When she was growing up on the soccer fields and tennis courts of Lake Forest, Brittany Sullivan never loved her name. She went by Britt at home and school, as well as in sports and at her summer job at a Renaissance fair. She switched to a new moniker–McKey–as soon as her 15 minutes began to tick this fall. But fame did not come with a racket or shin guards, nor was it dressed as a medieval maiden. For McKey Sullivan, fame came via a hit TV show called "America's Next Top Model."
On Wednesday night, the 20-year-old Lake Forest native survived another week on the CW program, and she is now among the Top 3 finalists vying for a contract with the Elite modeling agency, among other prizes. In an e-mail interview with GazeboNews, Ms. Sullivan said she is sticking with the name McKey beyond the fall TV season.
"I have never felt at home with Brittany … " she said in the e-mail. "McKey is my own rendition of McKenzie–a name my mother almost named me at birth. McKenzie is who I almost was, Brittany is who I was, and McKey is who I have grown up to be."
And just who is McKey Sullivan? She is both a tomboy who loves wearing sweats and a fashionista with a style she calls "modernistic Joan of Arc." She is a sophomore at
Ripon College who is studying both pre-med and pre-law. She is Gayle's and Michael's daughter. And she is a rising star, who may or may not have won the most coveted TV modeling prize of the year (the show was taped and the results are top secret.) In this photo, courtesy of Tyra Banks/Pottle Productions, McKey poses without makeup for an episode of "ANTM."
Despite a schedule that includes professional modeling and college studies, Ms. Sullivan e-chatted with GazeboNews recently. Here, she answers questions about her Lake Forest upbringing, her rise to fame and the goals she has for the future. Please keep reading for the text of the Q&A.
GazeboNews: Did anyone in Lake Forest or Chicago influence you to pursue modeling?
McKey: There were many people growing up who tried to get my mother to get me to start modeling, but I wouldn't hear any of it because of my tomboyish nature. As I got older, I realized it really could not be so bad to model. The people who stand out the most as being influential toward my modeling career were the staff of the schools I attended (including Cherokee Elementary, Deerpath Middle and Lake Forest High Schools). Everyone from the custodians, to librarians, to attendance staff, to lunch staff helped support me and helped me find the courage and confidence needed to pursue modeling. …
McKey: When I was 15, my life revolved around sports. That was all I could think of. So it came as a shocking blow when I was injured playing soccer and had to have knee surgery that would put me out for at least six months. I was bored out of my mind post-op. There was nothing for me to do, no competition. So, when I heard word of a modeling competition called the Elite Model Look, I made a go for it. My mother (Lake Forest resident Gayle Sullivan) and I drove to Indiana as a last-minute decision to compete in the event and I was astounded. There were hundreds of girls getting primped and powdered to go on stage and win a contract with Elite, and I considered it a great effort put forth to change out of my sweats. Naturally, I was in shock when I won the event and got to compete in the national competition in Las Vegas. I was not selected as a winner for the national competition, but I still won myself a contract with Elite. I was with them for two years, but mostly did hair and bridal modeling. I traveled the country and to Canada with Vidal Sassoon after my contract with Elite. Unfortunately my modeling career never really took off. It is somewhat funny that here I am again competing for a contract with Elite.
GazeboNews: Why did you audition for "America's Next Top Model?"
McKey: I actually never watched the show before I auditioned for it. I did a two-week crash course on "ANTM" before heading out for semi-finals. I just have never had the time to watch the show, and I imagine my lack of knowledge about the show made it much more spontaneous and fun for me.
GazeboNews: Thinking about your years at Lake Forest High School, what were your activities?
McKey: I took a broad range of courses in high school, trying to get as much of the experience as I could. I remember my sophomore year, my fashion merchandising class wanted to put on a fashion show. I put so much work into that show, it was ridiculous, but we pulled it off. I will never forget the trips or experiences of outdoor education and outdoor adventures. That class was so grounding and really made me find out a lot about myself and what kind of person I am, as well as the person I want to be. There were so many great teachers and class experiences in the high school.
GazeboNews: Were you in a particular group?
McKey: I played and was captain of my freshman tennis team. Sophomore year I was involved in cross country. Unfortunately due to my three knee surgeries and my pending career in modeling, I was unable to take part in more sports at the high school.
GazeboNews: What was your fashion style? We've heard people describe you as goth.
McKey: I don't think my fashion style can be categorized … The two biggest influences on my fashion are my sporty, tomboyish upbringing and the (Bristol) Renaissance Faire that I have worked at for the past four years. I wore sweats all growing up, so they just naturally are a big part of my fashion taste. The Renaissance Faire has so many great, innovative styles that mix modern and historical fashion. So I guess I would label my fashion sense as a modernized Joan of Arc; a kick-butt mix of sporty flexibility and strength with a hint of medieval flare. … I would not label myself as goth, though I do have clothing of every stereotype and label, so I guess if one saw me on the right day they could interpret my style as goth.
GazeboNews: Lake Forest fans of "ANTM" are impressed that you have avoided the cat fights, naked tub soaks, vomiting on-camera and other nasty behaviors of the other competitors. Is avoiding these a deliberate tactic?
McKey: I am not a naturally catty person. I get into my qualms with people, but only when the relationship is important enough to me that it is worth getting into arguments. Arguments are essential to relationship growth and strengthening, but what is the point of putting in all that effort with a whole bunch of girls you are competing against? Anything you say can and will be held against you in a competition. All is fair in love and war, and in this war I was not going to give anyone any ammunition. I also did not participate in skinny dipping, group bathing or the like because I feel it has no place in this competition. It is not a particularly classy thing to do on national television, and not something I really want out there about myself. … I did not avoid anything, but rather thought about what I really wanted to do, and what I would only be doing for the moment just to feel included.
GazeboNews: We know you can't reveal the show's results (it was taped months ago), but can you tell us where you are now?
McKey: I am at Ripon College (in Wisconsin) attending classes. I am a sophomore studying chem-bio and politics and government. … I want to model and have a career in that, but ultimately I will not be satisfied with just being a model. My studies are very important to me and it is only a question of when I will finish my schooling. I am not content with the thought of modeling till my thirties, becoming a major celebrity, and retiring, however ideal that thought may be. When the modeling comes to an end, I will embrace it and move on to the next chapter of my life, which I hope ends with being a doctor or a lawyer.
GazeboNews: We hear you are going to be in Lake Forest Sunday morning, attending the Heifer Market at Church of the Holy Spirit. When you are in town now, are you treated as a celebrity?
McKey: I came back for a football game a couple of weeks ago and that was a blast! Some people recognized me from school, and some from the show–the combination was wonderful, the best of both worlds, really. Everyone was very supportive and some wanted pictures with me, which was very flattering. I felt very lucky to have such a welcome at home, but at the end of the day I am still Gayle's and Michael's daughter, or Jimmy's, Bridgette's and Mikey's sister, and that is who I want to be.