It was around 7 p.m. when Bello Sanchez opened the door to his Los Angeles apartment. He had a loose grip on the bottle of alcohol he had bought to calm his nerves. Thinking about his interview with the casting director, he felt good, he felt calm. After all, she had said, “Bello, I love you. You’re great!” She’d call him within two weeks, but the moment he returned home, the phone rang. He dropped the bottle, which shattered around his feet. Forget the damn bottle, he thought and rushed for the phone.
The person on the other end told him he was cast as a semifinalist in America’s Next Top Model. Sanchez didn’t scream, he didn’t cry. In fact, he barely celebrated. Instead, he remembers saying something like, “Okay, cool.” And that was it.
Last month, Sanchez joined FAJO over the phone from New Jersey. Speaking with him is like chatting with an old friend—he has an easy laugh and gives genuine answers. Thinking back to 2009, he shares his story of how he went from Skid Row, an area in L.A. known for its poverty and homelessness, to ANTM.
Sanchez was 19 when he went to California for his friend’s birthday. He was there for four days before heading back home to Boston. Two weeks later, he decided to move to L.A.
He landed on the tarmac with only $200 in his pocket and nowhere to stay. He hopped in a cab. The cab driver, knowing Sanchez wasn’t a local, took advantage of him, charging $100 for the ride.
“[The cab driver] took me to Skid Row,” says Sanchez, “and, oh my gosh, Skid Row is not Beverly Hills. It’s not what you see on TV.” He remembers walking through South Central and knocking on house doors that had “For Rent” signs. “ I would say, ‘Hey I only have $100. I don’t have a job yet, but I promise in a week I will have the rest of the [rent] money.” He continued knocking on doors until someone accepted the $100 and gave him a place to stay.
The house Sanchez lived in had five or six bedrooms, and each bedroom had five to seven people living in it. Sanchez had nothing—no furniture, no sheets, no blankets and no money. “So I had to sleep on the floor,” he explains. “There were maggots in the carpet . . . It was difficult.” There were often maggots in the bath as well, “so I would have to sneak into high schools and pretend to be one of their students to be able to shower. It was bad.”
In December 2014, Sanchez decided to model full-time, and started his America’s Next Top Model “casting tour,” travelling from audition to audition. He was chosen as one of the lucky few to compete to be a supermodel.
On the show, and in real life, Sanchez is an androgynous model with piercing blue eyes and 34 inches of long, straight hair. He didn’t plan on being an androgynous model—he “grew into it.” He started letting his curly hair grow and one day decided to straighten it. His castings liked the longer hair, and so did he. Over time, his look changed from “boyish” to “pretty” until he was eventually labelled an androgynous model.
At 34 inches, the cost of his hair (including extensions) tallies at nearly $5,000. Along with a high price tag, Sanchez’s hair comes with a strict routine. “You have to brush it and continue to brush it, so that you don’t get any tangles. And make sure you’re not sitting on it when you go to the bathroom,” he laughs and continues, “You need to make sure you know what you’re doing at all times!”
Now that filming of America’s Next Top Model has wrapped up, the longhaired model hasn’t had trouble keeping his schedule booked. He has shot a music video with Jessica Sutta, flown to Las Vegas to host Wet Republic with Calvin Harris, and shared the catwalk with Adriana Lima at the Wild By Andrea show while Drew Barrymore watched from the front row.
When trying to explain his professional growth, Sanchez takes a long pause, then starts to say a few sentences but doesn’t finish them. It’s as if he’s trying to find the best possible way to express his gratitude, “I literally don’t know… I don’t understand how… It’s just very quick. Things are moving really rapidly for me, and I’m more than thankful and more than honoured, because just a few months ago I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay rent. I am still struggling a little bit. It’s not like I suddenly became rich. I’m still not anywhere near rich, but to know that there’s a ladder, and there’s hope, and I’m climbing it, that’s amazing.”