Midtown: Community

AzMarie, ‘America’s Next Top Model’ contestant, to hit local runway

We know her as AzMarie, the captivating “America’s Next Top Model” contestant who got booted for refusing to wear booty-pads.

And, know it or not, we’ve also seen her on BET’s “Rip the Runway;” in music videos such as Nikki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” and Kelly Rowland’s “Motivation;” in Essence and Urban Ink magazines; and in cameos on the “Real Housewives of New York” and the Academy Award-winning movie “Precious.”

Now, AzMarie is coming to Raleigh as a featured model in Tim Johnson’s Fashion on South West. It’s a showcase of hair, makeup and fashion to celebrate Johnson’s 25 years in the beauty and fashion industry. The show, one of many Johnson has held since 1992, is set for 9 p.m. Saturday at Club Bodi, 310 S. West St., Raleigh. Limited advance tickets are $20. Showtime ticket prices will depend on advance ticket sales.

Johnson – known as one of Raleigh’s styling and fashion gems with a “world-class” reputation built and maintained at Tim Johnson Studio Hair salon on Hill Street – met AzMarie at her “Rip the Runway” audition in 2010. AzMarie will join a cast of 25 models Johnson auditioned and trained for Fashions on South West.

“I loved AzMarie from the start, and I knew she was a star,” Johnson said. “She’s a very futuristic-type, Grace Jones-type of model. She’s exotic.”

‘Time to change things’

Born Ashley Marie Livingston in Louisiana, AzMarie, 25, grew up in Milwaukee with an older brother and was raised by a single mother and a gay father who’ve remained “best friends.” After high school, she went to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Three semesters in, she quit.

“I moved to L.A. to open up new opportunities,” she said when I caught up with her recently by phone. “Milwaukee doesn’t have very much to get into to allow you to evolve. I needed that.

“I feel like I’m not productive if I’m not getting something done that will help me progress.”

AzMarie, who started modeling at 9, returned to the craft in L.A. and New York. After about a year of New York “not understanding me, or not waking up,” she sold her car to buy a one-way ticket to London. She worked, but wasn’t “taken by storm,” she said. Not in Germany or Paris, either.

“That’s the hardest thing to deal with,” AzMarie said. “Why are they trying to have the same thing; the same look? It’s time to change things.”

Her brand, “ANTM” fans will recall, is androgyny, “the ability to transform my look from being masculine and tomboyish to being very feminine and elegant and graceful; flipping it from male to female with the least effort.”

“That’s how I am naturally,” said the gay model, adding she learned to embrace her feminine side as an adult.

She chose AzMarie as a blending of her real name, Ashley Marie, which she says “fits well for me” in her private world. As a model, though, “I wanted a name that would stand out, something that could become a household name, a branded name for the beautiful bald-headed girl with the tattoos.”

After testing the international runway, AzMarie eventually landed a cameo in a dance scene in “Precious,” directed by her godfather, Lee Daniels, followed by “Rip the Runway” and “ANTM.”

“I do consider myself a role model to anyone who looks up to me because they believe my truth and what I represent – youth 13 to 25, LGBT or heterosexual – even for adults as far as following your dreams and doing what you want to do,” she said.

AzMarie credits her parents for her drive and ambition, her creativity and opportunities – and for their support while she has tapped into her own passions and purpose.

“As an adult, I’ve learned how to use things around me to motivate me: nature, select friends – their energy, in a way that others motivate me to get my things going not just for me but to, in turn, give back to them.

“I just keep networking, but I don’t ever want to take and not give.”

‘I’m not a fluke’

Through a new nonprofit she co-founded, Gay Teens Rock, AzMarie hopes to use her own experience to say to youth like her, “It’s going to be OK,” she said.

AzMarie came out to her own parents – her Dad first – when she was 14. She was bullied by boys confused by her tomboy nature and struggled against a once-strained relationship with her mother, initially disappointed by her only daughter’s lifestyle.

“It took time,” AzMarie said. “But I always stood my ground: This is what it is. If you don’t like it, I don’t have to have you as part of my life.

“I’m not a fluke. This is not a phase.”

For more information about Fashion on South West, call 919-832-8770.