How do you go from being a tomboy to deciding you want to be a model?

I loved magazines and was into fashion. And I was always confident in myself, like I am what I am. In Atlanta, I did some modeling at school. When I heard there there were tryouts for America’s Next Top Model, my best friend and I decided to go. When I tell you that line was crazy, oh my God. I worked at Dillinger’s department store selling men’s suits (and) it was the best job I’d had since I’d moved to Atlanta. I wasn’t losing it, so we left. The next stop for auditions was Memphis. We drove eight hours overnight, slept in the car and the next morning I was one of the first people in line. Two, three weeks passed (after the audition) and nothing. I was at home one night watching an infomercial and my phone rang. I thought it was my brother, playing around, telling me I’d been picked for the show. I was like, stop playing and hung up.

What’s the best thing about celebrity?

Everything. What’s not to love? When I open my eyes every morning I know that I’m living my dream. I have independence and can be a great sister for my three brothers, a successful daughter for my parents.

There are people such as Mariah Carey who are untouchable celebrities. I remember when she was wearing overalls, running through dandelion fields and I wanted to be her. I met her and it was like, aaaahhhhh. Mine is different. People know me from watching television, they saw my struggles. So when they meet me it’s more, “Hey girl.” It’s like having a billion friends.

Were there any other things that you consciously chose to do or not to do?

I will never sell out my culture. Some stars think leaving the Black market alone is going to help them. Then you look at Denzel. He knows his roots, but has expanded and crossed over and the whole world loves him. Like him, I want to honor my community and give back to it.

How then when images are so manipulated and every five minutes there is a new “it” girl, do you protect Eva and maintain your integrity?

Remember in The Color Purple when Celie saw her baby at the fabric store and asked why her diaper had the name “Olivia” on it? And the woman answered, “She has ol’ eyes, so we call her Olivia.” That’s what my family says about me – I have old eyes, I’m before my years. So when days seem (particularly) crazy, I just have to get my Zen on even harder, meditate longer. Because I know who I am: I am the only controller of my destiny. No client in the world, no matter how great they are, can ever tell me who I am because when I walk in a room, I already know. The question for them becomes, Does it work for you? Does it work for this campaign, for this job? If you never change who you are for someone else, never try to fit into a mold, then you’ll always be okay.

To read “The Evolution of Eva,” pick up the July issue of ESSENCE.

Photo Credit: Cliff Watts
Eva, the most popular winner of “America’s Next Top Model.”