In July 2019, the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit franchise held an open casting call in Miami to kick-off its annual Model Search, a unique opportunity for fresh faces and established models alike to prove why they would be a great addition to the highly anticipated 2020 issue. Several months later, PEOPLE announced the diverse group of 16 finalists and shared their inspiring stories.
But for a lucky few, the Model Search contest isn’t over just yet — it’s only just beginning.
Below, meet the top six finalists —who will be flown to an exotic location to shoot for the 2020 issue in hopes of becoming the final Model Search winner — and watch their sweet, emotional reactions to hearing the big news!
Video: Christie Brinkley Shares Body-Positive Message with 1977 Bikini Pic
HOMETOWN: Calabasas, California
OCCUPATION: Actress, model, age inclusive activist, petite model activist
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 17
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Whatever problems you are having now are only temporary and in time will be nothing but a blur to your future self. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out exactly as you thought they would, just keep on going. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to kiss some frogs to get your prince and remember if it quacks like a duck it’s a duck!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH: I’ve entered the SI Swimsuit Model Search and flown to Miami twice. The first time I didn’t make it past the first round. But I didn’t give up! I felt a burning desire to try again and to be part of a change in the way society views women over 50.
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: Cheryl Tiegs was the first SI Swimsuit superstar I remember when she was wearing a white swimsuit in a waterfall. I remember thinking it must be amazing to be her. I could almost hear the waterfall!
HOMETOWN: Southington, Connecticut
OCCUPATION: Model — I quit my corporate job two months ago
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: 20-ish?
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: You are beautiful even with braces — boys just don’t realize it yet! I admittedly spent many nights crying myself to sleep as a pre-teen/teen because none of my crushes liked me while all my other friends were getting boyfriends. I vaguely remember having Natasha Bedingfield’s “Soulmate” on repeat on my iPod.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: A few months prior to my first try at the 2018 SI Swimsuit Model Search, a friend and I were sharing our goals and passions, and I admitted for the first time to anyone that I had always dreamed of becoming an SI Swimsuit model. Not too long after, I saw the flyer for their open casting call. I thought it was fate. And I made it so close last year that I knew I had to give it one more chance in 2019.
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: The first time I ever saw an SI Swimsuit issue was when I was a child roaming the grocery store aisles as my mom shopped. I remember seeing a beautiful woman on the cover in a two-piece. My first reaction was to divert my eyes before my mom saw me looking at it. My parents raised me a bit strictly, but I’m grateful for it. I don’t think I was allowed to wear a two-piece until my later teen years! But, when I decided to go to the casting, I asked for my parents’ blessing first.
HOMETOWN: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: I tried counting and I gave up!
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Beauty, the world is yours. All the things that you thought were important, the decisions that you made, the friends that you hung out with, the advice that you listened to, the family talks — they will get you to where you are today. I’m proud of every corner you decided to turn down, because that led me here. I love it here!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: Last year I went to the model casting in New York, I ended up not getting it. I knew I wanted to try again and fortunately this year, I was in Miami during the open casting call, so my agent told me that I should try out again. Of course, I didn’t think twice!
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: I’m surely not a newbie to knowing about the SI Swimsuit franchise. I’ve known about SI Swimsuit since I was born. My entire family is crazy about sports, especially football. My grandfather was a faithful SI subscriber, and always had the latest issue. I used to love playing in his magazine collection, and he’d be so upset when I tore the pages out of all my favorite models. So, to be a part of a franchise I was so amazed by as a kid, is a dream come true. Not only for me, but my family as well. I promised them that one day they’re going to flip the page, and BOOM…it’s me.
HOMETOWN: Umatilla, Florida
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNDED: 37
OCCUPATION: Neuroscience Student, Oral Maxillofacial Surgical Assistant and Model
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: I would tell her that the world is bigger than she realizes, and she should take every single opportunity she gets to see more of the world and all the beautiful diversity that it holds. I would tell her that her worries aren’t as big as she thinks, so she should be kinder to herself and soak up every moment of her journey, because it’s a cool one.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I’ve admired SI Swimsuit’s efforts to show the beauty of all women, regardless of shape, size, or skin color, for years. When I heard that they were holding an open casting call, I knew I needed to be a part of it, or I would always wonder “what if.” And one of my goals in life is to never have to look back and say, “what if.”
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My freshman year of high school, I remember seeing a 2012 issue of SI Swimsuit in the checkout line at the grocery store which had Kate Upton on the cover in a bikini. I remember thinking she looked so gorgeous, healthy and she looked happy.
HOMETOWN: West Chester, Pennsylvania but I live in Los Angeles now.
OCCUPATION: I am a professional dancer, fitness instructor, dance teacher, model, and public speaker.
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNDED: I own a bikini in every single color under the sun.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Always listen to your gut. You can be whoever the hell you want to be. Never give up on what you want out of your life. You will always be okay, no matter what. Remember to take a moment everyday, to be grateful for all that you do have. Especially the little things. Your energy and personality shine way brighter than your exterior looks ever will. Stay true to who you are at your core, dream hella big, go out there and make a change in the world!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I was inspired to attend the Model Search in Miami when I finally had enough strength and confidence in myself as a bald woman. In 2018, my friend attended the open call, and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow I can’t do that until my hair grows all the way back in. No way would I ever be picked with these patches let alone ever feel brave enough to put myself out there,” (this was when my hair was growing in but very unevenly). Then it had all fallen out again in April 2019, and I told myself, okay I can either continue to drown in this pain and let it dictate my life, or I can take the power back and own this look. When I saw interviews of MJ Day speaking about there being NO rules and then saw Winnie Harlow, Hunter McGrady and Halima Aden all over SI Swimsuit, I knew this was my moment to be a voice for all the women and young girls who cry every day because they just want to feel normal again.
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: My first SI Swimsuit memory was definitely on Thanksgiving Day probably when I was about 10 years old. We would always go to my aunt and uncle’s house to celebrate, and my uncle would always call me Christie Brinkley. And I remember being like, “I know we have the same name and all but who is she? Why does he always call me that?” Then the following year, he had brought an SI magazine with her on the cover and I was like, “Oh yes! Call me that all you want, I wanna be like her when I grow up!”
HOMETOWN: Baltimore, Maryland
NUMBER OF BIKINIS OWNED: Over 70.
OCCUPATION: International model and blogger
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF: Embrace your power and beauty. Love, confidence and strength will take you anywhere you wish to be. I’m certain you will do great things one day.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ATTEND THE MODEL SEARCH IN MIAMI: I’ve always wanted to model for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit since I first started modeling almost five years ago. Inclusion and representation are important for me when it comes to fashion and media. After I started getting jobs, it gave me the energy to keep trying for the bigger opportunities. It would be amazing to see a model like myself in the magazine as that would be a first!
FIRST SI SWIMSUIT MEMORY: Seeing Tyra Banks when googling her photos when I was younger. I idolized Tyra and seeing how she was able to accomplish so much and build an empire all while being herself, encouraged me to go for what I want. She’s so sexy, confident, and fearless. I live for her covers!