Allison Harvard Represents Houston (Again!) on Cycle 17 of America's Next Top Model

America's Next Top Model premieres Wednesday, September 14, at 8 p.m. CT on the CW network. ANTM is in its seventeenth "cycle" (they don't call them seasons), and Spring native Allison Harvard will be among the former contestants returning for this, the "All Stars" cycle of the hit reality show. Harvard originally appeared on cycle 12 of ANTM, where she placed second. She is returning to compete for the title and for the chance to win an impressive prize package that includes a campaign with Express, the chance to be a guest correspondent on EXTRA, a fashion spread in Vogue Italia and a $100,000 contract with cosmetics powerhouse Cover Girl.

We sat down for a telephone chat with Harvard to get her thoughts on reality shows, the new cycle of ANTM and, of course, Tyra Banks.

Harvard now calls Brooklyn home, and she finds New York City an exciting place to live. "It's really fascinating because it seems like everyone is a transplant here, so you get the chance to meet all kinds of people that maybe you normally wouldn't get to meet," she says. "Everyone is here for a bunch of different reasons, so it's like its own little baby country."

When we asked her to compare her previous ANTM experience with the current "All-Stars" cycle, she paused to consider her answer. "I love adventures," she replied. "It is certainly a strange thing to participate in, but it's also really fascinating. On cycle 12 I got a few best friends out of it, and I learned a lot about myself. It definitely gave me an extra push to just do things that I want to do in my life -- explore creative outlets."

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So, how "real" are reality shows? According to Harvard, ANTM does a pretty good job of keeping things real. "When I was on cycle 12, I felt like I was portrayed pretty accurately. You just have to be smart about certain things, like not acting in a way that you wouldn't act if you were on a reality television show."

Of course, that's not everyone's approach to reality television; some people obviously use the opportunity to create a character, or caricature of themselves, but Harvard says that's not her style. "I wouldn't act in a way to get me more noticed just because I'm on a television show, because it comes off as contrived or unrealistic. I just try to have fun as much as possible, but still be honest because that's also important. They have so much material to choose from, I'm really curious to see how they'll piece it all together and how it will turn out."

And then there is the obligatory Tyra Banks Question -- we know it's a cliché, but we just had to ask, What is Tyra like? "You know, Tyra has always been really, really nice to me. The number one thing I will say about Tyra is that she is a businesswoman. Everything she is doing, she's smart, she understands. She's very intelligent and a great businesswoman, and on a personal level, she has always been really nice; I've never had a bad experience with her."

And Harvard has her own creative endeavors and aspirations. While she loves modeling, she clearly sees it as part of a larger career trajectory. When I asked her where she draws creative inspiration, she immediately named photographers, not designers, especially Juergen Teller and Yvonne Todd. "They have really beautiful pictures that are kind of eerie and uncomfortable but in a beautiful way," she says.

But as someone who will keep a particularly good issue of Vogue for months, we pressed her to name some designers she loves. "I love Vivienne Westwood. I got my first Vivienne Westwood dress at a consignment shop in New York, and it's kind of like a treasure. I can't really afford Prada, but I love all of their runway shows," she says.

It's the artistic side of modeling that appeals to Harvard, too -- she cites participating in intriguing editorials as her favorite aspect of modeling, and she says she particularly loves shots that mimic cinematic stills.

While she couldn't talk about her ANTM cycle 17 in specifics, we did talk about what the future might hold for her. "Hopefully in ten years, still traveling, hopefully having been a part of a few exhibitions, maybe working in an ad agency as an art director or creative director."

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