America's Next Transgender Top Model?

Meet Isis, a potential cover girl and modeling world game-changer.

ByABC News
August 21, 2008, 5:49 PM

Aug. 22, 2008 — -- Is America ready for a transgender top model?

Tyra Banks seems to think so -- or at least, she seems to think that a transgender model ought to be able to strut, pose and vogue alongside female hopefuls in a bid to prove she's the next big thing.

Banks' show "America's Next Top Model" will debut Isis, its first transgender contestant, when it begins its 11th season Sept. 3. It's a progressive move for a network reality series, but pushing the envelope, in the modeling realm and on TV, has become the MO of "ANTM": The show has cast multiple gay contestants, and last season crowned a plus-size model as its winner.

"We want to redefine what beauty is," said executive producer Ken Mok. "You can be tall, you can be short, you can be plus size, you can be transgender; you don't have to be what the modeling industry says you have to be. That was one of Tyra's original missions."

Mok and Banks didn't set out searching for a transgender model for "ANTM's" 11th season, in which 14 wannabe catwalkers vie for a contract with Cover Girl cosmetics and representation by Elite Model Management. They found Isis, 22, when she was living in a homeless shelter "ANTM" visited last season for a photo shoot that paired contestants with disadvantaged girls.

"She participated in the shoot and we didn't know anything about her," Mok said. "But when we started reviewing the photos, the girl that kept popping out of the background was Isis. She really knew what she was doing. Tyra wanted to know who she was. It was clear she really had a passion for modeling. So when it came to casting this season, we said, 'Why don't we find that girl?'"

Leggy and lean, Isis looks like she can strut with the best of them. Still physically male, Isis is saving money to afford a sex change operation, Mok said.

She's not the first transgender person to break into the modeling world: In the '80s, Teri Toye and Billy Beyond modeled for Chanel and Todd Oldham, respectively. Model-turned-pop singer Amanda Lear built her career in the 1970s on keeping her sex status ambiguous. (Word on the street was she was born a man.)