UPDATE: This interview with Joanne Borgella originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of PLUS Model Magazine.
We lost this amazing talent when she passed away on October 18, 2014, due to a rare form of endometrial cancer that had spread to her brain. We share this interview as an homage to a beautiful soul lost too soon…
Joanne Borgella is living her life and not letting it pass her by.
She captivated us with her sweet smile and alluring voice during Season 1 of Mo’Niques Fat Chance. As she and the other contestants competed for the title of Miss PHAT, we watched as Joanne participated in television history. Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance was Oxygen’s highest rated show.
Joanne’s win made her into a household name and a role model to women everywhere. With a jewelry line in the works and a soaring modeling career, we will be seeing great things from this Haitian beauty.[Maddy] Most of us remember you from the first season of Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance. Tell me about your experience on the show and if there is anything in particular that you learned about yourself. [Joanne] The experience on the show was amazing. I was watching BET and the promo for the show came on and I was so happy to see something that I could be a part of. It changed me! I have always been confident in myself, but like everyone else I did have some insecurity – I never wore sleeveless shirts! NEVER!! Even to the audition for Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance – I had on a vest and a sweater to cover my arms. It was like 80 something degrees and I had a shirt, vest and jeans. It took being around other women that felt the same way for me to be at ease and be happy with myself. Now I wear sleeveless shirts all the time and you can’t tell me anything!!!
I applaud Monique for thinking of us and making a show for us, because no one else is thinking about us.[Maddy] I remember when the audience and viewers heard your beautiful voice. How long have you been singing? Is singing your true passion? [Joanne] I have been in the industry since I was thirteen years old. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and other great artists. I have performed in huge stadiums before championship games… singing is what I do and what I feel. [Maddy] Have you tried pursuing singing professionally? Do you believe your weight has affected your success? [Joanne] Absolutely! I’ve been told many times that I’m too big and will not make it in the music industry, but I believe in myself and have an incredible support system. My family is so supportive of me that I have been able to stand on my beliefs. I have a lot of faith that God will see me through any situation. [Maddy] Tell me about life after Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance: [Joanne] Well I have to say that some doors have opened, but this is a tough industry. I’ve been working really hard to get my name out there. I’m working with some great producers, but it takes time to get a singing career off the ground… so I’m working hard and moving forward.
One of the best opportunities I’ve had was performing with Mary-Mary, Patti Labelle and Bo Byce for the Oxygen Network at the Sony Studios for a Christmas Special. The experience was surreal! I have also been on the Tyra Banks Show, Good Morning America, Hot 97 with Miss Jones and at other local events and fashion shows.[Maddy] Tell me about your modeling career, were you modeling before Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance? [Joanne} Before the show I was an aspiring model. I was the girl that was on the internet trying to find information about plus size modeling. I would spend hours looking for castings, agencies, open calls and anything that would help me to gain knowledge about the industry. I attended agency castings and I was turned away every single time. I don’t think aspiring models realize that you really have to develop your modeling skills and your look before you are considered by an agency. Having a cute face is just not enough. [Maddy] I heard you were recently signed by a major agency here in NY? [Joanne] Yes, I’m working with Wilhelmina. It has always been my dream to be signed with a reputable agency. [Maddy] What has been your best experience in modeling so far? [Joanne] I will be in the March issue of Essence in an editorial. I have been doing a lot of testing and also some runway shows and appearances. [Maddy} I was told that a reality show may be in the works for you as well. Any info you can give us? [Joanne] The show will be about the life of a working plus size model, the ups and downs and the hard work. I think that aspiring models don’t realize how important it is to be in shape, to take care of your skin, your hair and to be knowledgeable about the industry. [Maddy] How do you keep yourself in such great shape? [Joanne] I work out. I don’t work out every day but I work out as much as I can. If I don’t have time to get to the gym then I will walk instead of taking a bus. I believe that everyone should exercise at least 30 minutes every other day. I also take Yoga. I know that many plus girls would never think of taking Yoga, but take it from me – it’s great! I also eat right. I used to eat only once or twice a day. Now I eat about six small meals a day.
I would like to thank Joanne for sitting down with me on a very cold and blistery night to speak about her life, passions and experiences. We wish you much success!
Photographer: Roberto Ligresti