Vanichi Now sat down with model and artist Shei Phan from America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21. She shares details about her upbringing, her thoughts on the modeling world and insight into her artistic mind. 



Vanichi Now: You grew up in Oklahoma City, far from the modeling meccas of New York or LA—what was your upbringing like? Would you say youre still a Midwestern girl at heart?

Shei Phan: Growing up in Oklahoma is so much different than New York or LA for sure—I am definitely still a Midwest girl. I love being outdoors and playing in the mud, and I don’t think “y’all” will ever leave my vocabulary. I was such a tomboy growing up because I have four brothers and I’m the only girl, so ‘being a boy’ was really all I knew. [At the same time], my mom was a single parent and was always working, so I took care of the house when she was away and made sure my brothers got up for school. Even though I was the baby of the family, I always had a lot of responsibilities. Growing up, I wasn’t privileged to have a lot of material things. We had to work with what we had—but that doesn’t mean we had a bad childhood. My mom always made the best out of anything.

VN: How did you get into modeling? Was it something that you aspired to do from a young age, or was a specific experience that turned you on to the profession?

SP: I had been interested in modeling since I was young, but living in Oklahoma I never thought I would actually get into it. I started modeling my junior year of college with a local photographer in Oklahoma, and from there I ended up in New York with a modeling agency. For me, modeling is another field where I can express myself in an artistic way. Art is my number one passion, so any field where I can be creative, I’m down for it.


VN: What would you describe as a your big break in modeling—the moment that you realized, “I really have a shot at making a name for myself in the modeling world”?

SP: As soon as I got to New York, I knew it was my chance to make something out of myself. It’s been a long, hard journey, but I’m still involved with it and I’m going to do it as long as I can. It’s something I love, so it’s something I will continue to do.

VN: How did you land yourself on Americas Next Top Model?

SP: I actually tried out once before when I as about 18 years old, but didn’t make it. I decided to give it one more go around and see what could happen. Plus, there were gonna be boys on the show, so I thought it would be a lot of fun. I made it to the semi-finals and I didn’t think it was real. The whole experience was amazing.

VN: What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned from being a contestant on ANTM, both personally and professionally?

SP: I think personally and professionally what I learned from Tyra was to find that magic within yourself and let it shine through—not only in the photographs, but in the confidence when you enter a room.


VN: You’ve spoken about how you want 2015 to be about your art and how you want to change the world with it. What kind of art do you do, and in what ways would you like to change the world with it?

SP: With my art, I want to send the message to never give up on your dreams and never forget to use your imagination. I want to share both my personal experiences and my experiences in the modeling industry, as well as explore political and environmental issues. I want my art to inspire others and bring something new to the table. I will be having shows in New York and London, and hopefully many other places.


VN: Last question: you seem to draw a lot of inspiration from your fans, who you call your “little pandas”—where did that name come from?

SP: Yes, my little pandas are a big inspiration for me everyday. I call them my little pandas because I have the nickname of “Panda” that special people in my life call me. So I thought it would be great to call my fans my “little pandas.” I don’t feel like they are my fans but my family. I try to respond back to all of the direct messages I get on instagram and tweet my little pandas as well. I love their involvement with me and hope to keep them around for a long time.