"Real Housewives of Atlanta" freshman Cynthia Bailey turned losing a regional beauty pageant into a 20-year career in international modeling. But the plain-spoken Southerner is dispensing some tough love for young women who may want to follow her onto the catwalk.
"I would never be a dream-crusher kind of girl," Bailey told StyleList when she stopped by this week. "But at the same time I would say be realistic about the industry. If you really have it and they tell you you have it, then go for it. But don't turn up and be really miserable if it's just not happening, because everybody can't do it."
Bailey (along with lawyer Phaedra Parks) is one of two new additions to the Atlanta cast, whose second season holds the ratings record in Housewives franchise history.
"I was discovered in a beauty pageant in Atlanta," she told us of her start in modeling. "It was a homecoming queen beauty pageant and I was real [bleeped] off because I didn't place -- not even fourth place, nothing.
"After the pageant, one of the judges was a model scout from Wilhelmina models from New York, and she approaches me and she was like, 'Hey you should really think about modeling.'"
So you must have been thrilled, right?
"I was like, whatever! I think the prize was like a thousand dollars if you won the pageant, so I really didn't want to hear Miss Wilhelmina models at that point," said the Alabama native. "But we did exchange numbers, and eventually I did come up."
Bailey, then 18, booked the cover of Essence magazine as her first-ever job.
"And I got cast for a movie with Sandra Bernhard, 'Without You I'm Nothing,' and that was a big deal," she said. "Everyone went for it -- Naomi [Campbell] -- and I got it. And at the time she was best friends with Madonna, so I was hanging out with all these people. That was very overwhelming.
"I did all the runway shows when Isaac Mizrahi used to have shows -- Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, everyone. And I went straightaway to Paris and showed very successfully there."
Bailey is still a working model, represented by Click in New York, and these days does catalog and TV work for companies like Macy's and Olay. She dished about the current season of Atlanta in this new video for PopEater, but before she left we asked for her top beauty tip.
"I exfoliate daily and I definitely highly recommend it just to keep the glow. And it keeps dull skin off your face. So don't feel like you have to do it once a week -- just do it every day, no matter what the tube says!"
In related news, read Atlanta "Housewife" Kim Zolciak's take on her wigs and plastic surgery.