America's Next Top Model stars open up about on-air sexual misconduct: 'I was in such deep shock'
With the competition narrowed down to four remaining models in South Africa, 19-year-old Keenyah Hill had two photo shoots standing between her and the America's Next Top Model cycle 4 title in 2004; but, one of them came with an obstacle that impacted her emotions outside the competition as well, with an instance of purported sexual harassment captured on camera.
The episode's shoot had the cast posing with a trio of male scene partners, who danced around them while a drummer played traditional music. Hill expressed discomfort and stopped the shoot to call out model Bertini Heumegni, who stood on her left side.
"I thought, in my head, What would Tyra do in this situation?" Hill recalls to EW in an interview for the 20-year anniversary of the Tyra Banks-hosted reality juggernaut. She notes that her discomfort is visible in her photo from the shoot that was shown on air, noting that viewers can see Heumegni's hands touching her waist.
Hill claims, "By the time we got to the set, I was already uncomfortable. While I was in hair and makeup, Bertini was like, 'You're so beautiful, I want to date you, I want to come to America and find you, I want to be with you,' trying to get my phone number. I'm telling him, 'No.' Three times, I turned him down." (Heumegni did not respond to EW's requests for comment, but told Hulu's IMPACT x Nightline docuseries investigation into the moment in March: "It wasn't my intention to make her feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to have a good picture.")
UPN Keenyah Hill on 'America's Next Top Model' cycle 4
Hill went on with the shoot, but says she paused production, alleging that Heumegni appeared to have an erection, and remembers him "grunting" into her ear. In the episode, creative director Jay Manuel told Heumegni to act "interested without literally grabbing her butt," but it didn't calm Hill's anxiety.
"You've got to understand I'm 19 years old, this is the first time this has ever happened to me, I've never been on photo shoots with male models, all I know is that I feel uncomfortable," says Hill. "Now, when you watch it, it's super cringey, because that could've been shut down at the shoot."
That wasn't the case, she remembers, because Banks advised Hill about handling the alleged harassment differently. At panel, Banks told Hill to use her "feminine wiles" to combat advances on set. "You [push back] in a fun way, where he knows to back the heck up, but it doesn't really put static in the air, because then it makes you uncomfortable," Banks said on the show.
"I really wish that my feelings would've been taken into account," Hill replies now, when asked about how she thinks judges should've handled her feelings. "That should've been squashed there on set, and the focus at panel should've been my photo and not that moment."
A similar situation happened with cycle 1 winner Adrianne Curry years prior. Top Model's go-see challenge — which often tasked the contestants with traversing international city streets to attend real-life fashion designers' mock castings — was often a lively, entertaining standout among each cycle's rotation. But, the go-sees' first go-round ended with one of the darkest moments ANTM ever captured on camera.
While she struggled to find an English-speaking Parisian to help her find the location of her next meeting, the show's inaugural champion was sexually assaulted on the streets of the French city. "This guy looks like he's really listening to me," Curry recalls of a man approaching her as she struggled to navigate the city, and says he "totally touched" her vagina.
UPN Adrianne Curry on go-sees in Paris on 'America's Next Top Model' cycle 1
"He reached out and up my skirt," she says. "I was in such deep shock. The camera crew? Boss mode. We're not allowed to talk, but they all put themselves between me and this dude. They were there for me."
Curry, who tells EW she was molested as a child and raped when she was younger, says the on-camera moment "f---ed" her up from that point on, triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder that's caused night terrors throughout her adult life, and remembers she was too distraught to make it to her next meeting during the challenge.
"I couldn't get my s--- together. I'm all teary and shaky-handed," she recalls. Matters were made worse by the fact that the anonymous man made off into the crowd before they could track him down or contact police.
"He just went off," says Curry. "I just thought, gross, weirdo, a--hole. As it processed, I felt worse about it. It's not something you feel good about. You feel violated, and it's gross."
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