Published on March 19, 2012 by Amy
For one of her first competitions in the new cycle of “America’s Next Top Model,” former Pendleton resident Mariah Watchman, who grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, had to don the costume of an American icon.
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Producers chose for her to portray Pocahontas.
“As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that’s who I would be,” Watchman said from Miami, where she recently bought a home. “I was completely fine with it. There’s no one else I’d want more to portray. It’s someone everybody knows.”
Though only 20, Watchman has been modeling since she was 15 and is accustomed to the famous historical figure coming up when she models internationally.
“Most people don’t know about natives and how we live,” she said. “When they ask what I am, they always assume I’m Latina. I have to let them know I’m Native American and will say, ‘As in Pocahontas.’ I always have to refer to her anyway.”
“America’s Next Top Model,” now in its 18th cycle, pits American models against former contestants of “Britain’s Next Top Model” in this latest go-around. The show touts Watchman as its first Native American model, part of her motivation for trying to get on the show.
“That was my drive,” she said. “I realized I had a chance to create something there has never been before. I’m one of those people who strive to be the first at everything. But it wasn’t just for me. It was for Native American girls all across the country.”
For her callback audition in Los Angeles, Watchman made her ethnic heritage a selling point for why she should be chosen to compete on “ANTM.”
“The first thing I did was speak my language,” she said. “That caught everyone in the room’s attention.”
Watchman concedes some past contestants on “ANTM” may have had some Native American heritage, but she’s enrolled with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton and is the reality competition’s first rural tribe member.
After her parents’ divorce, Watchman grew up splitting time between North Dakota and Oregon. She’s a 2009 graduate of Nixyaawii Community High School in Pendleton, where was a standout basketball player. When she turned 15, she signed with IMD, a modeling agency based in Medford. IMD continues to act as her “mother agency” even as she signs contracts with New York-based Wilhelmina Models.
“She has gorgeous features and she has a really good heart,” said IMD president Teresa Pollman. “A lot of people judge our industry as being something that kills girls’ confidence and is damaging, but the reason I’ve been doing it for 22 years is girls like Mariah, who was pretty insecure when I met her and she really blossomed into this amazing young girl, and I credit that to the industry and everyone who has participated in her career.”
Still, Pollman was surprised to see Watchman chosen for “ANTM” simply because she’s already an established model with work for Seventeen magazine, Nordstrom and Delia’s teen fashion catalog to her credit.
“It’s not necessary for her career but it’s one of those things a lot of young girls want to do,” she said. “I get it. It’s kind of like being in Miss America. If you have the opportunity, you do it.”