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Justin Kim Goes From Small Town, USA to ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Justin Kim has gone from Small Town, USA to "America's Next Top Model," as the show's first Korean-American male model contestant. Courtesy Justin Kim

Never let it be said the glamour of modeling life isn’t without some upkeep. We caught up with Justin Kim, the 23-year-old male model and contestant on the latest cycle of America’s Next Top Model, at his parents’ home, where he’s currently residing. Right before we talked via phone, he was helping with some landscaping.

Kim’s casting is making waves in a field and on a show not known for Asian, let alone Asian-American, stars. Previous seasons of the show have featured Asian-American models, although there has never been an Asian-American winner of the contest. Kim is the first Korean-American male to be featured on the show.

America’s Next Top Model, the long-running program now in its 22nd cycle, pits aspiring and working models against each other using elaborate, photos and fashion related challenges. In recent iterations, including this one, both female and male models compete for the prize, typically cash, modeling contracts, and the promise of exposure.

Kim hails originally from Springfield, Virginia, the son of Korean immigrants who ran a dry cleaning business for a quarter of a century. His parents are now retired, but that doesn’t mean they’re not busy.

“My dad is such a typical Korean," said Kim. "He wants to work, he can’t stand being in the house."

Kim’s parents, with their head-down, hard-driving work ethic, weren’t exactly thrilled with his decision to move into a business involving shirtless photographs and jetting around the country from job to job.

“Going to family dinners before this all happened was, 'So, what’s Justin up to right now?' Kim recalled.

Kim got his start while attending George Mason University, when a designer friend asked him to fill out his show roster as a model. Kim was hesitant, but a positive reaction and some solid photos eventually led to an agency. After graduating, he put plans to work in law enforcement on hold.

Kim quickly attracted attention in the modeling world, and when he was cast, recognized a unique opportunity for an Asian-American kid from a quiet part of the country.

"I’m a Korean American male. I should be very proud of where I come from,” Kim said. "And so when I got [cast on the show] for sure I definitely wanted to represent…kind of shine a light upon what Asian American men are like today. We’re confident."

The show’s currently airing, so Kim’s mum on spoilers. But he’s quick to thank his supporters, including the thousands that follow him on social media.

“No matter with the show or without, I always have the support of best friends and everyone around has shown me love no matter what I did," said Kim. "It’s been love, regardless."