“I never thought I had a chance.”

That was 20-year-old Elora Perez’s feeling as she attended an open casting call this summer for Si TV’s Model Latina NYC reality/competition series. Last night, the Queens, NY native proved her initial instincts to be way off as she was crowned the winner of the third season of Model Latina.

Elora’s unexpected journey to stardom began one night while jumping rope at home.

“My mother heard on the radio that Si TV would be holding auditions right near our home and she suggested I try out for the series,” Elora recalled. “My first thought was, ‘no way,’ because I had never done anything like that and felt that I was too curvy to be a model.”

Elora, who is of Dominican, Puerto Rican and Panamanian heritage, never even dreamed of a modeling career.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Hey, you’re pretty, you should be a model,’ but I never took them seriously,” she said.

Still, she figured she had nothing to lose by auditioning, and so she showed up one spring morning — along with dozens of aspiring Latina models — at the Queens Center Mall.

Despite being “so nervous,” she was selected by Si TV’s judges as one of 15 women to appear on the show, which was to be shot in New York City. The other Model Latina NYC finalists also were selected from several open casting calls across the country, as well as via entries on SITV.COM .

The final night of the on-air competition came down to Elora, Jessica Santiago of Bradenton, FL (first runner-up) and Nashlly Sokoli of Newark, NJ (second runner-up).

Maria Perez-Brown, Si TV’s senior vice president of programming and development, called Elora “soft-spoken, but strong.” She said Elora “will be a wonderful representative of Model Latina, Si TV and young, aspiring Latinas across the country.”

The 13-week competition itself was a completely new experience for Elora.

“I enjoyed it, but it was also intimidating because most of the other girls had modeling experience,” she said. “I was definitely the long shot.”

Now that she has won the competition, the $25,000 in cash, and a contract with Q Model Management, what’s next?

“Now I want to have a modeling career and to eventually be an actress,” Elora revealed. “Winning Model Latina NYC has changed my entire outlook on life. I am exercising more and eating healthier. Now I know I can do something with my life and I want to make the most of the opportunity that I have been given.”

If the first two seasons of Model Latina are any guide, Elora will be successful in her future in fashion/entertainment. The show has been a star-making powerhouse. Season one winner Jessica Caban parlayed her success on the show into a variety of projects, including a contract with L’Oreal, a Chase television commercial and a photo shoot for Dreamwear, Inc. Season two winner Codie Cabral has been featured in Reebok and Sephora campaigns and has appeared in television commercials for Spike TV and LXTV.

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