With his striking eyes, toned physique and touching personal story about succeeding as a deaf man in a hearing world, Nyle DiMarco was an early fan favorite and ultimately the winner of Cycle 22 of America’s Next Top Model. He remains one of our favorite winners of the the Tyra Banks–helmed television phenomenon that has spawned over 40 international spin-offs.
We got in touch with DiMarco – who famously got hearts pumping when he described his sexuality as “fluid” on Twitter – to discuss how he got to this point in his life and career.
METROSOURCE: What was it like launching your career on Top Model?
NYLE DIMARCO: I do not think I have ever felt so surreal, excited and nervous at the same time. … The models were all beautiful and talented, which made it tougher. The competition and challenges were all stressful, and the judges were hard to impress. I learned so much during the show. It was almost like a crash course of four years’ worth of life lessons crammed into two months!
What was your favorite thing about being on the show?
That it gave me platform to show the world about what it truly means to be deaf. As a deaf person growing up, I’ve often felt that deaf people were misperceived by the media. This hurts us as a community in the long run. We love being deaf. We have culture. And we take everything we have with pride.
What is it like working with Tyra Banks as a teacher/mentor/role model?
I’m fortunate. There are many people that would love to be given an opportunity to receive a tip from her — let alone have her as a teacher/mentor/role model! I love how she is able to communicate with me easily without an interpreter. That tells so much about a person. Tyra is a sweet soul with a soft heart.
Were you surprised by anything while working on the show?
I was surprised that Kelly [Cutrone] loved me. [laughs] I was worried that she wouldn’t. I’m glad we have this kind of special relationship.
Can you describe your childhood?
I actually grew up in Maryland. I went to DC for college when I was 18 and stayed there for almost seven years. But every time I get asked where I had my most personal growth, I proudly say it was in Maryland — specifically at the Maryland School for the Deaf. We have a strong deaf community where families (many are second, third or fourth generation of being deaf) are truly invested in their deaf children and their education. I was continually challenged by deaf teachers and among my deaf peers throughout my education. They believed in me, and we believed in each other.
What are a few of your favorite things about the Washington, DC area?
I love biking on the Mt. Vernon trail in DC. DC is well known for fitness-obsessed people. So you would always see me biking, running and playing volleyball outdoors! I also love Gallaudet University in DC, where I went to school. It is the only Deaf university in the world, and it’s an incredible place.
How do you think being close with your family has benefited you in your life and career?
I do believe that having a great relationship with my family has helped me to stay grounded and do so well. Family is important, regardless of [whether or not you share the same] blood. It is in your core and it stays with you forever. … I will admit that aging has made me more sensitive — hence me crying about the picture of my mother and me (pictured) on the show. [laughs]
Your academic background is in math. What drew you to the subject?
I have always been fascinated with problem solving. It is fun. It is probably the only thing that I can easily focus on. Growing up, I had several teachers that were not great, and they played a huge part in their students’ school struggles. It wasn’t until one math teacher I really looked up to in high school inspired me (and my interest in the subject).
He was a great teacher, but he also was a great friend. And that’s what hit me about what makes a great teacher. You will not be a great teacher if you cannot be a friend to your students. That’s my philosophy. Kids are in a different generation from their teachers, and they learn best when there is an actual relationship between them and their instructors. This was all a moment of realization that came to me during a math class. I then fell in love with numbers. The rest is history.
How did you move from there to modeling?
Almost every time I was about to get into graduate school, I was discovered … to act for an independent film, to act for [the ABC Family program] Switched at Birth, and also to compete on ANTM.
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Who have some of your favorite photographers been to work with?
I loved working with Tate Tullier, the deaf photographer. He made me grow so much, and he is one of the reasons I am where I am today. For [Top Model], my favorite photographers I worked with would be Yu Tsai and Mike Ruiz. I’m honored to have worked with Mike Ruiz. He’s well-known and well respected for his amazing work.
Which models do you admire?
I admire David Gandy. … David is basically the first muscular guy in the industry. I would like to think he changed the industry with his masculinity. Given that people think we look alike, I hope to [also] be able to change the world … and show the world what deaf people are capable of!
What sort of person would make an ideal partner for you?
It is difficult for me to build a relationship and foster it when I’m always on the go, working and building my career. I would love for my other half to be very independent, communicative, athletic, and outgoing.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with the American Sign Language app?
The ASL App is all about teaching you conversational ASL. You can easily learn ASL through our videos consisting of over 800 signs and phrases! We hope to make ASL more mainstream. It is a beautiful language, and we believe that more people should know ASL to make this world a more accessible and better place! I am one of their signers and … I’m making learning ASL more fun and edgy. Hint: No shirt.
What misconceptions do people have about the deaf community?
I will provide two. One … 99.9 percent of the time, [hearing] actors portray [deaf people] badly. That is an automatic acting fail. Not only is it a fail, but it hurts us as a community because we are perceived as whatever they acted. We cannot afford it. The hashtag #DeafTalent exists to tell the world that there are talented deaf people. Two: The world is extremely focused on trying to “fix” the deaf community. Let’s change this. Stop fixing. Unpack your privilege. Hear us out. Work with us. You will be surprised with how much we can offer to better the world.
What’s next for you?
I plan on continuing to model and act!
And how will that work in concert with your activism?
I plan to use my platform to brand myself and to go far in the modeling and acting industries. I am also a spokesperson for [language equality activists] LEAD-K. So I will tap into my fan base, and use it to really help and better the nation for deaf children!
Speaking of your fans, is there anything you would like to say to yours?
I absolutely love my fans, [and] I always try my best to interact with them on social media. And I want to tell my fans that, with their support, they are also changing the world’s perspective on Deaf people with me. I love them for that. And I hope they will continue!
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