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''Swimsuit Model Search'': Meet the competitors

We size up the 12 unknowns who’ll compete in NBC’s reality series for a photo spread in Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue

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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search

Last year, when Sports Illustrated sought an unknown model to pose among the more famous figures in its annual Swimsuit Issue, the magazine announced the winner on an episode of NBC’s Dateline. This year, the network has turned the search into a full-fledged, six-episode reality series. Premiering on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m., Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search features 12 finalists who’ll be winnowed down to two by a panel of judges — former SI swimsuit model Roshumba Williams, NEXT Model Management president Joel Wilkenfeld, and Jule Campbell, the SI editor who founded the Swimsuit Issue. Viewers will vote in February for the winner, who gets an SI Swimsuit Issue spread and a $1 million contract with NEXT. (SI, like EW.com, is owned by Time Warner.)

We’ve prepared a portfolio of the competitors, none of whom has had any national exposure until now. As we await all the drama of tan lines, secret cellulite, and casually catty, ego-shredding commentary, read on for early info from the judges and aspiring models.

Adaora Akubilo
Image credit: Adaora Akubilo: Chris Hasto

Adaora Akubilo

AGE 20

HOMETOWN Windsor, Conn.

DAY JOB Student at Central Connecticut State University

HOBBIES ”Is shopping a hobby?”

MODEL ROLE MODEL Tyra Banks. ”I saw her get punk’d once on MTV and I was very impressed with the way she handled herself.”

WORDS OF WISDOM ”Love yourself no matter what. Stay healthy and positive.”

ADVANTAGES She befriended fellow Nutmeg State native Michelle Lombardo, last year’s winner, and picked up some camera tips.

DISADVANTAGES She may not be up to the physical challenges, and may not want it badly enough, says judge Wilkenfeld.

Krisi Ballentine

Krisi Ballentine

AGE 23

HOMETOWN Little Rock, Ark.

DAY JOB Model

HOBBIES Skydiving, water sports

MODEL ROLE MODELS Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum

WORDS OF WISDOM ”Stay grounded.”

ADVANTAGES Her blond girl-next-door quality and Southern charm

DISADVANTAGES Is she too artificial? She has breast implants, and judges frown on her trailer-park fashion sense.

Stella Diaz

Stella Diaz

AGE 20

HOMETOWN Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

DAY JOB Student (at Sacred Heart University in Santurce, Puerto Rico) and model

HOBBIES Dancing, writing poetry, volleyball

MODEL ROLE MODELS Elsa Benitez, Gisele Bündchen

WORDS OF WISDOM On keeping fit: ”You can cheat once in a while — it’s fun to.”

ADVANTAGES Her fiery Latin look

DISADVANTAGES She appears frosty in photos, Wilkenfeld says.

Betti Formeus

Betti Formeus

AGE 27

HOMETOWN Miami

DAY JOB College student (at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami) and model

HOBBIES Basketball, running, dancing

MODEL ROLE MODEL None. ”Aside from Mom there was never anyone I really looked up to.”

WORDS OF WISDOM ”Know yourself first, before exposing yourself…before you take those chances — otherwise you’ll be taken advantage of in this business.”

ADVANTAGES She may be more mature than the competition.

DISADVANTAGES At 27, she is the oldest model competing.

Alicia Hall

Alicia Hall

AGE 19

DAY JOB Web designer

HOBBIES Tennis, bowling, designing clothes

MODEL ROLE MODELS Roshumba Williams, Kate Moss

WORDS OF WISDOM ”Never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough, because you are! A woman’s value alone is precious.”

ADVANTAGES Six years of modeling experience

DISADVANTAGES Other contestants say they resent her ”Miss Diva” attitude; judge Williams says she has love handles.

Shannon Hughes

Shannon Hughes

AGE 23

HOMETOWN Mesquite, Texas

DAY JOB Model

HOBBIES ”Reading! I am always reading. I also love to clean and organize.”

MODEL ROLE MODELS Kathy Ireland, Kim Alexis

WORDS OF WISDOM ”We all look different and there is room for everyone.”

ADVANTAGES She’s got a head for business; she holds a degree in public relations and marketing.

DISADVANTAGES Her presentation may be too mechanical; ”Stop posing,” say the judges.

Stacy Klimek

Stacy Klimek

AGE 19

HOMETOWN South St. Paul, Minn.

DAY JOB Student (at Augsburg College in Minneapolis) and sales associate at Baby Gap/Gap Kids at the Mall of America

HOBBIES Basketball, volleyball, dancing

MODEL ROLE MODELS Roshumba Williams, Cheryl Tiegs, Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, Niki Taylor, Molly Sims

WORDS OF WISDOM ”God is my idol because I believe we should want to look up to and try to live our lives by the way our creator intended us to.”

ADVANTAGES She has a Julia Roberts smile, says judge Campbell.

DISADVANTAGES Lack of experience. She’s not graceful, Williams says, and may be overly fond of her favorite foods, ”turkey and bacon sub sandwiches and cheesecake!”

Sabrina Marie Sikora

Sabrina Marie Sikora

AGE 20

HOMETOWN Macon, Ga.

DAY JOB Student (at Wesleyan College in Macon), website producer, host of the Cox Communications cable TV show Unique Discoveries

HOBBIES Photography, listening to jazz

MODEL ROLE MODELS Vendela, Kimora Lee Simmons

WORDS OF WISDOM ”Exercise is great but Pilates is fabulous!!”

ADVANTAGES She’s proud of having a ”real woman’s figure (I have a booty like J. Lo and Beyoncé).”

DISADVANTAGES She has a booty like J. Lo and Beyoncé.

Jenna Spilde

Jenna Spilde

AGE 19

HOMETOWN Dallas

DAY JOB Model

HOBBIES Reading, writing, acting

MODEL ROLE MODEL None

ADVANTAGES She’s young (the youngest of all the competitors) and eager.

DISADVANTAGES Williams says Jenna has an asymmetrical face.

Nancy Stelmaszczyk

Nancy Stelmaszczyk

AGE 22

HOMETOWN Chicago

HOBBIES Dancing, waterskiing

MODEL ROLE MODEL None

WORDS OF WISDOM ”I feel most comfortable in bikinis.”

ADVANTAGES Possibly the brainiest contestant, she has a degree in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

DISADVANTAGES She may be too broad-shouldered, the judges say.

Shantel Yvonne Van Santen

Shantel Yvonne Van Santen

AGE 19

HOMETOWN Spring, Texas

DAY JOB Student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth

HOBBIES Painting, dancing, video games

MODEL ROLE MODELS Marissa Miller, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen, Cindy Crawford

WORDS OF WISDOM ”True beauty is found within yourself.”

ADVANTAGES Maternal advice: Her mom was also a model.

DISADVANTAGES She’s susceptible to self-doubt and nerves under the pressure of competition.

Marcela Ziemianski

Marcela Ziemianski

AGE 21

HOMETOWN Glenview, Ill.

DAY JOB Student at Loyola University of Chicago

HOBBIES Winter and summer sports

MODEL ROLE MODEL ”I don’t have just one favorite — they’re all fabulous.”

WORDS OF WISDOM ”I never had an opportunity like this presented to me before, so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s see what happens.”’

ADVANTAGES Fresh face, blonde ambition

DISADVANTAGES Homesickness. Also, according to the judges, her hair is overprocessed.