ESSENCE and Elite Models Name Connecticut Resident Nataya Smalls as the Winner of the 'ESSENCE It Girl' Model Search Contest Viewers Logged on to Watch the "Making of an It Girl" Web Series and to Vote for Their Favorite Model to Win

Jun 14, 2010, 12:48 ET from ESSENCE

NEW YORK, June 14 /PRNewswire/ -- ESSENCE and Elite Models have named Norwalk, CT, resident Nataya Smalls as the winner of the "ESSENCE It Girl" model search contest, it was announced today. Smalls, 20, will receive a one-year contract with Elite Model Management, and will be featured in the September 2010 Fall Fashion issue of ESSENCE magazine.

In February, ESSENCE and Elite Model Management kicked off its nationwide search for the new African-American "It" model in an effort to address the lack of diversity on the runways. An expert panel of judges—comprised of ESSENCE editors, Elite managers and fashion industry VIPs—evaluated entrants from three live model castings held in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York, as well as from online submissions to

Smalls, the quintessential girl next door, was selected to be one of five finalists flown to New York City for a special modeling boot camp—which was documented for the Making of an It Girl web series that aired exclusively on During the modeling boot camp, each finalist participated in a variety of tasks, including wardrobe challenges; runway coaching sessions; "fireside chats" with industry insiders; yoga workouts and more. viewers could then go online to vote for their favorite model, as well as to see highlights from each of the live model castings where entrants were evaluated by judges including: managing editor Emil Wilbekin; beauty editor Tia Williams; legendary model agent Bethann Hardison; Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes; actress Malinda Williams; agents Attienette Azille and Calvin Wilson of Elite Model Management and more.

"ESSENCE and Elite are pleased to name Nataya Smalls as the winner of our 'It Girl' model search contest," said Emil Wilbekin, managing editor, "We chose Nataya because she most represented the ESSENCE brand, and we know that she has the potential to become a real contender in the fashion world. ESSENCE has had a long history of launching the careers of some of the biggest names in the modeling industry today, and we are proud to have a hand in the start of Nataya's career."

Smalls, who always wanted to be a model and to work within the fashion industry, is a self-described "outgoing and optimistic" young woman who sees Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Chanel Iman as her model inspirations. A native of Norwalk, she is a student at Norwalk Community College.

For more information and to see clips from the Making of an It Girl web series, visit ESSENCE It Girl promotional partners include The Gershwin Hotel and Professional Services Firm Travel, LLC (in association with Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc.).


Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) is the leading media and communications company dedicated to African-American women.  With a multi-platform presence in publishing, live events, and online, the Essence brand is "Where Black Women Come First".  The company's flagship publication, ESSENCE magazine, is the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African-American women; generating brand extensions such as the Essence Music Festival, the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, Window on Our Women (WOW I & II) and Smart Beauty I, II & III consumer insights, the Essence Book Club,, and ventures in digital media (mobile, television and VOD). For 40 years, ESSENCE, which has a brand reach of over 8 million, has been the leading source of cutting-edge information relating to every area of African-American women's lives. Additional information about ECI and ESSENCE is available at

ABOUT ESSENCE.COM: is the daily online destination for African-American women that informs, entertains and connects.  The expansive web destination delivers daily fresh content, engaging blogs, robust photo galleries, a substantial online community and original video programming across four channels that include: News & Entertainment, Fashion & Beauty, Relationships and Lifestyle. is currently the largest and fastest growing African-American magazine website. The site's growth is unsurpassed and reaches more than a million monthly unique visitors. The new launched in September 2008 as one of the first projects to come from the partnership between The Warner Bros. Television Group and Time Inc.'s Essence Communications Inc.