It’s impossible to describe this woman with one word. America’s Next Top Model Fan Favorite. Miss Black Virginia USA. Face of DiDomenico Design. Graphic Designer. TV and radio host. Public speaker. Creative Director of i-Fashion Magazine. And she says there is much more to come! Who is Midori Amae? Let’s find out.
DC: So dance is your big thing. And you work with student government through high school. Then it’s time for you to go to college. You said you ended up at Virginia Tech. What was your thought process there? As far as choosing a college.
MA: Right. I applied to six places. Alabama, Auburn, Tech, Mason, Record, and UMD – University of Maryland. And I got in all six places, and I had a really good time because I thought I was going to Alabama, because we just moved from Alabama. I want to go back down there for school, this is where I want to be. This is where I thought was going to, you know, belong. I was a girl in the south, I was doing it. And then, I promise you, I got the scholarship notification and they were only – I was ten points away from getting a full scholarship for out of state tuition. Without that scholarship, tuition was far too much for my family to afford. So we ended up going to Virginia Tech and I loved it. It was my in-state number one. But I really wanted to go to Alabama…but when I first got there, the funniest thing, I get there and I had an ex who went to Virginia Tech. I felt comfortable, I was cool, you know. I’d visited the campus, I was acclimated. I was, you know, fine. The first game that we played against Alabama I wore an Alabama shirt. And I was like, “I don’t care that I go to Virginia Tech! I was supposed to be at Alabama!” and now, I’m Hokie geared out. Like Hokies, everything, maroon and orange, everything, I’d never change it for the rest of my life.
DC: If my memory serves correct you ended up on the good side with an Alabama shirt.
MA: I sure did! Right, right, right, right. That game – we won that game. My first year of being a Hokie, we won that game. And I went back to my dorm and I was like, “Y’all should have had my shirt on. See, y’all should have been on my team!” I’m the only one cheering for Alabama in a sea full of Hokies in Blacksburg. Who does that? I did.
DC: Things are different down in Alabama. They’re serious.
MA: Right, right. They didn’t know. I was a southern belle. I was going to be a southern belle somewhere.
DC: So it was your number one in-state school? So you chose that, was it anything there specifically? The campus or the people?
MA: You know, when you come on campus it’s beautiful. I wanted a place that was all-American feeling that was away from a major city so I wouldn’t be distracted by D.C. because I was so easily – it’s so easily accessible from where I was in northern Virginia. So I wanted to be able to not be caught up in the nightlife and wanting to go out all the time. And when I first got onto the campus I’d tell this story all the time. We went to this hotel and it’s the Virginia Tech Inn and Skelton Conference. It’s a huge beautiful hotel on campus. And I got there and it was so pretty. It was raining outside and they had Hokie stone on the side of the building. All bent up at the side is you know, Hokie stone. And it was shining and glimmering and it was just so pretty. We took a tour of the university on a rainy, dreary day and it felt so awesome. It was just like, this is autumn. This is Virginia. There’s hills and mountains and there’s orange trees, you know, because the leaves and stuff. It was just so pretty. And at that point I thought this is doable. I can do this. And then when I got there I think that I made – I made the right decision but it took me about at least two years, maybe three years, to actually feel completely settled into that school. Because, just being a woman, being a black woman, being, you know, so far away from my family and friends and stuff, I found it hard to relate, to gel, to get it. I wanted to leave at one point. I had thought I was going to leave.
MA: Yeah. I didn’t know where I was going to go.
DC: Was this your first year?
MA: I think it was probably my first year. Ah no, for sure my second year was better. My first year second semester, I was thought, “What am I here for?”
DC: What do you think it was?
MA: There was a lot going on. And I think that when I first came in I had, I had a few friends that were trying to help guide me, and they steered me like in the opposite direction. And then I had a lot of friends, and love interests back home that were just messing up the whole entire equation. So all I could think about this was this being home, being home. I think I was just really homesick. And then I had switched my major a couple of times, my parents didn’t like that. My dad is a hard science sort of person and he’s like, you have to have like a math, or an engineering degree. Or, you know, if you’re going to be a teacher you’re going to be a teacher but just teach or something you know. Like, I want to do everything! That’s not even fair, that’s not required. So that was hard to deal with, and that was really discouraging because they didn’t support my artwork. They were not a fan of me being in art school or going to Tech for art or whatever. So that was another thing where I was just like, “Oh, we can leave all this behind and just go home and just flip burgers and we can just do – no offense, but I mean like we can do anything. We literally can do anything. And so it took a lot for me to stay. And that’s when I met – that’s when I kind of solidified my relationship with one of my best friends, Jacque, who I met at school. And he and I became very, very close. And that’s my best friend now, you know, going to be in his wedding with his fiancée and stuff, so I think those friendships helped me feel a little bit better about being there. And then once I started to reach out to my community and I didn’t feel like I was just in this revolving door of a college that’s when I was able to really appreciate what I had in that area. And that’s why I ended up loving it. I feel like it was so late in the game. I’m like, oh my gosh I’ve already been here for three years! But that’s why I felt comfortable staying after I graduated.
DC: Okay, so where along the way did the graphic design come in? Which is your second passion.
MA: Exactly. Right, right. I love art. Art is just, in general, is just life. I think that when it came to design work I had always been doing design stuff, so I would tell people – my portfolio, my first portfolio – which is kind of rusty by now, whoo! We don’t look back there – started when I was 14. And I was doing web design, this was back in like Myspace days, when people were looking for Myspace layouts, I was coding Myspace layouts. And that was what I loved to do. I lived for it. You know, put a little – put the template online, have it for free, copy the code, use it yourself, I was that sort of person. And you can only do so much with other people’s artwork. So if I wanted a banner, if I wanted a background, I had to go pull it from somebody else. Is it free, can I use it? All these things, at 14, I’m thinking about, trying not to get sued just for making, just for coding really cool stuff. And then eventually I was like, “Fuck this, I’m going to make my own stuff.” And that’s when it was just what is Photoshop. I was blessed to be a Photoshop kid! I’m sorry for everyone else who came before me who had to do it, I don’t know, by hand and scan and something. That wasn’t me. I’m a Photoshop kid from jump. And I think that was really kind of what started it. And then I started breaking computers and looking on the inside and that’s how I got geeky and nerdy. And that’s when I took to tech. I love art, I love singing, I love dancing, and I’m geeky and I’m nerdy. What can you do for me? And then I did the art degree. Yeah, my first degree is Spanish literature and language, and my second degree is studio art with an emphasis on graphic and web design.
DC: Okay, so where was that along in your journey there? Like, freshman year, sophomore year? When did that happen?
MA: So, freshman year – yeah, freshman year I came in PR and Spanish. And then PR and communications was way too much. I went to marketing, and I’m like, I don’t want to know about the numbers, I want to know about the ad, the visual part of the ads in merchandising and marketing and stuff like that. So that’s when I went to the art program, my second year. So it’s a solid four year program, so starting my sophomore year I had to stay for five years total. So that’s what I ended up doing and I ended up getting those two degrees.
DC: So it’s not a double major, you did two –
MA: It is two full degrees,160 credits or something. Ridiculous. I’m an overachiever but I felt like if I was going to stay for five years, I might as well get two degrees out of it. But it’s funny because I came into Virginia Tech with a certain level of Spanish. I was pretty much fluent. I wouldn’t call myself fluent because I feel like it’s almost braggadocious, because I feel like there’s so much more learning I can do, you know.
DC: Was that just from high school, or…?
MA: Yes. And boyfriends. Because they sparked and continued my interest. So I had, you know, a bunch of Latino boyfriends and people that I was interested in and I was talking to them and their families and food and culture and I was so in it. Like that’s all I thought I was going to be about. I knew I wanted to work with advertisement and marketing and Latino communities and Spanish-speaking communities and stuff. And there was one point when I was going to leave school. I had gotten the Spanish degree after two years because I had tested out of half of it. You know, I’m just taking like, I’m taking Mexican film. And I’m like, no, this is good, I’m fine. I had no more grammar classes. I was just taking fun literature classes, really cool stuff. And I was like, “I can leave all this right here and just graduate right now.” And it’s funny, I saw a Facebook post about it. You know how they can show you your memories from previous years? And I made a status about it, and it was something to the effect of “might just get this degree and dip out, become a foreign translator for the FBI”. And I’m like, yeah! I did think I was going to do that, didn’t I?
DC: Just one of those thoughts that come together?
MA: No, just a thought, just a thought. It was too funny, yeah.
DC: So you’re there five years.
MA: Yeah, five years.
DC: And you finished the two degrees.
DC: In that time, where does – I’ll just take these one at a time, because there’s so many –
DC: – where does the modeling come in?
MA: Sure, of course.
DC: Was that already back when you were a teen?
MA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I was discovered in the mall like a lot of “back in the day” models sort of stories. I think I did maybe one show, maybe two shows in the mall, sort of like runway sort of thing. And then we moved away. I was supposed to be working with a very infamous, you know, model school and my mom wasn’t really into paying for all the classes and all that. So I moved to Virginia. And when I was here I did not model until I was about 18, when I was able to support myself in modeling because my parents just weren’t about it. They were really against it. It was interesting because my mom used to model too. So I’m like, girl, come on. Pass it on down, like what are you saying? So that’s how that kind of started. I always say I didn’t really get professional until I was 19, 20, when I actually started training and really practicing and trying to get all my ducks in a row. Really establishing what now is a brand or what, you know, can kind of be considered foundation, the groundwork for who I want to be. And I always knew that modeling wasn’t the end game. I’m not the best model. I’m a good model, I’m great at times I think if I could say so myself. But it’s not the end all, be all; not the goal. I just know that it’s another way for me to get further, you know, closer to where I want to go. And modeling’s always going to be there. Whether I’m an actor, whether I’m a host, I’m going to be in front of the camera at some point to take a picture so I might as well know how to do it. And that’s how it kind of like took off, and then after that I was like, oh, I’m really good at this, like this is really great. And that’s when I started coaching, that’s when I started – after I was able to kind of see where I was able to be needed in the DMD area that’s when the coaching came about. Because I didn’t really want to pursue New York, Milan, Dubai sort of stuff. I just kind of wanted to keep this right where it was. I really liked the level of engagement that I had. I had enough runway experience, enough print. And I’m also seeing the flaws in our system in D.C., like modeling and how we kind of treat models. So if I can help any way let me see, let me throw my hat out there. And people responded. That’s how modeling turned into coaching. And that’s pretty cool.
DC: A couple of things. One, I was going to go back where you said modeling wasn’t your end goal, being that you said it was to get you to where you wanted to go. Where is that at? Where, or do you even know where that’s at yet? Or you just know there’s something more?
MA: There is something more. And it’s almost like, I tell my friends like did he know he was going to be a mogul? Like, I don’t know. It’s that superego, it just makes you laugh. But it also is real like, do you have an end goal when the end is just to be great? I just want to be awesome. I’m going to kick ass in everything that I do. And you kind of touched on earlier, I spend a lot of time on things that I’m passionate about. And I want to be great at it. I don’t want to give a subpar performance, I don’t want to give subpar products, you know? And I don’t want somebody – I’m such a people pleaser – I don’t want somebody to look at me and be like, “Oh, Midori. There’s nothing there, there’s no value there. Her workshop is trash,” whatever. I work really hard to research and I take workshops myself. You know what I’m saying? Always being critiqued, always trying to be better. I think that’s something that a lot of people aren’t doing; they’re just thinking that they’re great and they just keep going and going and going, and they might not see their own flaws. I’m welcoming the gurus and the, you know, the legends in all these industries saying, “How can I be better?” That’s what I’m looking to them for, you know.
DC: How do you define greater? Where is great going to take you? In this instance, greatness means going somewhere else. You’re going in another direction or another field….
MA: Yes. So, my whole life is about service. I didn’t realize it and I didn’t know it until I went to Virginia Tech which, apparently, is a service school. The motto is “Ut Prosim” which means “that I may serve” in Latin. And because it has roots in the ROTC, the army, the Corps of Cadets sort of school – it was a military school to begin with – there’s a lot of discipline, there’s a lot of service. You don’t even realize; they just sneak it in there. There’s like, “oh hey we’re going to go help the homeless!” “Yeah I’m down! So down for that!” So whatever the next goal is, it’s all about inspiring, exciting, enlightening people, whatever it may be. And that’s why I feel like modeling isn’t necessarily the way I want to reach people. It’s because there’s still that barrier there. “Oh look at me, look at me in this thing, and look at me model this thing.” I also still want to be relatable and talk to people or, you know, kind of give them a little bit more than just a face. Because a lot of models are just considered pretty, you know, nice to look at and that’s the end of it. And I’ve always been like, “Okay that’s great, but look, I have a great mind, I’ve got these degrees,” you know, I’ve got something else going for me. And maybe that’s why I’m just so hell-bent on like ruling the world, you know. There’s more! There’s more to it than just the face.
DC: Yeah, I love it! Like you said, that it’s more than just a physical thing, “I can dominate the world” or –
DC: – do another different thing using my mind or using my art, using my–
MA: Talents. Yeah, exactly.
DC: Whatever your talents may be.
MA: My passion for service, whatever it is. Yeah.
DC: I was wondering if it was that. Or like you said, you touched on this charity, this niche for helping others so obviously it’s to use whatever your success is as a platform to help others and go that way.
DC: And then the other side, I was going to say, I’m not sure you know this story. Arnold Schwarzenegger who was a seven-time world body building champion and everyone says, “You’re the greatest ever, you’re the best, you could win forever.” And he basically says: that’s not my goal.
MA: “That’s not my goal,” right!
DC: Arnold said, “I’ve done this. I’ve got to go to what’s next. I’m going to be the best actor ever” and they all laughed at him.
DC: And then when he was an actor they were like, what’s next? He says, well I want to be governor.
DC: And it’s just always, like you said, there’s something –
MA: There’s always something.
DC: A new mountain.
MA: That’s a great example. Oh yeah, that’s awesome, I didn’t even think about how he moved through so many different different industries, like seriously different industries. But that’s kind of what I was thinking, like I don’t want to host. I don’t want to host, I want to talk. Everyone’s like, girl, you talk so fast, you talk with this accent or whatever. And I’m like, no. You didn’t see me host yet. But when I came back to those same fashion shows that I used to walk in and I’m now hosting the show, or hosting red carpet, or I’m running behind the scenes, everyone sees the fact that I’ve moved somewhere else. I’m no longer just a model. And I think that whatever respect that I do have – I’m not going to claim all, I’m not going to be super about myself, but it is well-earned because I saw where I was and I was like, this is great, let me move up. So now let me coach. And that’s what I really love about that. I mean, that move is crucial because that’s when people take you even more seriously and that’s when I can put a number on my time. Models, we don’t really get a chance to say too much when it comes to how much you’re going to get paid for a runway show or a photoshoot. When you want me to come on the set and help coach your models, or you want me to coach your runway girls before they go out, you know, at a big fashion show, then you can pay for my time and my expertise. And that’s different, a different game. Whole new ball game.
DC: Modeling, since you’ve been in since your teen years, and you’re still involved today, so you’ve seen, you’ve been the one on the runway, you’ve been behind the camera, now you’re coaching and helping others. So you’ve been all around it, you’re good enough to see all the different ways of looking at it…. I always got the impression that it’s not the healthiest –
DC: – industry to be in, but not to say, I don’t blame the industry, it’s that people make their own choices.
MA: Exactly. Right.
DC: Obviously, and you can say no any time you want to, whether it’s what they’re asking you to do or it’s just how you treat your body. So what thoughts would you have on just the industry from a health perspective?
MA: When I teach my classes, I have – I call it like the black book of modeling, and I give a bunch of tips and tricks, advice, things that really, you know, kind of resonated with me over the years and things that I wish that somebody would’ve just told me. And the first thing I always say and – oh, I wish I had my book with me – but the first thing I say is love yourself. So it’s all about self-love. And I go through an entire analysis: how do you live? Do you smoke, do you drink, do you party a whole lot? What’s your health regimen, do you work out at all or are you active in any sort of way? And I do this just to show them all these other parts of your life will affect your modeling and they also affect how you look at modeling. So if you have a great body, you’re taking care of yourself, right, if you’re fit, if your love life is together, if your family life is together, all those things help you when you’re modeling. Because then if you get a no, or somebody says you need to fix this, fix that, fix that, your confidence, your self-esteem and your sane mind keeps you together. And you don’t break down or you use it as constructive criticism. A lot of people don’t have somebody that tells them “your size does not matter” – it’s the inches, right, because that’s what the designers actually need, they can measure and make sure the stuff fits. And what I teach is everybody can model. If you want to model I’ll say, okay, let’s talk about it. You have to know your audience. That’s it. So my thicker girls, my plus size girls, my curved girls, I instantly direct them to Curve Models, curve modeling agencies and agents because I say, if you take care of yourself now you can’t just think that – it’s not an excuse to live sloppily because you very much so have to be on top of your game, you know, regardless of whatever size you are. But in this instance, I say, “If you keep yourself together, they’ll love you. Your look is good, your walk is good, your walk is strong, you know, your poses are very strong. You got the basics for that. Here’s the right audience.” Because if you go to Ford, and not Ford Curve, you know, you don’t go to some specialty sort of agency, you’ll get – you might get torn to bits by somebody who’s just rude that day. You know? And you might get really torn down by what people say. So it’s just aligning yourself with your audience. Some people think that they can do runway and I’m like, “If you’re 5’7”, I’m sorry I’m not going to do that to you. I’m not going to even suggest to you.” And like, “Have you seen catalogues lately? Let me show you one.” *laughs* Right? “Have you seen print lately? I got somebody looking for a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl. Come on down.” So it can be unhealthy if you make it unhealthy. It’s all about that change in perspective. If you love yourself and you know how much you’re worth, know how much your value is, there’s no way that somebody can tell you you’re ugly or you don’t have the right fit. You just say thank you, and like, okay I understand I’m not the right fit for you, but there’s someone out there that’s going to be about me.
DC: It’s a personal choice whether they feel pressured to do certain things or they just see magazines or TV and think that’s what they want –
DC: – because these are the girls getting all the gigs.
DC: So they feel like they have to do it that way and it leads to a lot of eating disorders and things like that?
MA: Yeah. But look at Ashley Graham! If Ashley Graham had gone to the way that all the other – and not to be anything, because I’m skinny, skinny girls out there – she might not have gotten as great, you know, to the place where she is right now. She’s great at what she does because she found her audience. People don’t understand. You can be 75 with wrinkles and gray hair and beautiful crystal blue eyes and be like, I want to model. Well let me find you a Geico commercial! Or let me find you, something else! You know, there’s a thousand ways to be used, you know, and to get your shine.
DC: I always thought it was just from the sense that they’re trying to look like everybody else when being unique is what makes you stand out.
MA: Is what’s poppin’! Right, right.
DC: I remember the first time when I was going through, whatever, the training and stuff you talked about. And we were sitting there watching shows and there was this one girl who came out and I thought, what is she doing there?
DC: I didn’t even think she was attractive.
DC: If she walked down the street I wouldn’t even think much about it. And they said, “What do you notice, man?” ….She’s got a shaved head. She’s bald. “How many of the other girls have a shaved head? None.” And I was like – hmmmm
MA: And they’ll need that on their roster. And it’s so funny how agencies work. They will really give one or two of each kind of look and like, “Oh no, we have one of your look already.” “We have your look already.” Oh girl stop! You don’t have my look yet! *laughs*
DC: Impossible. *laughs*
MA: Right? It’s me! I remember being so upset one time, this is before I realigned my thinking. And I thought, how dare you say you have somebody that looks like me. But I mean, black girls are – they’re a commodity and a rarity at the same time. Right? So it’s like you want a black girl but if you got one, you don’t want two. “Look, no, we got one.” I’m like, “She’s got a bald head! And I don’t! So come choose me.” Right? Or she’s got long hair but she’s light skinned. That’s not me! So we’re always fighting for those two or three slots in like a 70, you know, person bill but yeah, it’s fun. It’s definitely interesting.
DC: So where does the America’s Next Top Model contest come into play?
In Part 3, Midori talks about America’s Next Top Model Fan Favorite and pageant life.
Did you miss Part 1 ?
Keep up to date with Midori and all of her hijinx at her personal website. Upcoming events include:
- Birthday May 17th!
- DiDomenico Fashion Show for the Cannes Film Festival in Nice, France May 20th
- Model workshop in NYC May 27th/28th (date TBD)
- Hosting a modeling workshop in DC the first week in June (TBA)
- Miss Black USA Pageant (August) You can support Midori on her journey by donating or buying a tshirt
Photo Credit: @MyManBriscoe