Name: Amala Iyanla
Claim To Fame: The model turned musician’s single Tik Tok has been featured on Sway’s Universe.
Music video models used to be seen as expensive props, but the past decade has seen women use technology to break through industry barriers. Amala Iyanla is among the new generation models who show up on set ready to steal the show. She began releasing her own music and took some of the tips she learned as a model to help make her videos magic.
The young Baltimore native was underage when she connected with a Los Angeles based artist representative named Nyeema who wanted to work with her via Instagram. As soon as she was able to, she headed West.
“I was so young when I started,” she said. “I moved out to California and I was like, Hey, do you remember me.” Her persistence was hard to forget.
“She plugged me in with Interscope and she was the one doing the call casting for Smino’s video,” said Iyanla. She was happy not to encounter crass or dismissive behavior from the star. “He treated me with such utmost respect,” she said.
As a former athlete who had been training for the entertainment industry since she was a child by she was able to withstand the long shoot. “Stamina is everything,” she said. “I used to complain and cry all the time about running laps and I’m happy that I had that mindset of ‘Look, you got to work for this if you want to get better.'”
“When you’re dancing and you’re moving and you’re doing all this, your stamina, you need endurance,” she added. “We even were up until like six, eight in the morning. We saw the sun set and we saw the sun rise and I loved it. The whole experience of it was amazing.”
The opportunity led to other shoots and on each set she soaked up as much information as she could. She observed the type of equipment they were using, the scheduling processes they adopted, and the value of creating a strong personal dynamic between the talent and the models before each shoot.
Later she would keep in mind what she saw when planning her own video for her single Tik Tok.
“I always want everyone to feel comfortable and honestly get along because I feel like when you have harmony on a set, your video’s going to live even better,” she said, “So with my recent video, I made sure that we met ahead of time so we can all get to know each other, and that the director knew some of the dancers.”
Iyanla knew she was destined to work in entertainment as a child. She would study America’s Next Top Model and plan her strategy to excel in the house when she got her shot. She was devastated that the show was off the air by the time she came of age because they had just begun to feature petite models.
She considered the show her only opportunity because of the way the competition towered her at auditions. “I literally would go and do castings and I kind of realized, okay, I’m short,” she said. “I was so mad. I knew I was going to win.”
She credited her belief in herself to her mother’s affirmations. “She always made sure I knew my natural beauty,” she said. Her mother also encouraged her to develop a sense of individuality by allowing her to wear whatever she wanted and participate in any activity she chose. Her mother even enrolled her in the John Robert Powers finishing school to help her develop her professional presentation. The organization helped her connect to local mother agencies that led to her booking her first gigs. “I would do commercials and stuff,” she said.
Her height was a hurdle and she worked to compensate for it with charisma. She’d shoot quirky facial expressions at the casting agents and play with manipulating her voice. “I feel like that prepared me for the musical industry,” she said. “You have to stand out. That’s the difference between a rapper and a star.”
In between appearing in ads for nail polish brands and attending classes she spent time networking with photographers, publicists, and executives trying to set up spec photoshoots and collaborations online. It was through those efforts that she met Nyeema and began booking jobs in Los Angeles.
She was grateful to get her first big opportunity from a woman. “Women empowerment is a trend right now, but it’s something that I’ve always lived by,” she said. “With a single mom, you kind of learn so empower other women, not tear them down. So I love it. I love seeing even the woman I was on set with. I love seeing them support my career.”
The same way that she arrived on set with a goal of understanding how the process she has a plan for the next phase of her career and how she plans to bring marginalized people with her.
She’s already outlining the next “20, 30 years,” and using her growing popularity to speak out about social issues. “Two people might be the first who will make the change for 2 million. So I definitely have to speak up not only for my people but for people who don’t understand,” she said.
“I want to be an icon,” she added. “Put me in coach.”