Cory Wade: Philly’s top model on being a role model

OK, I’ve interviewed several people who work in the arts lately and vowed not to do another for a while. But I was recently at an event where there was a young guy who kept catching my eye. I finally asked him what made him so fabulous. He thanked me, cracked a brilliant smile and humbly told me he did a little modeling.

I must be living under a rock because I’m apparently the only one who didn’t know Cory Wade (Hindorff) — singer, actor, host and second runner-up on cycle 20 of “America’s Next Top Model.” Despite the pouty model’s pose, which you’ll see if you Google his name, he was quite a delightful fellow with an easy laugh.

PGN: Hey Cory, I understand that you’ve shortened your name. Why did you lose the Hindendorf?

CW: [Laughs] It’s actually Hindorff and that’s exactly why! It sounds too much like Hindenberg or something from “Harry Potter.” Ten points for Hindorff!

PGN: So you were representing Philadelphia on “America’s Next Top Model.” Are you originally from here?

CW: I was born in Wallingford, Pa., but I identify as a Philly native. Even as a kid, I always came to Philly on the weekends. I was one of those street rats on South Street, seeing shows with my friends at the TLA and hanging out. Or we’d go to underage night at what was then 12th Air Command.

PGN: What was life like in Wallingford?

CW: It was … interesting. I’ve always been eccentric and a little weird and quirky, which is why I escaped to Philly on the weekends. But I grew up in the most loving and supportive household. There’s not much I can complain about, though middle and high school were tough for me. There weren’t a lot of people outside my family who understood me.

PGN: I would have thought you’d find refuge in the theater club.

CW: I was in theater but I was very goth, which didn’t go over well. I’d dress in black with parachute pants and studs and spikes topped by an awkward afro that made me look like a burnout. [Laughs] Probably because I was!

PGN: What’s a story that your mom would tell me about you?

CW: I was always very feminine, so when my mother took me to the McDonald’s drive-thru for a kid’s meal, there always came that awkward point where the cashier would have to figure out what kind of toy to put in the bag. My mother would always stand up for me and say, “My son would like the doll.” She always had my back.

PGN: Who are you most like?

CW: Oh man, I think I’m an equal split. My dad is a total hippie. In fact, the way my parents met was crazy. My mother was a church girl and my dad used to play guitar on the steps of her church. She’d see him after services and one day she mustered up the courage to talk to him. [Laughs] Her family didn’t approve! She was conservative but secretly wanted to …

PGN: Take a walk on the wild side!

CW: Yes! So I’m like my father in that I’ve always been the eccentric artist, the one going against what society deems is “normal,” and I’m like my mother because I’m very passionate about the way I think things should be. If I see something that I think is wrong, I have to do something about it.

PGN: Tell me something about a grandparent.

CW: My grandparents are freaking awesome! My grandmother came out as lesbian at 65! How brave is that? She divorced her husband and changed everything and she is so happy right now. She’s married to a wonderful woman who I call my second grandmother. I love them both so much.

PGN: That’s fantastic! So, what did you excel in at school?

CW: I was a terrible student. I think my attention to schoolwork was stolen because I was picked on so much. I excelled at anything art-related because that was my escape. I wasn’t comfortable with who I was and remember just wishing I could be somebody different. I did a lot of musicals because theater let me be someone else.

PGN: When did you come out?

CW: I was 17 trying to figure out who I was and it was very confusing. And sex was a totally different layer. It was something I’d never had the opportunity to explore. Kids had been calling me faggot for as long as I could remember, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant.

PGN: When did you find community?

CW: I did drag in Philly for about two years. I loved being around people who weren’t afraid to deviate from the societal norm. Mimi Imfurst was my drag mother; she taught me how to paint my face, etc. I was in her Dollhouse show as Serena Starr.

PGN: Named after Serena Williams?

CW: No, though I did have her physique! I’m a huge anime nerd — it was another of my escapes during high school. Sailor Moon’s alter ego was named Serena so, for me, the name represented transformation.

PGN: I read that you didn’t really appreciate the power of Pride until you did “America’s Next Top Model.”

CW: Yeah, I always felt a sense of community but had never considered myself an activist. I was the only gay person on the show and it was so empowering. Some of the contestants had never met an openly gay person before. Isn’t that weird? I was forced into being a representative for the community but it was cool. I was able to build relationships and got a lot of great feedback from the public. It made me realize that people were going to be looking at me as a role model. It gave me such a sense of purpose, and it now inspires everything I do. There’s a constant undercurrent in my mind to be true to who I am. It’s my M.O. now. It was a huge lesson.

PGN: How did you end up on the show? You hadn’t done much modeling.

CW: No, just some stuff for friends. I’d studied musical theater in school but was shifting out of that because I was getting criticism for being and sounding too feminine. I started going into casting offices and trying to speak with a deep voice, which was totally unnatural. I put on weight to look more masculine, and dressed and walked in a way that was uncomfortable for me. It was a mess.

PGN: Tried to butch it up.

CW: Yes, and I’ve learned to freaking hate that term. It’s so damaging. So I started modeling; at least there I wouldn’t have to try to change my voice to get work. I thought maybe I could pass as straight. But I soon realized that that wouldn’t make me happy either. I decided instead to try to break down the barriers that say a man has to look a certain way to be a man.

PGN: It must be inspiring for people.

CW: I get letters and emails every day from people around the world. It’s amazing. I’ve become the representative for all those kids who feel weird or different and I love it. I’ve gotten messages from as far as Russia from kids who are dealing with the restrictive politics there. So I’m careful about what I do now to make sure I’m not compromising. I want to be that strong “fem to the end” guy who represents those voices.

PGN: What was the most moving message you’ve received?

CW: It was from a kid in Russia. I don’t know if you’re aware but Russia has enacted a law banning gay and trans people from getting driver’s licenses. Anyone with what are considered “personality disorders” are not allowed to drive. It’s mind-boggling. I got a message from a kid who wanted to come out to his parents but was scared about all the repercussions. It’s hard because I’m not an expert but I do want to help. I did some research and looked up some reputable LGBT centers and support groups in Russia for him. I cried for him. [Laughs] I’m such an empath!

PGN: You should check into peer-counseling training at William Way.

CW: That’s a good idea, I love that place. I want to do more than just pose for a picture that makes people feel fierce. I want to get involved in real change.

PGN: Speaking of changing, it seems that the women’s modeling scene is changing, with plus-sized models, etc. But I don’t hear much about men. Is there a problem with body dysmorphia there too?

CW: Oooh, that’s interesting. I haven’t really thought about it but men do have a lot of pressure to either stay rail thin or be totally chiseled and muscle-bound. There was one French model recently at the Mercedes Benz fashion show (with an adorable accent!) and he told me that he was under such pressure to be perfect and to be what everyone else wanted him to be, but that my story inspired him to inject more of himself into his work and not compromise. He’s been modeling for a while so it was eye-opening that I could make a difference for him. It makes sense, though; when I flip through a magazine and see the all-American muscle-bound guys modeling, I think, I could never wear that! So if I’m thinking it, that’s an indicator that there are other guys who feel the same. If I can be the model for them, that would be awesome.

PGN: So give me three Tyra expressions.

CW: OMG! How do you expect me to pick just three? OK, I love “smize”: smiling with your eyes. “Tooch,” which is a verb meaning to pop your booty out. It’s ridiculous, but I can’t say it without smiling. But I really like “flawsome.” Have you heard that one? It’s used to describe something that is awesome because of its flaws. It turns the negative around to let people see beauty by rocking your flaws with confidence. Once a year she does the Flawsome Ball, which is a fundraiser with the most unique and beautiful models of all types. [Smiles] That is so cool; she’s such an innovator and has inspired so much change in the fashion world. It’s wonderful.

PGN: Let’s talk about reality-show realness.

CW: Like everyone, I thought all reality shows were a crock of shit, but I was surprised by how much was not scripted. When you put crazy people in close quarters, you just need to stand back and the drama happens on its own. People were fighting for real, and getting it on and all sorts of stuff. You’re sleep-deprived, OK, and competing against each other, but the hardest part is that the cameras never turn off. Not when you’re sleeping or in the bathroom. It made me pee-shy! It’s crazy. And then there’s the pressure of trying to be entertaining when the camera is on you. I get nervous, don’t you?

PGN: You want to be camera-worthy.

CW: Exactly. I’d find myself being snarkier than I meant to. And doing what I called my comedy drama instead of just being my damn self. I mean, I was me for the most part, but whenever you saw me being sassy or making fun of people, that was my nervousness. I’m really not that person. I’ve been bullied my whole life so why would I do the same thing? Ugh, we all change a little when in front of the camera. It’s so stupid!

PGN: Let’s get to something not so stupid. You have an amazing singing voice. You should do “American Idol” next.

CW: Oh, thank you! I love singing. Music is something I can’t do without. With everything else I’m doing what other people want, but I try to keep music sacred so that I can do what I want. I’m working on an album right now and it’s just for myself. I know my voice won’t always be the same, so I want something recorded that I can look back on. I don’t know that music will ever be a career because it’s too important to me and I want it to stay genuine. There’s a lot of compromise in the music “business.” I did one video, “Pose Down,” to make people happy and it’s fun and I love it, but it’s not really me. I’m more R&B and soul. I put out an album that was more introspective and soulful and people thought I was lip-synching! Doing a Milli Vanilli thing! It was crazy. I got sassy and posted a selfie of me singing. So stupid, I didn’t need to do that.

PGN: Of course there was a time when you did share your music, as a singing waiter and as a wedding singer.

CW: Ha! Yes. It was fun but you had to sing a lot of genres you never would have imagined. I am not hood whatsoever but I had to learn to rap! I’m not that cool!

PGN: Who is the coolest guy ever?

CW: My boyfriend, Anthony. It’s not easy being with an artist — as you know, we have some crazy ups and down, mainly because we are so passionate for our work — SO for people who have to live with that passion it can be a bit much. He does it in a great way. [Laughs] he’s very strategic when he talks to me when I’m in an artist mode. He’s very supportive and encouraging. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He’s strong enough to let me do my thing.

PGN: And what is his thing?

CW: He’s a dance instructor at the Society Hill Dance Academy. He’s really good, he’s got it going on.

PGN: What do you dislike most about yourself?

CW: Hmmm, OK. Right now we’re living in butt nation — it’s all about that bass —and I am deficient in that area. I’m Half-frican American but I didn’t get the butt half. There was a photo of me modeling leggings for Michelle Überreste. I love the leggings, they’re so cute but, you can see my ass — or lack thereof — in the shot. Everyone was like, “Cory has no butt!”

PGN: I understand they shaved your head: How shocking was it?

CW: It was bad. It was the one thing that almost made me cry. I was up for anything else; you could put bugs on me, hang me upside down, whatever — I’m game — but that really got to me. At first they just buzzed it, which was fine, but then they Bicked it! They came at me with a disposable Bic razor and made me completely bald! It was terrifying. Can you imagine waking up being all excited for makeover day and ending up looking like a cue ball?

PGN: What are you excited about?

CW: Oh, I’m in a really good place right now. I’ve been doing a lot of event-hosting, which has been really great. As a model you don’t really have a voice but this lets me show my personality. On March 21, I’m hosting a modeling competition at Rosemont College and I’ll be hosting at Queer Fashion Week in San Francisco April 16-19. I’m going to be on the cover of Acapella Magazine, which is really exciting, and I’ll be hosting my own new web series called “Fashion Exposé,” about the incredible entrepreneurial-design world here in Philadelphia. I want people to see Philly as more than just pretzels and cheesesteaks … not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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