On Friday, Nyle DiMarco became America’s Last Top Model by winning the 22nd and final cycle of the Tyra Banks-hosted competition series. As the first and only Deaf contestant to appear in the 13 years of America’s Next Top Model, he has also provided an inspiring success story for all those watching, and shed light on some of the social struggles that come with being Deaf; for example, when Devin took his phone away to take selfies without a thought that it was Nyle’s primary form of communication.
Now, with the last-ever title of Top Model, DiMarco is “humbled” by a win which he says “proves that Deaf people can do anything and everything.” EW caught up with DiMarco via email fresh off his win to discuss the season, the platform his win provides to the Deaf community, and his plans for the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Which challenge was your favorite?
NYLE DiMARCO: My favorite challenge would be the photo shoot with my mother. Through the entire process, I could feel everything: our focus, our energy, our motivation. My mother was extremely easy to work with — probably because she was a small-time model when she was in her 20s!. I felt good during it.
I was prepared for the picture to be powerful, but I did not expect to find myself in tears when I saw the pictures. I let everything go during that panel. My mother looked beautiful. We looked amazing together. I could feel the energy and I went, “THAT is what pictures should look like.” They should send out incredible energy.
From that very moment, I understood everything that it takes to be a model.
Which was the most difficult?
I think the night shoot was the most challenging. It was only challenging because we lacked ideas of how we would make the night shoot more accessible for me as a Deaf person. We tried using a flashlight, but I could not really see it and it didn’t work out. We tried banging on my box so I could perform and pose, but the rhythm was not great. It was a disaster. I think having glow-in-the-dark gloves would have made everything better!!
A lot of focus, especially at the beginning, was placed on how isolated you were in the house due to being Deaf. What was that like, and when was that experience most difficult for you?
I have no way of explaining how isolated I was. It was not that bad at the time, but now that I look back on it, I realize that I was really isolated. I kept talking to myself in my head, asking myself what I could do to improve for the next shoot, how I would do that between then and now, and what would it take to win everything.
To be honest, though, I think it was an advantage. I was not distracted at all. I was focused. One hundred percent focused.
I think that in the beginning of the show, it was the most difficult. There were 31 models and it was tough to really communicate with everybody. It was tough to keep up with so many overlapping conversations.
We saw you getting closer with Lacey as the season progressed. Is that a friendship that will continue after Top Model ends?
Lacey and I are great friends. We value each other and we do not want to do anything that would jeopardize our friendship.
Who is one person that you dream of working with?
I would love to work with Mario Testino. I respect all the work he has done and is doing. I feel that we would make powerful pictures together and I look forward to that day!
What has Tyra been like as a mentor and judge? What have you learned from her?
Tyra is such a patient woman. I love that I am able to read her lips without needing an interpreter or my phone to communicate. She stands up for what she believes in and she will say whatever she feels that we need to know. She means well and it is up to us to take in what she gives.
I learned how to really channel my energy in order to bring a story out of a single photo. It is the best trick and it will help you go far in the long run.
With the series ending, you’re going to be known as the final Top Model ever. How do you feel about that title?
I am truly humbled. Not only that I am going to be known as the final Top Model but as a final Top Model who is DEAF! And that is an amazing tagline. This proves that Deaf people can do anything and everything.
Because winning ANTM is such a huge deal and because you’re the first Deaf contestant to do so, it’s unavoidable that you’ll be seen as a spokesperson or a role model of sorts for the Deaf community. Are you ready to take that on? And what does that role mean to you? What do you hope to do with this platform?
I am one hundred percent ready to be a spokesperson for the Deaf community. I have always aspired to be the type of role model who can bridge the Deaf and hearing communities. This role means a lot to me because there have been so many misconceptions about Deaf people and I’m more than happy to help people understand our culture and change the perspective into a positive one.
I have so many goals as to how we can change the world’s perspective on Deaf people but I must make small steps first.
1) The first one was to win the entire competition, which I did!
2) I partnered up with The ASL (American Sign Language) App. It is a video tutorial app that teaches conversational ASL. It is packed with 800+ signs and phrases. In order for hearing people to become great allies, I believe that they must learn ASL (a little, at least) in order to understand us better.
3) I became a LEAD-K spokesperson. The LEAD-K (Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids) campaign is a visual civil rights movement that works to end the nationwide epidemic of language deprivation by promoting equality of language of both ASL and English as a basic human right for all Deaf babies, leading to a new generation of Deaf children who are kindergarten-ready.
Is there anything else you want to do with your new fame? A book, a business, or maybe acting in some capacity?
While I have the passion to thrive in the modeling industry, I also hope to land a big acting role in movies with reputed directors and other actors. I want to be able to do both modeling and acting!
I would also love to own a business, but I think I will hold on to that for later. So many things I want to do, so little time!