LOS ANGELES – Jamea Lynee is just 20 years old, but the model and Philadelphia native is wise beyond her years.
Born when her mother was only 15, Lynee learned to fend for herself early on. And in building up the exterior callouses often formed by battling through adversity, she has managed to not only set herself up to potentially grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s legendary swimsuit edition, but she’s made a gallant effort to repay her mom for relentlessly guiding her through the murky waters of life.
Lynee spoke with Fox News following the announcement that she not only would be in the magazine, but also had a real chance at the illustrious cover she used to marvel at -- thanks to her grandfather’s collection -- and got candid about her journey to model stardom, while dispelling some of the most common misconceptions about the industry.
Fox News: What was your first reaction to getting the news you were an “SI: Swimsuit” finalist?
Jamea Lynee: I was in CVS just like shopping for stuff, you know, and then I got the call and they're like, 'You got it,' and I was like, 'What?' And I flew down to the floor and people are around me looking around like, 'Are you okay?' And I'm like, 'Yes, I'm okay. I'm okay.' And I'm crying, bawling my eyes out. And the first thing I think is like, 'I got to call my mom, I got to call my grandpa, like, I gotta call my family.' You know, like, 'This is insane.' So I was just so excited and overwhelmed with joy and like happiness and just so thankful to be a part of it and finally have been given the chance to be a part of the family.
Fox News: What made you return to the open casting after not moving forward last year?
Lynee: Last year was models – just models only because I went in New York to do the casting and in Miami, it's everyone, like any type of girl can go. My mom could have went – anyone could have gone. It's not just models, which is really nice because it's super diverse. So, I just got really inspired again because I just thought, like, 'Why not?' Why not be one of those models who works often in everything but to try something out of the box and just see if I can do it? And if not, then it's a good experience and meeting people and just getting the idea of seeing everyone and just being there. So I was I was really excited to go. And I was just like, you know what -- whatever. And my agent pushed me too. So that was really good.
Fox News: What else goes into modeling that we don’t get to see?
Lynee: I think that it's not just [about] looks but it's about being nice. You need to be a nice person and you need to have a good personality because mean people – you're not going to get anywhere with being mean. I just don't think that's a thing. And also loving yourself, because with this job, you're comparing yourself to so many women and so many people and I think that if you are comfortable with being you and you love yourself, then you are OK.
Like, you're not going to be put down by seeing someone that looks really nice. You're going to think, 'Oh, wow, she's really pretty,' but you're not going to put that on yourself. You're not going to think, 'Oh, I need to look like this,' because it's this type of job. And I feel like we have tons of gorgeous women, obviously.
"With this job, you're comparing yourself to so many women and so many people and I think that if you are comfortable with being you and you love yourself, then you are OK."
And so I think that self-love is very important that goes into it. And obviously, learning your poses and stuff, but definitely self-love, for the most part, to stay at the top and feel good about yourself and staying humble and being nice.
Fox News: How much work have you put into modeling?
Lynee: When I was 16, I started out modeling and everything. And always I was told, 'Your boobs are too big' and 'You're a little bit too short' – because I always wanted to be in New York for high fashion. So I just kind of – I would always go there and try to find agencies, but they would tell me, ‘You're too short and your boobs are way too big.’ And at the time I was in high school and I was only doing small jobs. Like, I was doing Target and stuff and now to think that I'm doing Sports Illustrated is kind of nuts.
I would cry all the time begging for work. And my mom was so strict, like 'You need to finish school,' because she had me when she was 15. So she was like, 'You need to finish high school and then after that, I'll support you with anything that you do.' And after that, she kind of supported me all the time. Like always, she does. And then, that's when work started coming in and all of the crying and all of the work that I put in, all of the working out and just learning to care about me really helped through that time because now I'm feeling really good and now I'm here.
Fox News: What about the health element of eating right and exercising?
Lynee: Yeah, you definitely have to take care of yourself and work out. Not working out to be smaller or to just lose weight. I think just working out to feel good about yourself so you feel confident on a shoot. So I think it goes a lot into just wanting to feel like you and being your best you.
Fox News: How did you learn to deal with rejection?
Lynee: I think when I was younger, I would get let down more often because I didn't really have the confidence yet and I didn't really see myself as stunning. I didn't really have that confidence yet. So when I would get castings and go to them and I would get let down, I would be so sad and want to change everything but now I'm older and I feel more confident and I've learned, again, self-love.
So I feel like when I'm let down a little bit it's more of like, 'Thank God you tried.' You know, it's not dwelling. And you can't dwell on it. So I feel like now it's not really a bad thing. I'm just happy that I tried. Like with this experience, if I didn't get Top 6, then I wouldn't dwell and I wouldn't put myself down because I'm happy for the experience.
My confidence definitely has changed. I think just feeling comfortable with me and also being comfortable with other people on the set. Because just making those interactions and things, you can end up being friends at the end of the day. So I think just being comfortable with you and with the people around you, and even if you aren't just saying to yourself, like, ‘I'm gonna be OK and it's gonna be OK. I'm going to kill it.’ Then you'll be all right.
Fox News: Talk a little bit about the things you’ve been able to experience before being catapulted to where you are now?
Lynee: OK, so one of my favorite jobs, I did a beauty campaign and I was able to go to Paris. And before any of this, I didn't even have my passport. And I know many people like – many of you here might have your passport or had your passport when you were like, five. But I got my passport when I was 18 so it was just really cool because I never had a passport before. And just the whole process and being able to go to a different country was really cool.
Fox News: How have you managed to stay humble throughout your journey?
Lynee: I think my family definitely walks me through it a lot because sometimes I do forget – I help them a lot financially and I take care of myself. So just my mom sometimes is like, 'Remember that you're paying your bills, your own bills next month,' and I'm like, ‘Yes.’
"I think it's good to be in the moment and really appreciate what you have right now and think about how far you've come."
I kind of have to click in my head because sometimes I don't focus in the moment and I'm like, 'What's next? What's next?' So I think it's good to be in the moment and really appreciate what you have right now and think about how far you've come because it's really important. If not, then you just don't – you end up losing yourself and losing your mind and just thinking like, what am I going to do next? And that's not good. Like, it's good to have that mentality but it's not good to not appreciate it, because then you lose that.
Fox News: What can we all learn from SI’s approach to the “Swimsuit” issue as it relates to diversity and inclusion?
Lynee: I think you can learn that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover because sometimes there are people in the world that judge people just by how they look. And, you know, I think that Sports Illustrated really makes it diverse with not only by how you look but the personalities within people and just their spirits in general. Like, I don't think that it's all about looks and sizes and stuff. None of that stuff matters. It's just really what's inside of you. So I think if you're a good person on the inside, then it definitely shows out on the outside. So anyone in any job, you can definitely see that within your coworkers and stuff.
Fox News: How true is the notion that the modeling world is “cliquey?”
Lynee: I feel like, for me, I've come across very sweet girls, so I've been very fortunate. But I have heard horror stories about stuff like that, which I hope it's not true. I don't think it is. I feel like many of the supermodels like Bella [Hadid] and Kendall [Jenner], Gigi [Hadid] – I don't think that they're mean girls. I think they're very sweet.
And even many of the other ones at the top – Cindy [Kimberly], like, I don't think that this is like a cliquey-type mean girl vibe. I think we're all uplifting.
Fox News: Where do you see your career heading?
Lynee: I really just want to see lots of covers, not only SI but Vogue and many magazine covers and inspiring people and showing them that they can love themselves before doing anything. And I really just want to be very inspiring and have many covers and I do want to eventually walk in shows. Yeah, I think that's a lot.