Q&A: ‘Top Model’ contestant Whitney Cunningham ’07

by Zach Cherian | 1/27/17 12:00am

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Whitney Cunningham '07 was a contestant on Cycle 8 of "America's Next Top Model." 

Source: Courtesy of Whitney Cunningham

Whitney Cunningham ’07, a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, played basketball and studied sociology at Dartmouth. During her senior year, she was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model Cycle 8. Now, she works in marketing.

What made you choose Dartmouth?

WC: I wanted to go to the Ivy League. I thought that would be a good experience for someone coming from West Palm Beach. And I played basketball, and I had always looked at basketball as an opportunity to advance my education and really heighten those experiences that I have from an educational perspective. So playing basketball in high school and then going off to Dartmouth to play was really an opportunity, as opposed to wanting to play professionally — that really wasn’t my objective. I went to a few other Ivies and had been recruited by a few of them as well, and Dartmouth was the one that stood out to me the most. I really enjoyed my recruiting visit, and I think that its ability to match individuals to others from similar yet diverse backgrounds is really what drew me to the school. Also, it was in Hanover, New Hampshire, and I thought, “Go for the experience.” I really enjoyed my time and think quite fondly of it now, all these years later.

Did you end up playing on the basketball team for all four years?

WC: Interestingly enough, I left the team my second year and probably a day later is when I applied for America’s Next Top Model. It’s something I always wanted to do, and I figured, “Why not?” I had taken some time during the summer and tried my hand at modeling, and when I left the basketball team I was like, “Well, let me give it some more thought,” and that’s what inspired me to apply to America’s Next Top Model — lining up my next move.

What was the process like for auditioning for America’s Next Top Model?

WC: I saw the casting call on a commercial in my dorm room. The casting was down in Boston and I had a car, and so I rallied all of my girlfriends to drive down there with me and was like “Oh, we should all audition, we’re tall enough, cute enough, let’s go do it.” They were like, “Yeah, let’s go do it.” I did the application and was trying to rally the troops, but when I woke up the next morning, they had all had a long night, and they didn’t come with me, so I had to drive down myself. Auditioned for the process, submitted my application, and during that summer after school, I got a callback from the company and the casting producers. They said they wanted me to continue the process. So I got to the final round for Cycle 7, and then they decided not to move forward. So I tossed out the ANTM plan and went on to my senior fall at Dartmouth.

So I was back at school and actually at a football game on a Saturday when I got the call from casting. I remember running down the stairs of the stands and out of the stadium — casting was calling me directly, so I’m trying to get out of the roars of the stadium. They were calling to ask me be a part of Cycle 8. They were saying they really enjoyed my application for Cycle 7, but they thought it was best for me to be a part of Cycle 8. I did not turn down the opportunity. That was Saturday, and by Monday or Tuesday, I was headed to fly out to Los Angeles.

So what did you think of your time on the show?

WC: I thought my time on the show was pretty much life-altering. That was my expectation when I went on the show — for a life-altering experience. I really do give Dartmouth a lot of credit for supporting me and making it easy for me to have that experience and go on the show, and even just the student body’s reaction when I came back. They were really lining me up to have a life résumé, and that’s something that I think is so important for young candidates as they’re entering the workforce: creating a life résumé. I think that in the past we’ve always looked at career résumés. Those things are great, but it’s the life experiences that are all a foundation for your long-term growth. I think creating a lot of different experiences to give you those perspectives made all the difference for me in going on that show. And it also created opportunities.

After coming off the show, Dartmouth’s support helped me to get my first job as a result of being on ANTM. My experience on the show was everything that I had hoped it to be. I think I made my parents proud. It was really an opportunity, and I was overwhelmed and empowered by the opportunity to use my voice to positively impact somebody who was watching. I was a plus-sized model, I was the Ivy League girl, I was a black woman, and the response I got from women and men about how I might’ve touched them in some way — that was really the bridge that created my career track. Ever since then I have taken that mission to use your voice to positively impact the needs of an audience and made it my career. So that is my biggest takeaway from the show, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.