Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
Jamea Lynee: My modeling career started at the age of 16, when I was scouted by my manager via Instagram. I always tagged him in all of my posts and liked his photos, and one day he actually reached out. That led to me signing with his agency, and later signing with Wilhelmina Models. For the next few years I did a few jobs, but not many because my look wasn’t that “in.” I was super young with D-cup boobs. I remember always going into the agency asking them what I could do to work more and get clients to like me, but nothing changed until I got older, which worked out perfectly because my mom taught me that school was my first priority. When my agents from Wilhelmina transferred over to Elite Models, I transferred with them, and we haven’t looked back since. I graduated high school and started working tremendously doing a lot of e-commerce, beauty campaigns and some editorials. I had never been out of the country or even had a passport before working! Since then, my career/life has evolved in so many ways, including getting my own apartment in Los Angeles and helping my family out.
SI: Some SI Swimsuit fans may remember that you came in for a regular SI Swimsuit casting last year. What inspired you to come through the open casting call this year? How was the experience different than just meeting the team as a signed model in the office?
JL: What inspired me to come through the open casting this year was my experience last year. Although I didn’t get to shoot, I was still really excited to have experienced the casting. SI Swimsuit is just one of those experiences that you can’t miss. My plan was to keep casting until I was successful. This year, I knew castings were in Miami, and my agent suggested I try again. I didn’t think twice!
The experience was very different than meeting the team as a signed model in the office. This year, I got to meet so many different women who were signed, not signed, all types of personalities, sizes and ethnicities. I thought it was really cool, because usually at any other casting I go to, there isn’t as much diversity. SI gives many women the confidence to go for what they want. I’m happy things happened the way they did last year, because if not, I wouldn’t have been able to experience this.
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
JL: My casting experience in Miami was like no other casting I’ve ever been to before! I was in Miami for swim week and had a bunch of castings, shows and fittings. On the day of the SI casting, I had just finished a fitting when my agent called to tell me to go to the casting at 2pm. I got to the casting, signed in, took a polaroid with my number and walked into the casting area where there were hundreds of pretty girls. I mean HUNDREDS!
When it was my turn I got paired with Ariadna Gutierrez. We have the same agent, but never met before. We had our meeting with MJ and Yu Tsai and immediately start talking about our careers and families. Leaving the casting, I felt really good about it. They told everyone that if we made it to Top 60, we would get a text at the end of the night. I had a show later that day and I was in hair and makeup when that text popped up on my phone! I got chills and was thinking to myself… “is this real?!”
Day two was really exciting because during the first part of the day we got to ask MJ, Yu Tsai, Camille Kostek, Olivia Culpo, Jasmine Sanders, Danielle Herrington, Halima, Winnie Harlow and a few other women that are a part of SI a bunch of questions! It was really exciting/empowering seeing all of them together in one room.
During the questions someone from the SI team would call us to do interviews and also to change into swimsuits, so we could do a photoshoot! I thought it was really awesome they provided swimsuits for everyone to choose from that were all different colors, shapes and sizes. They wanted us to make sure we felt confident! While some girls were doing that, the rest of us were all getting to know each other, it had already felt like being at a huge family reunion because everyone was so nice and there for one another.
When the first name for the Top 16 got called I started tearing up. I was so excited and happy to see everyone else so happy for that person. The energy in the room was insane. I was the fifth name called. I cried so much and just remembered saying thank you so many times.
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
JL: It means so much to me, I am very honored to be included in a brand that accepts all body types, ethnicities, and personalities. I have dreamed of this for quite some time now and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to have been chosen out of so many inspiring women to be step closer to helping revolutionize the fashion industry.
With the SI platform, I plan to encourage all the girls around the world to stay true to themselves, and believe in every dream that comes to mind. I was raised in a “not so traditional” way according to society. Girls that grow up like me–without a father present—may think their dreams are too wild. With this platform, I’d like to let them know that absolutely no dream is too wild. I am proof that you can do anything you aspire to do if you stay committed and true to yourself. With or without an absentee parent, with or without lots of money, if you believe in you, you can conquer anything.
SI: What emotions did you experience while walking the #SISwimSearch runway show at W South Beach?
JL: It was very exhilarating! Walking this runway didn’t really hit me until we were backstage changing and getting oiled up. Then it hit me and I got crazy anxiety. To take the anxiety away I started dancing around and practicing my walk in the mirror! It really helped a lot and eventually I was just super excited and eager to walk! When I walked out I felt so happy and confident. This runway wasn’t like any other I’ve walked before. Walking for Sports Illustrated meant a lot to me because of what the brand represents and who they are as a whole. I was amongst many powerful, beautiful women who showed that beauty is not all about society standards.
SI: After the runway show, you made an Instagram post dedicated to your mom, who had you at just 15 years old and raised you as a single parent. What is the most important lesson you learned from her growing up?
JL: I learned many things from my mom growing up, but the most important lesson I learned from her was to work for what you want! Drive and determination is a must, as you can’t expect anything to come to you easily. My mom is the prime example that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. My mom loved babies so much, so when she found out she was having one of her own, she was never scared. Not knowing how, she put her mind to giving me the best life possible, and she did just that!
Since I was old enough to understand, I realized that my mom made many sacrifices for me. Most thought she was crazy, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for her believing that we could be whoever we wanted to be. I watched her grind for me, get me whatever I needed and wanted, and I went to the best schools. I can’t thank her enough for everything she has done for me. She is my rock, and I want to continue to make her happy!
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: