Like many little girls, Sara Longoria dreamed of becoming a model. Now 19 years old and a nursing student at The University of Texas-Pan American, Longoria has the opportunity of becoming America's Next Top Model as a contestant on the series' upcoming season.
"I never really felt that becoming a model was possible for me," Longoria said. "Growing up I was always encouraged by my parents to go to college and get an education, plus I never thought I was pretty enough."
Voted "Prettiest Eyes" at South Texas High School for Health Professions in Mercedes, Longoria had all the support she needed from her family and friends. They were the ones, Longoria said, who pushed her to audition and go for a spot on the reality TV show, hosted by former supermodel Tyra Banks, to compete against other girls for the title of America's Next Top Model and a chance to start a modeling career. Her mom, Allison Longoria, helped her daughter complete the application before the first audition in Laredo, Texas. However, upon arriving there, Longoria hit a snag in the process.
"I was standing in line at the mall in Laredo when I began freaking out because I didn't have the test photos I needed to give the judges," Longoria said. "So my friend and I ran to Macy's, got a swim suit and starting taking pictures in the dressing room. My friend found a place to print the pictures and the whole time I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, thank you Jesus.'"
After the Laredo audition Longoria got a call back and was invited to the second round of auditions in Houston, Texas. She was notified last October while at McAllen's Art Walk, that she had been selected out of thousands of girls who had auditioned to be on the show.
"I went into an alley with my friends and started dancing and screaming, I was really excited because I had made it," Longoria said.
Longoria completed filming of the show last year in Los Angeles, Calif. She was away for two months. Longoria said it was difficult being away from home for the first time because of her close relationship with her family and boyfriend, but she feels the experience helped her mature. Although the process to be on America's Next Model was extensive, she said she never regrets doing it.
"This was a wonderful choice for me," Longoria said. "The whole point of the show is to give girls like me who never thought they could become models, an opportunity to have the experience. I feel like I've grown up."
Without disclosing too many details of the show, Longoria described the lessons she learned from the experience and her goals. She said participating in the show helped her build skills on not only how to be a better model, but how to be a better person. Leaving the Rio Grande Valley, Longoria said, also exposed her to diverse cultures and different types of people who helped enrich her view of what is outside the Valley.
"Going through the show was definitely a maturing experience, and if you're receptive to it you'll benefit from the experience," Longoria said. "But what I wanted to do, even more than winning, was to make sure that while I was there I remained true to who I was. I didn't want to change or become fake, I just wanted to be able to convey my feelings and have my decisions understood."
In addition to modeling, Longoria has an unconditional passion for education, women's reproductive rights and helping her family get ahead. She intends to take what she has learned from being a contestant on the show and use it toward her education at UTPA, where she is considering changing her major to political science to better understand and help solve the struggles concerning reproductive rights.
"I've always considered myself a feminist and I felt very unusual about it in high school because I was so passionate about it, but at UTPA I met like-minded people who took pride in it," Longoria said. "I am now involved with VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood) and we work on campaigns and projects that have made me realize the importance of being involved in politics."
Through VOX, Longoria is currently working on a campaign to get petition signatures for no co-pays on birth control. She said with her participation in this organization she has come to appreciate the relationship she has with herself and others. She carries with her the firm thought that she wants to be as successful as possible in whatever she does so she can help her mom.
"Having the support from my family, boyfriend and friends encourages me to try harder and do better. My mom's a single mom and I want to help our family," Longoria said. "I want to make everyone proud."
Longoria plans on traveling to New York City this summer to pursue modeling, but will keep one thing in mind.
"Eventually I'm going to get old and wrinkly, and nothing external will be left, but I'm still going to have my mind.; so, I'm going to get an education and earn a degree," Longoria said. "Really the ultimate goal for my life is to better the living situations for women in the Valley and reduce violence against women internationally. I want to know that I helped women around the world."
You can watch Longoria on America's Next Top Model - Cycle 16 - season premiere Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. on The CW Network.