From North Philadelphia to the catwalks of N.Y Fashion Week

Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014, 3:01 AM

Even with tousled hair and dots of milk of magnesia priming her face for a chocolate foundation, Raelia Lewis is prettier in person than she is on television.

Lewis of North Philadelphia, one of 14 finalists on this season's America's Next Top Model, was getting runway-ready on Wednesday to audition for the spring 2015 New York Fashion Week catwalk.

The presentations start Thursday, and when they end next Thursday, more than 100 up-and-coming and established designers will have presented warm-weather trends in and around New York's Lincoln Center.

Most models attend casting calls for designers in preparation for New York Fashion Week, and Lewis already had tried out for tailored sportswear designer Colin King's Crown collection, and the Project Runway finale, traditionally held the first Friday of Fashion Week. She already made the cut to model on Monday the collection of Dom Streater, another Philadelphian and last season's Runway winner.

And she is keeping her fingers crossed that Season 8 Runway alum Michael Costello will select her to work the evening-wear designer's first Lincoln Center presentation on Tuesday. Costello was doused with fashion love when Beyoncé wore one of his sheer, long-sleeve gowns to last year's Grammy Awards.

'I'm obsessed,' Lewis gushed, batting her long, just-applied lashes while stylist Casamera Reavis smoothed her hair. 'I know it's going to happen. I believe in God. I believe in the Universe and I just have to claim it.'

So far, that's worked. The 23-year-old is the second Philadelphian to land a spot on Top Model after Cory Wade Hindorff made it all the way to the competition's semifinals last season. (Fans curious about Hindorff's whereabouts will be glad to know he appeared in this season's opener in a role helping models get acclimated, in a rather Tim Gunn sort of way.)

Lewis began modeling at 16, but gave it up to concentrate on her studies at Parkway Center City High School. In 2009, at 18 and working on an associate's degree in mass communications at Philadelphia Community College, she took it up again.

That year was the first she tried out for Top Model. She would audition three more times, as well as try out for Oxygen Network's The Face, starring Naomi Campbell.

'Ever since she was a cheerleader in elementary school, she wanted to do this,' said Bridgett Johnson, Lewis' mom. Lewis is the fifth of Johnson's six children, who grew up in the Francisville neighborhood. 'She was always trying out for something on the stage. She was so determined. I knew that she would make it . . . one day.'

Of course, we don't know yet if Lewis has really made it - she's forbidden to say how she fared in the competition, still airing on The CW.

We do know she survived the semifinals, when Top Model czarina Tyra Banks told Lewis to remove the red lipstick and heavy eyeliner and look more like a model. She also lost her nipple ring during a challenge that required contestants to jump on and off subways.

After the third episode on Monday night, she and 13 coed contestants were left, all as quirky as they are good-looking, including a sex-obsessed frat boy, a girl with the skin disease vitiligo, and a guy who practices witchcraft.

Lewis is a 23-year-old virgin with a nipple ring, a belly piercing, and two tattoos.

Come again?

'I'm a virgin, not a nun,' Lewis said, her North Philly accent loud and proud. 'I'm going to work this modeling thing as long as I can, while I can.'

We believe her.

TELEVISION America's Next Top Model

9 p.m. Mondays on The CW-Philly57



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