On Tuesday night, Oxygen crowned the first winner of The Face, a competition of 12 model hopefuls divided into three teams. 21 year-old single mom Devyn Abdullah, of the Bronx, New York, came out on top, making her coach, Czech-born Karolina Kurková proud while besting fellow supermodel coaches Coco Rocha and Naomi Campbell’s teams. Over eight episodes, the aspiring models from around U.S. duked it out in fashion-related challenges, trying to prove that they deserved to be the next face of Ulta Cosmetics. Here, Abdullah and Kurkova talk to TIME about their experiences on the show and what’s next.
Devyn, your life is about to change dramatically with this win. What does it mean to you?
This moment, winning The Face, and being Ulta’s face for the 2013 campaign is my break. It’s me getting my foot in the door of the modeling industry, and I’m really excited about it. I want people to love me for me, to be attracted to me for my story and where I come from and to recognize me as a businesswoman. It’s amazing. Being a single mother, working four jobs before I did this show—any single mother can relate to how hard that is. I was made to model and I was made to be a mother, so why not do just that? The Face definitely helped me with it.
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Were you excited to be paired with Karolina? Had you followed her career prior to the show?
Yes, of course. I’ve always loved watching Karolina on Victoria’s Secret, working it. I didn’t know that she was a mother until I started doing my research, when I was actually auditioning for the show. Finding out that she is a mother was so inspirational to me and something I could relate to. I loved exchanging stories, as models and as mothers. I feel like throughout this whole crazy process of The Face, through all of the challenges, the tests, the competition, the drama, Karolina gave me that comfort. She was like my home base.
Karolina, you saw something special in Devyn when you chose her for your team. What was it that made you think she could win?
In the day of the casting episode, I could already knew what I saw and who I liked. I knew what the girls exuded something special, with their look and their style. Devyn was one of those girls. What I like about her is that I saw versatility and personality in her, and she was a girl who stood out from the crowd, which is what you want when you’re looking for the face of a brand. From the first impression I could see that.
Devyn, you were working four jobs before you got the opportunity to compete. Where did you get that kind of strength & work ethic?
My daughter is the foundation of everything in my life. She’s given me the passion to know what life is all about and to value myself ten times more than I did before. There’s something about being a mother than changes your life, your motives. And being a single mother and coming out of highschool—I was pregnant when I was 19—I felt somewhat lost. Having my daughter put me in a place that put me where I knew what I wanted out of life because I knew what I needed to provide for her. Giving her what she needs is worth it.
What was the hardest part of the process or the biggest challenge?
Every week you’re learning something new as a model, but as far as being on reality TV, the biggest challenge is just that: being on reality TV. Waking up in the morning, having a camera in your face, talking to the camera as if it’s actually a person, being wired to a microphone… these are all things people don’t really see. Getting used to that was hard.
Karolina, you’ve had some great mentors in the business over the years. What was it like to, in turn, coach these contestants?
It was a great experience. I worked as a coach on a similar show in Europe, and it was my first experience to work with young girls who wanted to step into the industry. Working on that made me realize I really enjoyed it. It’s my nature to be nurturing, and making other people’s dreams come true has given me a lot of joy. When the The Face asked me to be a part of the show and be a coach [and] mentor, the format attracted me. All three of the mentors on the show are working models. We didn’t give up our day jobs to do this. This shows how to be a successful model and what it takes, not just for the girls who are on the show, but for the women who are watching.
What advice do you have for Devyn as she starts her career?
It’s even harder for models these days. You have to always be one step ahead. You have to really be special and unique. Models are getting to do more and more: acting, TV shows, taking photos, hosting, which I think is great. You have to continue growing and challenging yourself. For Devyn, winning The Face, there are a lot of things she can do and it’s up to her how hard she’s going to work. Can she handle the pressures and everything any industry throws at her? The exposure she’s gotten has been amazing. It’s going to open a lot of doors. She needs to take this opportunity and run with it. She needs to be the CEO of her own brand and the captain of her own ship.