According To the reality show America's Next Top Model, the world of modelling is a jet-setting, high-paying, glamorous vocation for the chosen few. Reality TV needs a reality check.
'I was at a casting in Singapore with this sunglasses brand and had to meet these two Italian guys in a hotel room,' recalls model-turned-VJ, Cara Grogan. 'And this girl came out of the room crying. They wanted her to pose completely nude. I called my agency immediately. Outside the room I saw a long line of girls - most in their teens - waiting in the corridor in a panic, calling their agents. There are some dodgy folks out there.'
'Folks' is a euphemism for the word Grogan used but you get the gist. Her ascent from print to television may seem rapid but she's been working hard for the past decade: from the best ('commercials shot in Prague, Canada, Japan with the best team in Asia') to the worst ('I was asked to wear a string bikini that barely covered. I refused to step out of the dressing room').
Grogan's the versatile model whose dimpled smile and flawless skin has stared out of numerous ads, her mixed background working to her advantage in every market she's worked in.
'I had a complicated family history, so at 14 I left home and started working,' says the 26-year-old. 'I've been working ever since.' When she came to Hong Kong seven years ago, it was intended to be a short stint; but she kept coming back. 'Now, Hong Kong's definitely where I'm grounded.'
Grogan grew up in Australia's Victoria and Gold Coast. The mix of Chinese, Swiss, Irish, German and Arabic has its benefits, language not being one of them. 'I speak Australian, American and English. I never picked up any other language despite my travels and mixed origin. Shameful isn't it?' She laughs. 'One of the best things about being a mixed mutt is that wherever I land, people think I'm from there. When I was in China, they thought I was Chinese, when in Japan, I was Japanese and so on.'
Grogan says that while she has been working hard, jobs do come in waves. 'Sometimes you're busy every day, rushing to gigs and other times, well, it's me walking my dog through Soho.'
As we sit and chat in a trendy new bar tucked away at the crescent of Hollywood Road and Lyndhurst Terrace, an editor of a luxury magazine strolls by. 'We've worked together before right?'
Grogan nods, gives a warm hug and mentions a multiple-page fashion shoot she did with them. They agree to work together on another shoot and the editor makes a note to call her agency. 'I think it's important to be nice to the people you work with, the diva tantrums don't work anywhere,' says Grogan. 'You don't get cast again or recommended if you behave badly. I'm really happy when someone rings me back again for a job.'
It was probably this attitude that helped propel her into the limelight at Channel V. 'The VJ gig happened by chance,' says Grogan. 'I had auditioned several times before but never gotten through and, on a lark, a friend of mine asked me to audition again. I hesitated a lot, having been rejected so many times before, but they said to me 'You're older now, it's a different look; you'll have a lot more to say than before.' So I did go back - and got the job.'
Grogan enjoys working on screen, and says her love of music helps her to think on her feet. Perks of the job include meeting the biggest names in the music industry, award shows and of course, travel. Her first modelling job was also something she landed by chance, during her travels around Asia. 'I was in Bangkok and I sent a message home saying I was modelling and no one believed me. 'Bet you're a hostess,' they laughed.'
According to Grogan, she was far from the prettiest girl in class when she was growing up. 'Not even close! I wasn't a thin teenager at all, I was pretty chubby -there's a photo my mother put up on Facebook and my boyfriend didn't even recognise me. No one ever found me in a mall and said I had to be a model,' she says, laughing. 'Then the weight fell off, no crash diet or exercise. Just in the genes I guess, but even then, I didn't have any pretensions of being Elle Macpherson.'
Having done countless editorials and worked around the continent, there are a few tricks of the trade Grogan's picked up. 'I always know when a shoot's going to go bad,' she says. 'When there are a lot of people hanging around a set doing nothing, there's trouble ahead. They won't know how to style and just throw everything into one shot. The best photographers work with the best hair and makeup artists; it's a package.'