Lack of branding became one of the core criticisms India Gants faced during her tenure on VH1’s musically enriched reboot of the reality competition America’s Next Top Model. Despite her hair transformation from blond to purple, the judges couldn’t quite figure out the answer to “who is India?”
When it came down to the final showdown between Gants, the 20-year-old Seattle native, versus self-proclaimed boss (and eventual runner-up) Tatiana Price, Tyra Banks briefly returned to help the show’s new host, Rita Ora, make the crowning decision. For once, Gants wasn’t compared to her doppelganger: Zayn‘s supermodel bae Gigi Hadid. Instead, her ability to be a high-fashion model without an apparent personality reminded the veteran host of Kendall Jenner (consequently making Price the situation’s Kylie). What the current winner of America’s Next Top Model didn’t reveal to the judges — which would have only strengthened her case — is that she’s a “music enthusiast.”
Noticeably, the fresh-faced model abandoned her signature purple locks for her natural blond, strutting into the Billboard office wearing a black Blank NYC leather jacket and classic black skinny jeans from H&M. During her conversation with Billboard, one of the newest transplants in New York City — she’s currently choosing between agencies to represent her — Gants discussed modeling alongside Jason Derulo and DJ Khaled, how Rita Ora was a celebrity mentor, and her passion for DJing house and electronic music.
How does it feel to be America’s Next Top Model?
It feels amazing. At first, it was kind of a hard title to adjust to. “I’m America’s Next Top Model. What in the world?” Now, I’m ready to hit the ground running. I want to create a new protocol for future America’s Next Top Model winners, because this was the revamped season. There’s this opportunity to start something totally different.
What was it like to be mentored by Rita Ora?
It was good. When I heard that Rita was going to be the host, I was thrilled. I am a music person, and America’s Next Top Model was going to be on VH1, and Rita’s hosting. I knew this was good for me because I’m trying to find a way to combine music with modeling. Having Rita as our mentor was amazing because she’s doing it all: acting, modeling, singing.
Rita was also your biggest fan.
I know. Her and [judge, Paper Magazine‘s Chief Creative Officer] Drew Elliott were Team India for sure. I didn’t even notice Rita liked me so much during filming. Then watching it back, I was like, “Oh my god, she said some very sweet things about me.”
How was it modeling alongside Jason Derulo during the show’s private jet photo shoot?
It was good! Jason was supposed to look cool because that’s his private jet and that was the vibe; to be cool and chill. He needs to work on his posing a little bit, though. [Laughs] DJ Khaled was our first musical guest, and then Jason Derulo was the second one. It was cool being introduced to these music people because I’m really interested in going in that direction a bit more.
How was the experience of working with DJ Khaled for the branding challenge?
It was very cool, because you see him on Snapchat, and I almost thought that he was faking his positivity because he’s always happy. Then I met him in person and realized he’s just a good guy and happy person. He’s really living his life to the fullest. And to see that in person was really cool; it made me believe his messaging more.
You also did a runway show with Tinashe. How was that?
Cool. We had to dance alongside her for a long time, but It was fun getting to see her perform five inches away from me! I see her on YouTube and all these shows, but to see her in person…
Speaking of dancing, for one of the challenges, you were trained by Chris Grant, the choreographer of Beyoncé‘s Formation world tour. How did it feel to be channeling Bey through her dance moves?
That one, I did get a little starstruck. This guy choreographed for Beyoncé, and I’m working with him, as someone who has had no formal dancing training. It was amazing. Even though I really do love to dance, I haven’t had any professional training, but I love music and feel like I’m an athlete, so the combination of both works.
If you could give your filming experience a theme song, what would it be?
When I’m shooting I like to listen to house DJ Duke Dumont. His live sets are a mix of his sort of pop-sounding music mixed with house music mixed with like ’60s songs. I just think he’s so gifted. To be able to hear all those different sounds and mix them into one track is so cool.
How do you consider yourself a music enthusiast?
I’m pretty much obsessed with music. I need it! When I’m walking around, I like to feel inspired and uplifted. I think I have an ear for sort of fitting the mood with music. I always like to be the one with the aux cord or the one playing my phone. I can kind of judge an atmosphere and pick a good song for it. And that goes for just me in my daily life too. Walking to a casting, I play this kind of music versus when I’m working out. I feel like I just analyze music on a deeper level. That’s why I consider myself a music enthusiast.
Out of this week’s Billboard Hot 100, which song is your favorite?
I love “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran. That’s my guilty pleasure.
Favorite song of all time?
“Hells Bells” by AC/DC for my rock girl side and “I Want to Believe” by Wish I Was for my electronic side.
What’s your go-to karaoke jam?
[starts singing] “Bust a Move.”
What musician would you like to do a photo shoot with in the future?
Martin Garrix. I think he’s adorable and a great DJ. It’d be a great photo shoot. He’s like my DJ inspiration. Him and Duke Dumont are where I want to be as a DJ and producer.
Would you want to pursue a career in music?
I would! What I really want to do post-America’s Next Top Model is to develop a brand around the name “India.” Where, sort of like Rita, I’m doing some music, but am doing other things. Right now, I have my shoe designs that I’m now pursuing and then modeling at the base of it all. I’m trying to home in on a way to combine them. But I will be doing something in music. I worked pretty hard at [becoming a DJ] for a while, trying to make the right connections, but I don’t yet have the knowledge. I feel like I need to keep practicing and get a better mixer to practice on. I totally would want to be a DJ and even further I’d love to produce. I messed around a little bit with Ableton and FL Studios, but life gets in the way sometimes. DJ/producer is the ultimate goal.