If there’s a common thread that ties the stories of Jiratchaya “Tawan” Kedkong, Patricia Gunawan and Kim Sang In together, it’s guys: All three women joined the fourth cycle of Asia’s Next Top Model because of the men in their lives. Tawan was spurred on to try out for the reality TV show by a friend she affectionately refers to as her “brother”; Patricia had just broken up with her boyfriend and joined the competition because she wanted something “productive” to do; Sang In’s student-photographer friend was convinced it was the opportunity she so badly needed that he put together Kim’s audition video on her behalf.
To viewers tuning in from Asia and beyond, the modelling competition is an hour of primetime television specifically tailored to entertain, with its intense plot twists, riveting drama and endless stream of tears. But for the beautiful trio, and the 11 other model hopefuls who saw their catwalk dreams fizzle out, Asia’s Next Top Model is more than just a television programme—it represents a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the spotlight. “You only get this one chance,” 20-year-old Tawan adds.
The recently concluded installment of the popular reality TV franchise saw Cindy Bishop taking over the hosting reins, while Kelly Tandiano was the new model-mentor dispensing invaluable advice on set. Photographer and BAZAAR’s frequent collaborator Yu Tsai joined the line-up as creative director, and Kenneth Goh, our Editor-in-Chief, sat on the judging panel to decide the fates of the girls. After weeks of challenges that tested the physical and emotional limits of the aspiring models, sultry Tawan emerged as the winner of the latest edition of Asia’s Next Top Model, becoming the second Thai national after season one’s Jessica Amornkuldilok to walk away with the top prize.
A FRESH NEW HOPE
Born in Lopburi, a province 150km northeast of Bangkok, Tawan’s foray into modelling began after being nudged by relatives and peers who felt she possessed the looks and height for the runways. “Everyone kept telling me I should give [modelling] a shot,” she recalls, running her hands through her boyish-crop hair now dyed a shade of peroxide blonde to accentuate her feline features. Having supportive parents who didn’t really conform to the stereotypical conservative Asian mould helped with her cause too.
“They told me to go do whatever I want,” she adds wistfully. “It gave me the freedom to discover what I want [to do] with my life.”
Just like her mild-mannered demeanour, slow and steady best describes Tawan’s time on the show. Save for securing an ambassadorship with Subaru (and her eventual win, of course), she coasted through the competition with nary a wave in her wake. “It’s funny because I never won any of the other challenges. I may have been second, but never first,” she laughs, a tad mischeviously. Still, from the time she greeted the judges with an unplanned “Hey gorgeous!” Tawan’s presence never left the judges’ orbit.
Meanwhile, London awaits. “The show may have ended, but this is the real start,” she observes. And while Tawan is looking forward to checking out the industry there, she admits to feeling anxious about her lack of fluency in English. She needn’t be worried—after all, if there’s one thing the show has taught Tawan, it is to speak up with conviction. “The last thing I want is to appear in front of a client looking like I have no confidence,” she says. And with the prestigious title under her belt, Tawan also hopes to smash stereotypes. “There’s a preference for fair-skinned models in Asia. I want people to know that tanned-looking skin is pretty, too.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
And what about runners up, Sang In and Patricia? The duo are firecrackers in their own right—23-year-old Sang In is never one to mince her words, while 25-year-old Patricia is the mood-maker of the group who refuses to let negativity get her down. “It’s a crazy feeling being on the show,” the latter recalls. “But when the vibe around you is negative, you just have to push it up a little, you know what I mean?”
Their biggest difference? Patricia’s a go-getter—the spunky Indonesian already has several TV hosting stints lined up. “Being a model is amazing,” she says of her journey so far. “But I know myself. It’s time for me to try more things.” Off-camera, Patricia is also working with Rumah Pandai, a charitable organisation that empowers the poor with skills such as sewing.
Sang In, on the other hand, has seemingly adopted a more laissez-faire attitude. But that’s not to say the effortlessly chic-looking South Korean isn’t actively making plans for her future. “My goal is to be the next Soo Joo,” she says. “She is my idol and rival at the same time.” Underneath that cool exterior is also a feisty lass who never backs away from adversity, evident from the time she bore the brunt of a judge’s profanity-laced tirade for rolling her eyes at him. It made international news on BBC and the Daily Mail, and even got Tyra Banks tweeting about it.
Sang In sets the record straight: “I was given the chance to have my pictures taken first because I had won the previous week’s challenge. Sometimes, that can be a disadvantage because things are still being tweaked on set. My English is not very good, so I also had some trouble understanding the instructions. I thought to myself: ‘How am I going to pull this off?’ That’s when the eye-roll happened,” she states matter-of-factly. “I hate making excuses. So I apologised.”
This season of Asia’s Next Top Model was possibly its most dramatic yet. If courage is grace under pressure, the composure these three ladies maintained under the unforgiving glare of the camera is decidedly the most laudable display of class and sass—and that’s truly winning material.
By Gerald Tan
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Windy Aulia
Makeup: Toni Tan/My Makeup Academy using Chanel
Hair: Ken Hong/Evolve Salon using Goldwell
Hair assistant: Sandy Yeo
Assistant stylist: Debby Kwong
Fashion interns: Dinie Bte Zainudin, Eunice Seow