Janell Williams’s confidence and positive outlook on life is contagious. Spend just five minutes with the SI Swim Search finalist and you’ll feel an immediate can-do attitude within. “I’ve always been optimistic, big, confident,” she says. “I go for things, and I think that has brought me to where I am today.” And where is that, exactly? Getting ready to walk in the SI Swimsuit runway show at PARAISO Miami Beach for Miami Swim Week alongside some veteran models and other newcomers.
Despite this boldness, there have been times when Williams – who played volleyball at Western Michigan – was told to dial it down. But her family is there to remind her that she must always bring the noise whether it be on the court or in life. “I think it was instilled in me, honestly, from my parents,” Williams says. “My dad is very confident, and I think that passed down to me. I feel like there’s nothing that can distract me because I just believe in myself so, so much. No matter what, even if it’s something that turns into bad, I’m always going to find the good out of it. It’s like I can’t lose.” Keep reading for more from Williams, who recently moved to Los Angeles.
What inspired you to enter SI Swim Search?
“I’ve always been super optimistic. Go big or go home, and I know Sports Illustrated is the best of the best. At the time when I saw the posting, I was like, ‘I got to do this. This is exactly what I want.’ I actually had written down a goal of mine to be a Sports Illustrated model and walk in Miami Swim Week back in December. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but that’s why when I saw the Swim Search, I was like, ‘This is my opportunity.’”
What would it mean if you were selected as a rookie for the 2023 issue?
“It would mean, literally, the world to me. I’ve always had big, big aspirations. Being selected I would be able to bring what I feel like I already have installed in me and finally show Sports Illustrated and women who I am and what I can bring to the table.”
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You have a big week coming up with Miami Swim Week. How do you prep for a runway?
“It’s funny you say that because I have a whole makeshift runway in my apartment right now, where I put this line down, and I put my mirror over here. I’ve been watching some of my favorite models on the runway. I turn on YouTube and kind of just walk back and forth and look in the mirror and feel myself, feel the music and pretend I’m there.”
Who are some of the models that you’ve looked up to?
“Of course, Naomi Campbell. I love Sofia Jamora. I also love Priscilla Huggins. I am a tall, tall woman. I’m about 6’1”, so Priscilla is also around that same height so she gives me the most inspo ever.”
I caught a couple tattoos in some of your Instagram pics. How many tats do you have?
“I honestly stopped keeping track. I feel like I only stopped keeping track because all my tattoos are small and kind of scattered. I have a lot of hand tattoos and I love them so much.”
Do you have a favorite one?
“I have a Bible scripture. It’s Jeremiah 29:11. And it says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.’ I live by that Bible verse. That’s kind of how I live my life, that everything is set in stone and I can’t lose. I’m just following the path that the Lord has for me.”
What’s something that not many people would know about you?
“I’d probably say I’m very artistic. I did ceramics in high school, but I will say I was one of the best ceramic makers on the wheel. I love ceramics and photography as well. I love just catching little things, but I love art.”
L.A. has so many volleyball nets on the beach. Do you still find some pickup games?
“I have not recently, sadly. I mean, I play court volleyball. It’s not the same as beach volleyball, but I have played some beach volleyball, not really serious. Just some Santa Monica-type games. That’s all I’ve been doing volleyball-wise, but I get way too competitive. Sometimes, I have to sit things out.”
There are so many volleyball players who have crossed over to modeling that there needs to be an intramural modeling league. There’s you, Gigi Hadid…
“I’ve definitely noticed that a lot. Actually, when I got into modeling, I had so many volleyball players reaching out to me asking like, ‘Oh, how’d you get into modeling,’ this and this and that. And I think it’s just because we’re tall.”
What are you looking forward to for Miami Swim Week?
“I’m honestly looking forward to meeting everyone. I am such an extrovert type of gal so I love talking to people. I love getting to know people. I love just being a part of this scene and having fun. I always just bring fun to any environment I’m in, so I know that I’m going to have fun with the girls that are there. But mostly, just really, really being in the experience, really soaking it up. Not even thinking about the actual work and the runway and the stressors and all that because it is a crazy weekend. But really I just want to be in the moment to cherish the time because it’s something that I’ll probably never forget.”