Name: Raelia Lewis
Agency: Click Models Philly/ Yanii Models/ Wilhelmina Chicago/ Heffner Management
Claim to Fame: Lewis is an America’s Next Top Model alum who has been featured in ads for Pepsi, Kiss USA, and Mizani.
Raelia Lewis began pitching herself to agents as a kid in Philadelphia. When the neighborhood kids were jumping rope and popping wheelies, she was looking up modeling agencies in the Yellow Pages. “I’ve always been interested in modeling, as long as I can remember,” she told HelloBeautiful.
At fifteen she was scouted by a local agency called Icon Models. “We practiced like every Thursday,” she continued. “I did fashion shows. I did hair shows and it was cool for a while, but then I decided that I really wanted to go like mainstream.” Luckily for Lewis the mecca of mainstream modeling was less than one hundred miles away. “When I turned 18, I started trying to get signed in New York City,” she said. “I started sending my pictures out to agencies.”
She eventually looked west for opportunities, submitting herself for several reality shows. “I went to LA and I tried to get signed there. It took for me a really, really, really long time to get signed,” she said. Lewis supported herself and financed her transportation to castings and auditions by holding down a hospitality job. “I was a server. So what I did was I just picked up extra shifts. And I saved my money and I went out there and I was broke. So like, it literally was by the grace of God that I was able to do that,” she said.
“I did make it onto America’s Next Top Model at 22 after trying out over four times for a reality TV show competition so they included The Face and three seasons of America’s Next Top Model. And I got rejected from all. And then a fourth time I tried out for America’s Next Top Model, I made it.” The preproduction process and the exaggerated scenarios set up by the show created an environment full of unexpected triggers for Lewis. “It was just so much, it was like a low key, traumatic experience,” she said. “I felt like they pushed us past our limits. We didn’t really understand what we were getting ourselves into. So it was just very challenging.”
“It was just like a really scary, lonely experience,” she added. The exposure of television was difficult for Lewis to endure without the benefits of booking work from it. “For awhile it was really, really tough. And it was almost like I regretted doing the show,” she said. “It was almost like holding a mirror up to what I didn’t know was coming or what I thought I should be.”
Being sequestered pushed some of the contestants together and while Lewis didn’t depart with a contract she made friends with similar goals. “It was really, really, hard after the show. Like I had no direction, no one was like knocking down doors, trying to sign me. So I really was back at square one,” she admitted. She moved to Los Angeles with some of her cast-mates following her time on the series. “We were all from different places. We were like, why don’t we just put our money together,” she recalled. “Let’s just go out there and just try to make it happen.” Lewis finally made her original dream of getting signed in New York happen through her efforts, but she wasn’t claiming victory until she secured paid work. “I still was apprehensive because I went through so much disappointment that I was like, let me see what’s going to happen because after you get signed, then you have to book.”
Lewis didn’t have a problem booking. She was featured in ads for Pepsi, Bare Minerals, Kiss USA, Mizani, and more. “After I got signed in New York things really started to pick up. I was working consistently as a full-time model,” she said. “It’s really been great, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been hard. You know, I still get rejected a lot sometimes.” Nearly 20 years of experience prepared her to be proactive. “I have this thing where I don’t depend on anybody for it …for my career. I don’t put my, my life in anybody’s hands. So when things are slow, I don’t look to the agent and get mad at them. I said, ‘Well, what can you do?’ And I just use that mindset and I just keep pushing forward.”
She pushed towards entrepreneurship by starting two retail businesses that offer swimwear and accessories. As a model she is often passed over for swim campaigns as an owner she can give herself a booking. “I was tired of just waiting for somebody to pick me. I was tired looking outside of myself for validation and for financial support.” She isn’t worried about market saturation in modeling or fashion.
“If you work hard enough, there’s enough space.”