If you are grading a person based purely on first impressions, Cindy Bishop is making a killer statement.
For our interview, Bishop, 38, shows up exactly on the dot at the appointed time.
She sashays into the office of Fox Network Group in Kuala Lumpur, in a white blouse with ruffled collar and skinny jeans. Her outfit is paired with towering stilettos, which elevate her 177cm frame.
In person, the Thai-American supermodel, host and actress makes for a striking impression. She is accompanied by her actor husband Byron Bishop, 47; the telegenic couple and parents of two celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary come July. (Bishop, who has 194,000 followers on Instagram, often updates her family photos @cindysirinya.)
As host of Asia’s Next Top Model Cycle 4 – and returning for Cycle 5 – Bishop is articulate and charming. But underneath her winning smile, one senses a steely determination that has served her well and ensured career longevity in Thailand.
Born in Bangkok and raised in Pattaya, Bishop – whose birthdate is Dec 30 – learnt diving at the age of five. Through this, she landed her first modelling gig, shooting an underwater commercial for a diving equipment store.
From then on, her talent as a clotheshorse was in demand, appearing in countless magazine shoots and advertisements. In 1996, Bishop became a household name when she won the Miss Thailand World pageant and represented her country at the Miss World finals in Bangalore, India.
She shrewdly parlayed her fame into acting. Her film credits include The King Maker, with which she was nominated for best supporting actress at the 2005 Suphanahong Awards in Thailand and All I See Is You, which was released last year.
Bishop has also starred in numerous Thai dramas, such as House Of Mad Souls, Clueless and From Dreams To Eternity. She was recently featured in Gossip Girl (playing the role of Lily Van Der Woodsen) and The OC, both Thai adaptations of the American series.
Away from showbiz, Bishop is an ambassador for Fin Free Thailand. “They contacted me several years ago, as they knew about my passion for diving and environmental conservation,” explains Bishop. The campaign encourages businesses to ban shark fin and advises consumers to refrain from eating it, by drawing attention to the environmental impacts.
After her successful debut as host and head judge of Asia’s Next Top Model (AsNTM) last year, Bishop is back to helm the reality competition series.
With more than two decades of experience in the industry, she has undoubtedly a lot of wisdom to share.
Here, she tackles our queries on marriage, motherhood and (duh) modelling ….
First of all, what made you say yes to hosting AsNTM?
I watched season one and am of course familiar with America’s Next Top Model. It was kinda hard to turn down such an iconic show. Once we sorted out my schedule, it was a no-brainer.
What was your experience like on the show last season?
It was fun to shoot. Production-wise, it was a joy to work with the team. Creatively and professionally, we were all on the same page. The only challenging aspect was the travelling. I have two small kids and it involved a lot of commuting between Singapore (where the series was filmed) and Thailand. But they were accommodating to my schedule.
Who was your favourite contestant in Cycle 4?
I love Tuti Noor; she looks so different. You didn’t have to teach her much, as she was already a pro. As the show progressed, viewers fell in love with her as well. It was very disappointing to see her go. (The Malaysian contestant was eliminated in the ninth episode; ultimately, Thailand’s Tawan Kedkong won Cycle 4.)
Judging the show, how do you find the quality of models in Asia?
I have lived and worked here forever. So, I know for a fact that we have some amazing talents. But because the show is in English, it can be a challenge getting contestants of a certain calibre.
What’s the secret to a happy marriage?
Communication! We talk about everything. Ultimately, he’s my best friend and he’s always had my back. We were together for seven years before getting married. We have the same goals in life: family and balance. Once that’s solid, we can handle anything else.
You are mother to two children. How old are they, and what do they think of AsNTM?
Leila Carmen is six and she loves it. I have friends whose daughters are the same age and we watch the show together. My son Aiden is only three and a half, so he doesn’t really know what’s happening. He calls it Asia’s Next Thai Model!
Does motherhood make you more maternal towards the contestants?
I get that question a lot! I think so … I have gone through what they’ve experienced. I can see how challenging the show is, and that makes me want to reach out and comfort them. But at the same time, I can be a tough mama when the situation calls for it. I am a tiger mum; they are not going to have things handed to them on a platter, they have to work hard for it. I mean business, and at the end of the day, they can see it comes from a place of love.
If your children wanted to model, would you encourage them?
I would. But I have to make sure it’s appropriate and doesn’t get in the way of their schooling, just like what my mum did with me.
What are the most difficult aspects of filming a reality series?
Eliminations are the toughest, because there can be a clash of opinions (among the judges) and things can get very emotional. To reach a decision, we have long-drawn deliberations which can take hours. And sometimes, we have to make unpopular decisions.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
That I’m fierce (laughs). Well, I can be, but I can be very nice, also! I have a soft side. I am also a homebody, and not as glamorous as perceived.
What’s your advice to model-wannabes?
Follow your dreams, but be realistic. It’s not all glitz and glamour. Know your strengths and the industry you’re getting into, and be prepared to put in the hard work. And finally, watch AsNTM to get some tips!
This or that? Cindy Bishop’s quick Q&A
Thai or Hollywood movies:
Hollywood. Thai movies are still growing, in terms of content and budget.
The OC or Gossip Girl:
Gossip Girl. It’s juicier!
Project Runway or Amazing Race:
Amazing Race! I almost joined (one season), but backed out due to a conflict of interest.
Chanel or Prada:
Prada, it’s more me.
Instagram or Facebook:
Do I have to choose? Okay, Instagram. I am a more visual person.
Working out or sleeping:
Working out. I don’t sleep very much.
Caviar or tom yum:
Tom yum! No brainer.
Paris or Pattaya:
Paris. I love my hometown but it’s not what it used to be.
Heels or flip flops:
Flip flops. More comfortable!
Tyra Banks or Naomi Campbell:
Tyra! Because she’s mama.
New and returning judges to Asia’s Next Top Model
Besides Cindy Bishop, a returning judge on Asia’s Next Top Model is creative director Yu Tsai. The celebrity and fashion photographer has shot covers for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, GQ and Sports Illustrated.
The most buzz-worthy addition to the cast is Pia Wurtzbach. Better known as Miss Universe 2015 (you know, the one that involved the infamous Steve Harvey incident), the Filipino beauty queen started modelling at the tender age of 11.
Wurtzbach also developed her skills in the fashion industry by working from the ground up as a stylist and writer for the lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. After three years of training for Miss Universe, she finally won the title and has since become an in-demand authority on beauty and fashion, besides being a staunch advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
The model mentor this season is Cara Grogan. The Hong Kong-based Grogan has walked runways for Dior and Max Mara, and starred in numerous commercials, print ads and fashion editorials. She started modelling at 17 and fully committed to her career when she was 22, going on to host shows on Channel V and National Geographic Channel.
AsNTM Cycle 5 premieres this Wednesday at 9pm on StarWorld (Astro Ch 711/HD Ch 722).