story / Monica Wolfe
photos / Kristy Benjamin
styling / Tara Hunt
makeup / Vlada Haggerty
If you’ve seen Lacey Rogers as a finalist on the latest season of America’s Next Top Model, or if you’re one of her hundreds of thousands of social media followers, you know that she has a smile as sweet as her Arkansas drawl and sass as sharp as her jawline.
To her, the companionship of solitude is more appealing than your invitation to that afterparty. She can do without the validation of social media. And she doesn’t want to be your BFF just for the security of having a chick-flick-worthy group of friends. “I’m not an LA beach bunny. Let’s put it that way,” she tells me. “I don’t do well with that stuff.”
Her words reverberate with the undeniable modern-day echo of early 70s Joni Mitchell, as she talks about her frustration with faux friends and the ladder-climbing mentality. “I hate seeing people that want to shoot with me or be my ‘friend’ just so they can grow their following on social media. I hate that. They do meet-ups. Like, no, I will be in my bedroom. I just like being alone.”
Rogers covers her feistiness with a semi-apologetic smile, and Joni seems to hum on in the background: “There’s a lot of people asking for my time / They’re trying to get ahead / They’re trying to be a good friend of mine.”
It takes most people well into their twenties—hell, their thirties if we’re being honest about our millennial lag—to realize the nonsense of fitting in and placing value on superficial relationships.
She’s barely out of high school, but she’s sitting across from me reflecting on her past naivety as if these lessons have been marinating for decades: “I guess my junior year, I cut ties with people. It was kind of when something snapped. I was like, ‘I don’t need a girl group. I don’t really care. I’m fine by myself.’” She says all this while bubbling with Southern enthusiasm and scooping little spoonfuls of foam from the bottom of her mug of dirty chai. I can’t decide whether she’s a wise old woman or a teenage model-actress. She seems to be exactly both.
Even without the accent, you’d be able to tell she isn’t from Los Angeles. It isn’t so extreme that she showed up with Toto’s basket on her arm, but immediately upon meeting her, you notice she isn’t shrouded in the fog of pretension and self-importance all too commonly found in the industry. Her disgust with helium-filled egos is evident. She’s staying grounded, she insists with the fervency of a small-town bonfire, and I believe her.
I ask her about the transition from El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,000, to the selfie capital of the world. First, she politely corrects my attempted Southern pronunciation—“I’m from El Dor-ay-do”—and then goes on to explain, “I could never have seen myself staying there. Southern people, they like to stay where they are. And if you stay there—if I would’ve stayed there, I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten out. And it’s rare that people do. But I’m so proud of the fact that I was raised there.”
Proud as she is of her hometown, she criticizes the conservative culture she’s left behind. “So many people are watching what I do from my hometown… and Arkansas is super conservative. And so being out here, I’m shooting all these more editorial things, which isn’t really accepted in the Southern eye. So if it’s, like, with less clothing on, I’m scared to do that. I’m totally okay with that, and it doesn’t bother me… but I’ve gotten a lot of shame,” she says. “It’s been hard.”
Even as a 19-year-old model who’s already effortlessly acquired a fawning fan base, she’s open about self-doubt. “I never grew up wanting to be a model. I never saw myself being a model. I never thought I was pretty enough. My mom always wanted to put me in pageants, and I would get so mad at her every time she brought it up. I’d be like, ‘No! I can’t!’ And, you know, secretly I would want to, but I was a young girl. I didn’t think I was good enough.”
I ask her how she feels about all the younger girls looking up to her and wanting to be her, and she answers in a way that bares her old soul. She says, “I feel like this generation of little girls is growing up so wrong. It kind of saddens me. They just want to be a model just because that’s what’s considered beautiful… I don’t think they would really know [that they wanted to be a model] at such a young age. I think that’s kind of toying with their confidence.”
She did grow up with dreams of Los Angeles, though. On the café patio, we pause for a moment to wait for a mess of angry drivers to quit their honking contest, and then she explains, “I grew up acting, and then my dad kind of shot the dream down saying it wasn’t realistic. I mean, when you’re from the South, acting, modeling, filmmaking, writing—it’s not realistic. Basically, the motto is, ‘You have to sweat for your money.’” Yet here she is, 2,000 miles from home, gracing magazine covers and beauty campaigns.
And she didn’t forget that motto. There’s plenty of sweat to be found between those college courses, castings, auditions, and jobs. “You don’t ever just want to be a pretty face,” she adds.
With so many eyes on her, she’s learning quickly what she does and doesn’t want to be. Rebelling against both outdated Southern standards and LA’s begging for self-indulgence, she’s found herself as this enigmatic cynical-saccharine powerhouse sitting before me, ready to shock the modeling and acting world with her staunch independence and Southern charm. “I think it’s gonna be a big year,” Lacey says, and if you doubt that in the least, she’ll welcome the challenge to prove you wrong.