Known for her expressive poses and Irish dance moves (yes, even down the runway), Coco Rocha is taking her modeling expertise to reality television as one of three coaches on The Face (premieres on Oxygen, Feb. 12). The series will document a dozen young women, split into three teams under Rocha and fellow models Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova, as they compete to become the industry’s next top model. Here, Rocha talks to TIME about her latest venture.
What attracted you to The Face?
I’ve been asked to do a lot of shows, but this was the first one that really appealed to me because I think mentorship is really important. I’ve worked with a lot of girls during my career, whether it’s helping them on posing or their runway walk, and this was the chance to do that on a much bigger scale.
One contestant is cut at the end of every episode, and the first episode’s elimination is particularly dramatic. When the cameras stop filming, is the mood still so tense?
Yes, it’s that dramatic. We’re competitive models ourselves—that’s why we’ve made it in this industry. When you lose something, it hurts. This happens every single episode—we send our girls into that room—and it’s going to be very dramatic.
Your fellow judge Naomi Campbell famously said you were her new favorite model at one of your first shows in 2005. How did you react?
Me being the girl who didn’t know anything about the industry, I didn’t really know who [Naomi] was. Now looking back, how amazing that in one of my first shows, I got to walk past her. But at the time, I just thought, “Oh, how nice, that lady really likes my walk.”
Will being a supermodel mean the same thing for the winner of The Face as it did when you first got into the industry, or when Naomi Campbell started modeling?
First of all, I cannot ever call myself a supermodel. That was an era in time—when Naomi worked—and those girls owned the industry. When I started, people didn’t know one model from the other—there was no personality, and I wanted to get out of that. Nowadays, you do one cover and if it gets a lot of hype, you’re considered a supermodel. For any model who starts today, they have to go with the flow of here and now—for me, it was embracing social media—and not think of how things were.
You’ve been considered a muse to many designers, but you have a particularly close bond with Zac Posen, who designed your wedding gown. What makes your relationship with him different than that of other designers?
He treats models as human beings. When you’re getting started, you don’t know the industry or designers—you go into casting rooms with a ton of other girls, show a book and that’s that. There’s no relationship. Zac took me under his wing and would tell me the story about the dress I would be wearing in the show—details about the fabric and everything. I always tell new girls that that’s the kind of person they want to meet.