She's pretty much just a teen

Model: Aladrian Crowder of Owings Mills has a good head on her shoulders. The cover-girl- to-be insists success won't swell it.

May 01, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Aladrian Crowder and Kate Moss don't have a whole lot in common.

For instance:

Crowder, 17, says makeup feels "like bugs crawling on my face."

She's going to major in chemical engineering, but she's not into recreational chemicals.

And she eats!

"I eat a half-gallon of ice cream in three days by myself," she says with pride. "I love eating. I love food."

Despite such high-fashion heresies, Crowder's knockout face will beam from the cover of Essence magazine in August. Earlier this month, the senior at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science won the Essence Cover Model Search.

It all started with an open call at Virginia's Pentagon City Mall in September. From there, 10 finalists from malls all over the country were chosen from among more than 7,000 applicants. Crowder's triumph was announced in March, at a ceremony in a downtown New York club.

"I figured I would be third or second. Then they announced me," Crowder explains, her voice rising to helium-sucking level. "I was like, oh my goodness!"

Barefoot, in a black sweater and jeans, hair pulled back, she looks like a smarter Tyra Banks enjoying a leisurely weekend. Crowder, all 5 feet, 11 1/2 inches of her, is always casual. In fact, today's modest ensemble is dressier than usual, says Crowder, who is locally represented by Nova Models Inc.

"I've seen on TV that most models are just normal jeans-and-everyday people," she says. "They don't go around with the whole glam makeup and the hair."

Before the Essence competition, modeling was just a hobby for Crowder, who lives in Owings Mills with mom Gloria, who works for the federal government, and dad A.C., who works for the State of Maryland. And despite her smashing success, she still isn't sure if modeling will ever be more than a lark.

When she speaks, her long, graceful limbs move constantly, accenting every word. Her face often twists into a comic sneer. (Yes, she still looks stunning when she sneers.)

"You should hear me in school. Me and a friend of mine; we sing songs, we jump around. It's horrible," she says. "We even pretend like we have our own show."

Then she breaks into disc jockey mode: "Welcome to the Aladrian Crowder show!"

The cover girl-to-be isn't now, and never was, into primping and pedicures. But now she has to indulge in such activities as lip-waxing, which is new and somewhat disturbing, she says. But professional hair removal is only one of many recent changes.

Since winning the Essence contest, Crowder has been immersed in the glam life.

She and her ever-protective mom have traveled to New York about a half-dozen times for whirlwind photo shoots and awards ceremonies, without even enough spare time to catch one of the Broadway shows the teen is dying to see.

Crowder was invited to the Essence Awards in New York earlier this month, where she shared an auditorium with Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, MTV's Ananda Lewis and more. But it wasn't as starry and surreal an experience as you might think.

"It would probably feel a lot different if I was hanging with the stars," Crowder says. "But I was a couple rows back."

Crowder's front-row days may not be far off. No one can predict what will happen once that cover hits the shelves.

"I don't think it has hit us yet," her mom says. "The magnitude of being on a cover."

It may mean a pre-college summer in New York. Crowder would be living in one of those tiny apartments where multiple models bunk together and are allegedly targeted by predatory men. HBO's "Sex and the City" calls them "modelizers," guys who swoop down with free tickets to hot clubs and promises of fame and fabulosity.

The idea excites Aladrian (the apartment, not the sleaze). Gloria isn't so enthusiastic.

"I'm not going to let her loose in New York," her mom says. "It's my child. I'm not giving her away to anybody."

Not that she, or anyone else thinks Crowder will become a tragic character in the archetypal model's story. The tales of fresh-faced suburban girls gone bad, falling into a vortex of drugs and all-night debauchery, don't seem to apply to Crowder.

Essence fashion director Pamela Macklin, one of the contest judges, says, "Knowing this young lady, it's going to change her very little. She knows what she wants out of life. I don't think she's going to turn into an ugly little monster."

Macklin cast her vote for Crowder because she is "well-spoken, poised and beautiful."

Still, Crowder isn't naive. She knows the potential "E! True Hollywood Story" perils modeling holds.

"I am aware of those things," Crowder says. "There's danger in everything." She's not swayed by peer pressure, she assures. There's a "99.9 percent chance" she won't give in to the decadent dark side, she says.

She is into poetry, painting and piano playing. Her life is light on dates (her choice, one presumes) and heavy on determination. Crowder makes it clear that not even a shot at a huge Times Square billboard could keep her from college. She's already gotten a scholarship to the University of Delaware.

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