Kelsey Merritt conquers the City That Never Sleeps. As the song goes, ‘if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.’
Big splash in Big Apple
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - June 28, 2020 - 12:00am

It was Anne Curtis who acted as “bridge” between Veronique del Rosario-Corpus and Kelsey Merritt, the newest prize acquisition of Viva Artists Agency (VAA).

“In December last year,” Veronique told The STAR, “Kelsey was looking for a Philippine agent and she asked Anne about VAA. She was home. We met and discussed about a potential partnership. She went back to the US to resume her modeling career. Since then, we have been in touch. She finally decided to sign up with VAA early this month.”

Veronique said VAA will “make Kelsey’s presence felt” locally through the company’s various social media platforms while she’s in the US. “We have also started pitching her to different brands and we have been getting positive feedback,” added Veronique.

Kelsey, 23, is a Fil-Am model based in New York City. Born in Pampanga, she started her modeling career in Manila, initially appearing in commercials (Palmolive, San Miguel Light and the local clothing brand Kashieca) before moving to the US to start her international career.

Two years ago, Kelsey walked the Victoria’s Secret runway and caught the attention of the international media such as Teen Vogue and E! News. In 2019, she was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Kelsey is the first Filipino to accomplish both in a span of only two years. A fan favorite, her video features in American Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle have already reached a combined YouTube views of six million.

Veronique del Rosario-Corpus of Viva Artists Agency (VAA) with Kelsey Merritt during the con- tract negotiation

At 20, Kelsey graduated with an AB Communications degree from Ateneo de Manila University.

Kelsey talks about her “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere” in a free-wheeling e-mail Conversation.

Tell us about any “struggles” on your way to international modeling stardom.

“Modeling isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy modeling in the Philippines, and it wasn’t any easier modeling in New York. There have been so many struggles to get where I am today but I’ll name one. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was my work-school life balance. It was hard enough having to work in Manila while trying to do my best in college in Ateneo, but when I started modeling in New York, I then had to figure out a way to balance school, work in Manila, and flying across the globe to jobs from my New York agency. I would be so tired from work but would have to read and catch up on schoolwork on the plane, or back at my hotel room. There was no rest. I would often cry because of the situation I put myself in, but I knew I had to be strong because I was doing it for reasons I chose myself; I wanted a modeling career, and I also wanted to finish college. Fortunately, I made it happen and I was so happy when I graduated, especially with a QPI (Quality Point Index) I was proud of.”

Did you experience any “discrimination”?

“I’m lucky that I entered the industry when they have been more welcoming to Asian-Americans. My agent told me that if I had come 10 years ago, the industry wouldn’t have been so kind to me. Luckily, we live in a time where there is so much progress and brands are being more open to diversity and change.”

How did you prepare for your dream towards the international modeling stage (how did your Philippine experience help)?

“I was so insecure when I first started modeling in the Philippines. I learned very early on in modeling how to deal with my insecurities. If there was only one person in the world who believed in me, it had to start with me. It’s very easy to get insecure when you’re always put next to the most beautiful women in the world. But I told myself that if I didn’t get a job, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough, it just means that I wasn’t the right person they were looking for. That was a very important lesson that I had with me while modeling in New York. That made dealing with rejection a lot easier.”

How was your Victoria’s Secret experience and the shoot for Sports Illustrated?

“Working for those two iconic brands is every model’s dream. I couldn’t believe it when I started shooting for Victoria’s Secret, and then my whole world changed when I booked the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2018. Shortly after that, I booked Sports Illustrated to be one of their models in 2019. I’ve always admired those two brands and the models that worked with them. I have always thought it would be amazing to have a Filipina walk the VS show and shoot for Sports Illustrated and I’m so happy I got to do both and give that to my country.”

How competitive is the modeling profession in America?

“Very competitive. Everyone from all over the world goes to New York because that is the city where girls make it. All the major campaigns get shot there and all the biggest brands that you want to work for all are based in New York. The first step to modeling in New York is getting an agency to represent you and that in itself is so hard to do because all the agencies are so picky with who they represent. Then you have to book a job. You have to go to so many castings just to be able to book one job. Assuming you do book a job, you have to make sure you book enough jobs to sustain the lifestyle of New York. It’s a very expensive city with very expensive rent. So you need to be booking jobs with a stable income to even survive living in New York. It’s a lot of things, but I hope it puts it in perspective how competitive the industry is.”

Have you ever dreamed of being a model (who are your role models)?

“No, I didn’t even know about the modeling industry till I was 15 and my friends started modeling. They would go to Manila for Philippine Fashion Week and I aspired to be one of them. So one time I went with them to one of their runway castings and that’s how I started. The rest is history!”

How was your growing-up years in Pampanga?

“Life was so simple. I’m so blessed to have the family that I have, and have grown in such a loving environment. All I wanted to do as a young kid was to excel in academics and do the best I can in school and sports. It was that simple. Then I got introduced to the world of modeling, and started to learn that I can dream big. My whole life changed when I realized that there was a world out there that I could be a part of.”

Now that you have signed up with Viva, what are your expectations and projects that you will do?

“I’m really excited to work with Viva as my new management in the Philippines. Stay tuned!”

(E-mail reactions at For more updates, photos and videos, visit or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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