MANILA, Philippines — She is five-eight, proudly from Pampanga, a top model who has worked with Gigi Hadid in New York, speaks good English and Filipino, and most importantly, answers questions well under pressure.
She is Kelsey Merritt and Philstar.com asked her if she wants to consider joining beauty pageants because it seems serendipitous that she was recently launched as endorser of global makeup brand Maybelline New York, just as Manila finished hosting Miss Universe 2016, and right on time as many Filipinos ask who to send to Miss Universe next.
The 20-year-old, however, set the record straight: “I have my priorities right now, which are modeling and finishing school.” Showbiz could also wait, she said.
Kelsey Merritt poses with actresses Bea Alonzo and Liza Soberano as an endorser for a Philippine clothing brand. Twitter/Kelsey Merritt
Kelsey began modeling at around 15 years old, when her model friends from Pampanga encouraged her to join them in Philippine Fashion Week.
From runway modeling, she moved to doing fashion editorials and TV commercials. When she turned 18, an email shook her off her feet: an invitation to sign up with New York-based modeling agency Wilhelmina International, founded by Dutch supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper and the agency behind supermodels like Iman, Gia Carangi and Beverly Peele.
Wilhelmina International also manages singer-actor Nick Jonas; pop star Demi Lovato; and models Cindy Bruna and Nyle DiMarco, among others.
Kelsey was in the first semester of her sophomore year as a Bachelor of Arts Communication major in Ateneo de Manila University when she received the email. Instead of leaving school, she waited until summer break to fly to New York.
“It was April 2015, my first trip to New York,” she recalled. “My parents were hesitant to bring me there because I was young, and I wasn’t really exposed to living by myself. But you know, you got to make it happen!”
She only spent five months in New York, then immediately returned to her studies in Manila, where she continued to model for magazine covers and for international brands like Uniqlo.
There were times she admitted that she was tempted to leave school for modeling. One such instance was when her agency booked her for the ad campaign for Vera Wang’s “White” bridal collection. Though she has a paper to pass the next day and long tests in Economics and Philosophy waiting for her on her return, she still went to New York and did the shoot.
“I was crying, because I was doing my paper on the plane…I was so sleepy, so jet-lagged. I wanted to sleep, but I had to finish the paper,” she told Ateneo’s publication, The Guidon.
But then she thought: “Kelsey, you just shot for Vera Wang. Don’t complain. You’re not in the right state to complain. You know, be thankful.”
Modeling, she said, is always tough. “In the modeling industry, nothing ever comes easy. You really have to strive to do your best.”
She is able to juggle her time between studies and work, thankfully, through “God’s blessing” and with help from her fellow Filipinos abroad.
Every time she goes to the Big Apple to work, she feels blessed being a Filipino because her Filipina beauty gives her an edge as a model since there are not so many Filipino models there.
“Filipinos abroad very welcoming,” she maintained. “When I’m there, they would call me, ‘Kapatid! Kababayan!’ When I work with Filipinos in New York, they are extra special to me.”
Two years ago, she shot a Maybelline New York commercial as an extra to the real endorser, Gigi Hadid. But now that Kelsey has been chosen to represent the brand in the Philippines, she said: “It’s surreal to work with Maybelline because I came from a small town in Pampanga. I never imagined I’ll be here. It’s crazy!”
Her ultimate dream is to become a Victoria’s Secret Angel.
“Who ever thought I would go to New York? I didn’t know,” she told The Guidon. “For now, my plan is to represent the Philippines!”