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Selita Ebanks
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  • 2 weeks later...

From Ocean Drive:

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Despite her presence on high-wattage runways and at photo shoots in exotic locales, Selita Ebanks rarely thinks of herself as a supermodel. “When I’m working on a Victoria’s Secret set, I’m always in awe, standing in the middle of this amazing group of women and thinking, Oh, my goodness, because it’s pretty humbling to be surrounded by Marisa Miller and Karolina Kurkova and Heidi Klum,” she says. “I never get used to it, and I take nothing for granted. I’m far from a rookie, but I’m lucky to have a family that keeps me grounded.”

Indeed, the native New Yorker is the only girl in a family of seven brothers, with a love of football and a tomboy youth that would seem a far cry from the pages of a lingerie catalog. But Ebanks is a member of that exclusive pantheon of models who have scored the industry’s ultimate contract: as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. “Probably until the day I have a child, it will be the most special moment of my life,” the 27-year-old Ebanks says of the phone call that launched her career into the stratosphere. “I had no idea of the magnitude of what I was entering. Growing up and getting started in the business, I’d been called everything from Sabrina to Selena to Lita, but after Victoria’s Secret came along, everyone knew my name. It was pretty mind-blowing.”

This month, Ebanks finds herself on another high-profile stage—Donald Trump’s wood-paneled boardroom, that is, as a contestant on this season’s installment of Celebrity Apprentice, debuting March 14 at 9 PM on NBC. “Getting that call was actually a little similar to getting the Victoria’s Secret call, because I asked my agent if it was a joke,” she says. “My first reaction was, ‘You know you’re talking to Selita, right?’ And then I said, ‘Are you insane?’ And my third reaction: ‘Hmm, this could be interesting.’”

After reviewing DVDs from previous seasons and weighing the pros and cons of making the leap to a reality television show, Ebanks knew there was a reason that outshined all. “For me it was the ability to bring an awareness to my charity, Shine On Sierra Leone,” she explains. In 2008, Ebanks was invited by Elle to tour Sierra Leone, a trip that changed her life, she says. “I had no idea what I was getting into, didn’t know what I was going to see, and it turned out to be the most amazing, liberating experience of my life.” Soon after Ebanks founded the Women’s Coalition for Empowerment and Opportunity, while on that trip she found herself drawn to a pair of filmmakers, Tiffany Persons and Rebecca Chaiklin, who created Shine On Sierra Leone as a way to both spotlight and assist children in the West African nation with everything from proper drinking water to new school buildings. “So far I’ve built a portion of a school, given them books and school supplies, and now we’re building a sports facility,” Ebanks reports. “For me, there was no turning back. If I can expose Celebrity Apprentice viewers to this cause, then anything that happens on the show was completely worth it.”

When we speak in mid-January, Ebanks is still prohibited from divulging too much detail on what went down among the 14 apprentices, which this season include Sharon Osbourne, Cyndi Lauper, Darryl Strawberry, Bret Michaels and Holly Robinson Peete. “Holly is like a big sister now,” Ebanks says. “She founded her charity because her son is autistic, so it really hits home for her. It was really inspiring to see someone so passionate. I may start stalking her, ringing her doorbell, because I plan to learn a lot about how to be a more successful philanthropic person.”

She calls Lauper “a very funny woman who should have her own show,” while Michaels was her biggest surprise: “I went in thinking he would be a total weirdo, but he’s really quite sweet and genuine.” As for how Celebrity Apprentice will play out this season, Ebanks will be watching the edited episodes for the first time with everyone else. “I am completely scared,” she admits. “As much as I told myself I was going to be so careful, the cameras are always rolling. I’m sure there are a few times I stuck my foot in my mouth.”

Her goal was a simple one, Ebanks says: to always maintain an air of positivity and never be reduced to the bad behavior so inherent to today’s reality shows. “Not everyone agreed with my positive attitude,” she notes. “It’s OK, I have a really thick skin.” But did she walk away from Apprentice with lessons to benefit her life or career? “Oh, absolutely: I learned that sometimes I need to be more aggressive—even though it’s funny to say that, because my family thinks I’m the most disciplined, badass chick you’ve ever met in your life. In business, though, I believe you get more bees with honey. But at the end of the day this is a game show with a charitable outcome that meant something deeply to each one of us. So it was always about keeping your eyes on the prize.”

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