Yahoo! TV Q&A: Model mentor Coco Rocha on 'The Face' and getting real

Sarah D. Bunting
Yahoo! TV
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The Face - Season 1

THE FACE -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Coco Rocha

WARNING: This interview may contain mild spoilers for the premiere of "The Face." If you're concerned about spoilers, please stop reading now!

Oxygen's new reality series "The Face" puts a new twist on modeling-competition shows. Three teams of model hopefuls – some of them already working in the industry, others newbies to the profession – are each assigned a mentor to guide them through photo shoots and runway shows, while photographer and former "America's Next Top Model" judge Nigel Barker hosts. The judges? Real designers and magazine editors, who hire the teams for real campaigns and shows.

Mentoring the teams are swimsuit star Karolina Kurkova; member of supermodel Mt. Rushmore Naomi Campbell; and Coca Rocha, a 24-year-old Canadian model and muse known for her fierce walks and posing. (Her Tumblr is pretty rad; check out her "pretty ugly" photos. The woman is not afraid.)

Yahoo! TV chatted with Rocha earlier this week about what sets "The Face" apart from shows like "ANTM"; how the concept itself brings the drama; and not knowing who Naomi Campbell was.

You must be crazy busy with Fashion Week and everything, so we will try not to keep you too long – even though we have many many nerdy questions for you.

We like nerdy questions.

Awesome, we will try to nerd out as much as possible then. …We think this show, "The Face," is a new, unique set-up for a modeling-slash-fashion competition, because it has more of a "Survivor" feel to it – but it also feels more real-world practical, in a way. What do you think about that – do you think that setting up with teams and captains this way lets the best talent come through? Is this more sort of realistic?

It is realistic in the sense that in our industry, that's kinda how you make it; someone takes you under their wing and kinda mentors you through the beginning of your career, and that's usually the girls at the top of their game, that's how it works. For example, for me it was a photographer named Steven Meisel who helped with my career and told me what jobs I should do, what shows I should be doing, and here I am today!

And so it is a practical thing, it is realistic, and to show the world how it works is I think a great thing, and seeing last year how many mentor shows came out, you know, for best talent, or music, or singing, whatever, but people really love that, and for people who love fashion, will definitely love the fact that there's three models, mentoring young models. I think, a formula of success, really.

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What else about "The Face" would you say sets it apart from, for one, "America's Next Top Model" – is it giving us more, like you were just saying, practical behind-the-scenes insight?

It is! Your three mentors, we never actually get to say, you know, who wins out of the three teams; that is not our job. Our job is to mentor the girls as best as possible, but in the end, it is up to real campaigns, it is up to the real people behind, you know – the clients, really; it's up to them.

So as much as we like to think, you know, "Team Coco, you're gonna win," it's not up to me, and that is how it works in real life; it's not up to the model, it's not up to your team behind you, it's up to that client what they're looking for that day, that season, and a lot of people are gonna think, "Well, that's silly," [that] they don't win just because, say, the client doesn't like the hair color, or they don't win because they don't like how the model posed. But that is our life, that is real, and I think people will be fascinated by that, because for example, you, when you write a story, you go to your boss, and the boss says, "I don't really like this story, please bring something else." For us, we come into that room and it's just, our body of work is us, and sometimes you see how, like, these girls are let down, because they did everything they needed to do, but they weren't the pick of the season.

So it's fascinating to people that this is how the industry works, and how we try and teach the girls.

Do you wish they'd shown more of the team selection process in the premiere? They sort of sped through that, which we get from a TV standpoint –

Yeah, it's hard for me because I'm not TV at all, so I don't know why they choose things that they choose, but you know, last week was the casting special, so they did air it. Maybe they didn't announce [it], to make it sound like it was the premiere of it, but they did air the casting special. But that of course is very fascinating to me, even if I'm watching – I always watch "American Idol," and I always like the people that come and think they can sing, I think that's really fascinating. So they did show it, they have it online, but we're starting off, day one starting with campaigns.

Have you worked with Naomi Campbell before? In other capacities, like runway?

You know, my first season, actually, I had the chance to walk by her on a show, Anna Sui, but funny enough, at the time I didn't know who she was, like at all, and people think that that's impossible, but believe me, it is possible, I did not know who she was, and after everyone was making a big buzz about how she had come up to me after and said, "You know, I really love your walk; your walk is my favorite walk," I thought, "Well, this lady's nice!" And I looked into who this lady was, and realized, I'm an idiot, for not knowing who Naomi was.

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So yeah, that was my first time, and then along the way, my career, I've only worked with her during shows; I've never actually had a chance to shoot with her, so, this was definitely totally different, I mean, as a model I look up at the supermodel era – Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi, and think of them as, like, the true models, you know, the empire of models, so for me to be a mentor alongside one of these models, that was kinda crazy to me.

Is she…what's the word we want here? Let's go with "misunderstood," maybe?


Or "intense," in a different way on the show than maybe she is on a runway assignment or on a shoot?

I think on the show she's more intense, because one thing that a lot of people aren't realizing is that, when the cameras go off … it's not like, "Let's have a great day tomorrow, and you know, see you at nine." This was our life. When the cameras were off, we still felt what we were feeling on-camera, so for example, if my team doesn't win, I'm upset, I'm emotionally upset, I go home upset, I'm crying because I want these girls to do well; I want them to be happy that they've won a campaign, but it's the same as Naomi – I mean, if her team doesn't win, she's upset. We're not rooting for each other; we're rooting for our team, so, we're all very passionate, we're all very competitive girls; you've have to understand that we're on the top of our game, and our field because we are somewhat competitive. And that definitely, you will see that in the show, you'll see that we, we're there rooting on our teams, we're not rooting Team Naomi, we're not rooting Karolina's [Kurkova] team, we're rooting Team Coco.

And when I say "we": you and me. (laughs)

Yes, of course! Do you think maybe the team thing was part of the set-up in order to amp up drama with her, based on her reputation for…feeling things very openly, let's say?

You mean like why did they choose teams?

Or, do you think part of it was to maximize the potential for drama with Naomi Campbell, who is very dramatic?

I don't think it was about that, because the whole concept of the show was, [they] scouted around a lot of people, and Naomi was the one that they really liked, so the idea was already there; it wasn't based around the idea of having Naomi bring drama.


The thing about the show, what you have to know is that there is not one successful way to model, and that's what you're gonna get from this, definitely, is that Naomi has her way, Karolina has her way, and I have mine and we drill it into these girls, and I look at Team Naomi and Karolina, and they do the same to me, and be like, "No, that's not right; I'm doing it right."

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And that's fascinating to people that watch this, 'cause you go, "Wait a second," we all sit back and go, "Actually there's many ways that you can do it." For example, I don't do lingerie, I don't do nude photo shoots, I don't do a lot of things, whereas if you saw the casting special, Naomi was questioning, "Why does she have a 'do not' list? No one reads from their 'do not' list," and I go back and go, "Well, I've made it; I'm here beside you." So, we all have our own way of becoming successful models, and that's what you're going to notice; these girls will learn from their mentor, and start to kind of almost copy their mentor, and notice that there will be three different ways of modeling.

So the concept definitely is perfect on its own; it doesn't need, you know, to make drama. It is, to understand there's plenty of ways to be a successful model.

That's actually a good segue into our last question. You've been quite vocal about eating disorders in the modeling industry and the fact that these models sometimes are extremely young, and once they grow into their adult curves, it's a different story. Will we see you addressing that at all on the show, or with your mentees?

I hope that you'll see it. I mean, I do, I ask my girls right off the bat, "Is anyone uncomfortable with this scenario, is anyone uncomfortable with this," and I always tell them to speak up, if there is something that they don't want to be doing, please let me know. I would never want the girls to turn around and be like, "Well, Coco made me do this, and I felt uncomfortable" – never would I allow that, I mean, if it meant they couldn't take the photo every single time, I'm not going to get rid of them just because of their belief system, or their passion of whatever, but I'm firm about what I believe, and I'm going to show the world that, too.

Of course, it depends on what's on the – what do they say, the editing floor?

(laughs) Right.

It's very TV-world, but even if you saw the casting special, how I – the girls were asked to go in swimsuits and walk on the runway, and I said, "If anyone feels uncomfortable, please wear a full body suit." So I'm always thinking, if I'm uncomfortable, if I would be uncomfortable, I want to know if they would be.

"The Face" airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on Oxygen.