Jessica Amornkuldilok wins Asia's Next Top Model"I'm so happy, it's amazing, I feel like woah ... The whole world is (waiting),” beams Jessica Amornkuldilok as she speaks of her win.

As the first-ever winner of Asia’s Next Top Model, the 27-year-old Thai model beat 13 other contestants for the coveted title; the final episode of the reality TV series was first aired on the night of February 17, 2013 on Star World. Stephanie Retuya from the Philippines took second place while Kate Ma from Taiwan was the second runner-up.

Making a guest appearance at the finale runway face-off was series creator Tyra Banks; Banks also joined the judging panel, who picked Amornkuldilok as the winner of the regional spin-off of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).

On Amornkuldilok’s win, head judge Nadya Hutagalung says that “her drive and ability to let down her guard is what gave her the edge. We believe that she will go on to fantastic modelling opportunities.”

Besides winning multiple challenges throughout the season, Amornkuldilok also stole the show during the final runway challenge, held at Resorts World Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium. Modelling looks from Singapore designer Frederick Lee’s 2012 couture collection, she wowed runway attendees when she whipped off her fur shrug, showing off the full dramatic flair of the backless dress that she was wearing.

We sat down for a quick chat with Jessica Amornkuldilok, at the Asia’s Next Top Model party last Friday. Read about how this Thai model overcame her family crisis, language barriers — she’s now more fluent in English — and the other challenges she faced during the competition.

Her Asian heritage
Amornkuldilok is well-aware of detractors who criticise her “Asian-ness”. “Some people say I don't look Asian,” concedes Amornkuldilok, who is of Thai-German descent. “But my mother is Asian and I've grown up in Asia.” She speaks with a distinctly Thai accent throughout the interview, stating fervently that “I love Asia. I want to go out there and represent Asia.”

She’s not averse to criticism either. “Anyone can say what they want,” says Amornkuldilok. “One can comment on whatever they like, I can accept it.”

On speaking in English
Some of the models drew flak from viewers for speaking poorly in English, Amornkuldilok included. “Every time when I speak, my voice is funny, I want to turn the TV off,” admits the model.  “I really don't like my voice. But my boyfriend was like, ‘I still want to watch it, why turn it off?’”

Amornkuldilok shared that she still feels “uncomfortable” speaking in English but she has “improved” much from the first episode of Asia’s Next Top Model. “I feel nervous every time that I speak out,” says the model. “ I learnt English from videos, movies, music in English. Then I kept practising and (stayed) positive.”

Winner Jessica Amornkuldilok at the Asia's Next Top Model party on February 15

Her happiest moments on Asia's Next Top Model
The flush of her multiple “best picture” wins were definitely a highlight for the model. Still, Amornkuldilok kept mum whenever she won a challenge on the show; she says that she made a deliberate effort to be “quiet” and avoid talking about it to the other contestants. “I want to be friends with everyone,” explains Amornkuldilok. “I don't want the girls to be jealous or to worry.”

Even so, Amornkuldilok does have a perfectionistic streak. “Every picture in the show, I would want to go back and make it better,” declares Amornkuldilok.

Another personal highlight for the model: her boyfriend’s appearance on the final episode. Amornkuldilok recalls how she was “feeling so down that day and then he comes, in a surprise. I thought, 'Woah, I'll fight for this, again!'”

Asia's Next Top model season 1Asia's Next Top model season 1
Helena Chan and Daniel Boey on Asia's Next Top Model

On Helena
Of the few “cat fights” during the series, contestant Helena Chan from Hong Kong seemed to be the primary cause of conflict. When quizzed on her fellow contestant, Amornkuldilok seems unbothered by her; she thinks that Chan was “just being herself.” Her “confidence” may have been misunderstood by the other finalists, suggests Amornkuldilok.

Working with Daniel Boey
While some viewers have broadcast unhappy comments online on Daniel Boey’s treatment of the models, Amornkuldilok is quick to defend the Asia's Next Top Model judge and fashion director.

“I don’t think that he was rude, he just wanted to give advice and instructions to the models,” says Amornkuldilok. “He just wants to make you better at modelling. Just listen to him, it’s OK, I believe in his advice.”

As such, she recommends that new contestants should “listen to the judges, take notes and learn from your mistakes and be willing to work hard.” Amornkuldilok also stresses the need to “be happy and be yourself.”

Her hopes and dreams
Although she’s now in her late twenties, Amornkuldilok remains headstrong on keeping her passion for modelling alive. “I really want to work so bad!” she laughs. “To walk on the runway … I want to go far, really far. To Hollywood! To be a top model that everybody knows.”

Due to a family crisis, this 27-year-old had given up a modelling career when she was 18; she chose to concentrate on her studies at the university instead. Amornkuldilok became emotional during the final episode, tearing as she spoke about her grandparents’ passing. “I feel kind of lost, with nobody supporting me,” shares the model.

Looking back, Amornkuldilok still believes that it was a good idea, despite the age barriers that she will face in the modelling world.

“At that time, I was too young, I found it hard to control my emotions,” explains Amornkuldilok. “Nobody was there to take care of me, nobody to talk to.”

She feels that her university studies did come in handy; “being smart helps,” she adds. That, and perhaps the maturity of her age too.

The finale re-runs on Star World (StarHub Channel 501/555 HD, SingTel mio TV Channel 301 HD) on Wednesday at 9.30pm.

Check out the Asia’s Next Top Model Facebook page for more photos and updates.