By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Heeda McAuley, 19, of Largo gets the good news when she least expects it: She has been chosen the Chanel New Model of the Year.
LARGO - On Tuesday night, Heeda McAuley curled up on her bed with a tablespoon and a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
In April, she was named a finalist in a national model contest, and in May she was whisked off to New York for four days of primping and pampering. But she hadn't heard a word about the contest since. And the longer she waited, the more her spirits drooped.
Her mother, Cheryl Pedone, walked by her room and saw her calming her nerves with ice cream therapy. "You can't eat that stuff if you want to be a model," she told her.
"I'm going to eat it because I'm not going to be a model anyway," McAuley, 19, said defiantly.
But the next morning McAuley ate her words.
At 6 a.m. Wednesday, Bevin Karl, senior merchandising editor of Seventeen magazine, was at her door to tell her that she was the Chanel New Model of the Year.
McAuley was chosen from 15,000 girls nationwide who entered the contest, featured in Seventeen magazine. With the honor, she also wins a five-day trip to Paris, tickets to the 2004 Chanel Ready-to-Wear fashion show, a spread in five issues of Seventeen, a $1,000 shopping spree and a six-month Ford modeling contract.
A modeling career seems an abrupt turn from her youth as a tomboy.
"I was always the one with fuzzy hair and playing in the dirt," McAuley said.
She played basketball and soccer. But she dreamed of the glamor of modeling.
"I always thought about being a model, but I don't think I have a model look," said McAuley, who is 5 feet 8, weighs 135 pounds and has chiseled features and a mane of wavy, chocolate-colored hair.
In February, she entered the contest on a fluke. Her mom snapped shots of her standing by the white wall near her bedroom. She wore jeans and a T-shirt and a black floral bikini.
She plopped the photos in the mailbox and didn't expect much to come of it.
"I thought maybe I'd be lucky and make the top 50," she said. "Get a free T-shirt and a bottle of perfume."
She made the first cut in April and the next one two weeks later. She was flown to New York City in May, where she posed for a photo shoot for Seventeen, modeled in a fashion show and was made over at Frederic Fekkai Salon.
It was a far cry from her usual beauty routine.
"I roll out of bed, throw on my clothes and go," said McAuley, who works at a kennel at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital and Kennels.
Before sunrise Wednesday, she put on a tad of concealer, mascara and Chapstick. McAuley had expected a visit from a reporter from WTSP-Ch. 10 news. She was told the station wanted to follow up an interview it had done a couple months ago when she became a finalist.
The TV reporter knocked on the door and told her there was a surprise. Karl popped out in front of the door and gave McAuley the good news.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," McAuley said, holding her hand over her mouth.
Karl rattled off all of the goodies that come with the honor.
"I thought you guys forgot," McAuley said to Karl, whom she had met in New York in May.
McAuley is the second Floridian and first African-American to win the contest, which is in its sixth year. Karl said diversity is an issue, but not only ethnic diversity. Chanel and Seventeen look for girls with a variety of interests and styles, she said.
"It is a fantasy - it's what I've always wanted," McAuley said Wednesday morning. "It hasn't really sunk in."
Karl said McAuley was selected for both her inner and outer beauty.
"She caught our eye when we saw her. Her personality just speaks for itself," Karl said.
The contract she won does not include a salary figure, and neither Chanel nor Seventeen has said how much McAuley will earn. But winning the contest will open doors for McAuley as it has for previous winners, Karl said.
"They always wind up working. Every one has gone on to have a great (modeling) career," she said.
Cheryl Greenspoon, director of new faces for the women's division of Ford modeling agency, said McAuley will be brought to Miami, where the agency will help build her portfolio and promote her career. Details such as where McAuley will live haven't been worked out yet.
McAuley's mother, Pedone, said she's thrilled for her daughter, but worried for her as well. She's heard of the traveling and pressures that come with the modeling world.
"I kind of do (worry) because when she came back from New York, she started to lose a lot of weight. . . . Some of those models are too skinny," Pedone said.
But McAuley said she prefers to exercise and eat right, rather than starveherself.
Next month, McAuley had planned to move in with her boyfriend, Lance Cpl. Joseph Sammarco, who is stationed in North Carolina. She may have to put those plans on hold, but she thinks the temporary sacrifice will be worth it.
"I feel like my life is perfect now. It's going in the direction that I want it to go."
- Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at firstname.lastname@example.org