She brings spunk, sass and a ton of street cred to this season’s “America’s Next Top Model.” She’s part Cuban, part Puerto Rican, part Spanish, part French and part African. But to see her is to get only a slice of the picture.
Bianca Andaluz, otherwise known as Kanani, calls herself a science nerd who wants to be a mortician, and she plans to one day open a shelter for women and children.
In the meantime, the 20-year-old mother and Humboldt Park resident and native basks in her moment of fame as a finalist on the popular TV show created by Tyra Banks.
“A lady recognized me from a photo, and when she saw me she started crying,” Kanani said. “She was happy to see a minority moving up in a positive way. People have reached out to tell me that I’m inspiring people and that they’re proud of me. It’s surreal.”
Kanani’s path to modeling started when she and her God-sister, Leticia Rivera, entered local beauty pageants such as Miss Teen Illinois Puerto Rico.
“We were the girls who people were scared of,” said Rivera, 21, a student living in Humboldt Park. “We were competitive, but we had fun.”
Andaluz came up with Kanani--“the beautiful one” in Hawaiian-- as a stage name before competing on the show.
“I wanted a name with meaning,” Kanani said. “Now people have started calling me that, and I think ‘Oh! That’s me!’”
Eventually, Kanani took a break from pageantry and took up dancing. From there she booked small photo shoots and fashion shows to build up her modeling portfolio before she applied to “Top Model.”
Kanani auditioned twice for the show, once in Texas and once in New York.
“It was a little easier since I auditioned before and I knew what to expect, but then Tyra wanted to audition us herself, so we were in the holding room for about seven hours,” Kanani said. “It was a long process, but when I walked up, Tyra said she remembered me, and I was thinking, ‘yes, that’s a good thing!’ ”
Rivera remembers well the day she and Kanani’s family and friends waited to hear if she made it onto the show.
“We were at Kanani’s godmother’s house, waiting for her call and once she said she got it we started crying,” Rivera said.
Kanani’s best friend, Alexandra Lawson, 20, said Kanani is a natural.
“She’s been a model since before she knew she was a model,” said the 20-year-old Humboldt Park student studying in Washington, D.C. “I know she’s gonna make it.”
Filming for this season of “American’s Next Top Model” started soon after she was selected and lasted around eight weeks. Kanani couldn’t reveal anything about the outcome of the show, but she can vividly recall her first meeting with the show’s judges during taping.
“It’s beyond nerve-wracking,” she said. “The lights are beaming on you, and you’re standing there, and they’re just staring at you … hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
In her spare time, Kanani runway-coaches for anyone thinking about a modeling career. But it’s her cousin that has inspired her to pursue a degree in mortuary science.
“I think I said this once on the show, and people were like, ‘OK, you’re weird,’” she said.
Then there’s the shelter for women and children, which Kanani plans to open with her mother, Mimi, and sister Nataly Cruz, within five years. She said her 2-year-old daughter, Samarii, provides inspiration and motivation for that.
“Bianca is very serious about the shelter,” said Cruz, 25, a student from Humboldt Park. “She had her daughter at a young age and wants to show young women that just because you have a child doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams.”
Lauren Krause is a RedEye special contributor.
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