now home from the competition, begs to differ.

“That’s just the way I look,” she said of the judges’ critiques. “That’s just my look. I can’t do anything about it. And I was really trying to model.”

She believed the judges were too tough on her in the last shoot. In that competition, the models were asked to pose with two light sticks. Santiago, a native of Puerto Rico, said it was a very difficult challenge.

“It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of skill to do that right,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that shoot right to tell you the truth.”

Though she hoped to go further in the show than she did, the Manatee Technical College student is glad she had the experience.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Maybe there’s something else bigger and better out there for me, another opportunity. I’m sure I will get a lot of open doors with this show from all the exposure.”

In the meantime, Santiago is considering a move to New York — the heart of the modeling industry.

Winning a contract with Elite modeling management was a huge attraction for Santiago to try out for the TV show, among other perks.

She also wanted to learn the ins and outs of the modeling industry from the show’s runway diva J. Alexander, Jay Manuel and host Tyra Banks. “I’ve always wanted to be a model,” she said. “There’s nothing else I want to be in this life. Obviously, if it doesn’t work out I would go to school and go into the medical field. But I definitely love modeling. . . . I like all the glitz and glamour, the fact that you get to travel a lot. And you have people doing your makeup and dressing you up and you meet so many people, too. I just love it.”

Santiago modeled previously in Miami. She has lived in Bradenton for two years.

Now that she’s off the show, Santiago is rooting for Natalie to win.

Out of the thousands of teenagers from across the nation who tried out for cycle 12, Santiago was surprised she was one of 13 to be chosen as finalists. Her family and friends were especially proud.

“I was confident I was going to do good,” she said. “But when I actually got called, I got emotional because I was just so happy. So many girls wanted to be in my position at that time. And to actually have that chance was great.”

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