Interview with Ronnie Kroell and Ben DiChiara

If you missed Bravo’s Make Me A Supermodel, you missed some of
the most homoerotic moments ever broadcast on basic cable. They gave us
everything from a highly sexual S&M photo shoot that involved one hot guy
licking another’s forehead to a fascinating "bromance" between gay
model Ronnie Kroell and straight prison guard Ben DiChiara. Ronnie and Ben got
so much air time, they even ended up with one of those cute couple nicknames:
Bronnie. In fact, Bravo went so far as to have T-shirts printed with Bronnie on them.

Bronnie made it all the
way to the final four, most likely thanks in large part to their close
relationship. What can we say? We ate it up. Ronnie himself was even the first runner
up, although he lost the supermodel title to the only female to reach the end,
Holly Kiser. After the finale aired, we got to talk to Ronnie and Ben about
their experiences on the show, including the homophobic comments Ben directed
at Ronnie and another model during a challenge, the judges’ favoritism,
and, of course, their bromance. Hi guys,
thanks so much for talking to us! And congratulations on making it to the end!
Ronnie Kroell:
Thank you very much.
Ben DiChiara: Thank you! I
appreciate it.

AE: Ronnie, I have the privilege of doing bookend interviews with you.
I got to talk to you before you went in the house and now again as you’re
coming out.
[laughs] Yeah, that’s awesome. And I just want to say thank you to
everyone at AfterElton. I’ve been on the site and seen the "Save
Ronnie" banners and everything. That really means a lot.

AE: We were all big fans.
Thank you. You guys even had those up-to-the-minute blow-by-blows of
each episode.

AE: The liveblogs? Yeah, they were great. Are you wearing your Bronnie
At the moment, no, but I was definitely just sporting it yesterday. [laughs] I work out with
No, actually I’m wearing what I wore last night. [laughs]

AE: So how was the experience? Was it pretty much what you expected?
What surprised you most about being on a reality show?
I think what surprised me the most about being on the show is that I’m
walking away learning major life lessons. Not just how to become a better
model, but just how to become a better person, if that makes sense. I’m
definitely walking away not taking anything for granted.
BD: I’d have to say it wasn’t at all what I expected. I didn’t
really know what to expect, because I wasn’t a really big reality TV buff. I
just went in there with an open mind to see what would happen, and just tried
to do the best that I could.

AE: There is a stereotype that gay men are often more comfortable with
women rather than straight guys, but Ronnie you pretty much fell right in with
the other guys. Was that a conscious choice or is that just how you are?
You know, it’s natural really for me. I was talking to my mom about
this the other day, actually. It’s like ever since I was in grade school and
high school and knew I was gay, I was kind of a chameleon. I kind of went back
and forth between the different groups in school. I have my girl friends, but I
have my guy friends, too, to this day. I don’t really consider people my gay
friends or my straight friends. They’re just my friends.

AE: Speaking of the girls, they often came across as a little bit
deficient in the personality department, especially compared to the big, bold
male personalities. Were they really as boring as they seemed or was that just

RK: [both laugh] They were
definitely deficient. You can’t edit that. That really happened. [laughs]

AE: Ronnie, when I
interviewed you before filming started, you told me you were glad there
wouldn’t be any gay boys in the house so you wouldn’t be distracted by a
showmance. Well, I guess you didn’t count on Ben.
[laughs] And then there was Ben! [laughs] I have to tell you, he was
probably a distraction in the first several weeks of the show, but then he
became an ally and a rock. When everybody else couldn’t trust people, Ben and I
found trust. We made an agreement from the very beginning to help each other
out and be each other’s support system. He’s become a friend and a brother to me.
I’m going to leave this show knowing I’ve made an incredible friend. I have no
regrets about that whatsoever.

AE: Ronnie, in the reunion show, you said those initial genuine romantic feelings had dissipated, but if Ben had been willing, would you really have gone
there even though he is married?
[laughs] I think I’m going
to let Ben field that question.
Um, I think that’s a negative right there. [laughs] The thing is, I
don’t have a problem with Ronnie’s sexuality or anything like that, so I was
joking around because that’s what I do with my buddies.
I’ll joke around with them and things like that, when you’re comfortable with
somebody you know and that you’re friends with. That’s pretty much what it was.

Yeah, I don’t think the
thought ever crossed my mind. I mean we had fun in like the photo shoots and
stuff, like with the video lookbook for Marithé + Girbaud, it was just having
fun and goofing around. No, never. I don’t think I would ever cross that line.

AE: Bravo really played up
your bromance with Ronnie. Ben, have you had the chance to talk to your wife
about it? How has she responded?

BD: My wife knows that Ronnie and I
are just friends. It’s weird because a lot of people wouldn’t imagine a jail
guard and a gay guy being good friends, but we were. I’m comfortable with who I
am and Ronnie’s comfortable with who he is, and we’re comfortable with each
other. We know the limitations and we know what’s real and what’s not real.
Bravo can portray it any way they want to. They portrayed a lot of things the
way they wanted to. My wife’s fine with it. She likes Ronnie. It is what it is.

AE: What about other folks – friends, family, co-workers?
No, I haven’t spoken to anybody yet. [laughs] But I spoke to my dad,
and it was pretty much just "Oh, we’re proud of you, and miss you, and
can’t wait for you to get home, and stuff like that."

Ronnie with mother, Charlene (left) & Ben with wife, April

AE: Ben, you’re obviously sexy to a lot of women, which probably isn’t
that big a surprise to you, but how does it feel knowing so many men find you
sexy and were probably voting to keep you on the show?
It was a good thing to me. Like I said in one of my quotes, I guess
it’s a good thing that a gay guy thinks I’m cute. They’re picky, right? I don’t
know. It’s a good thing that I have a diverse fan base, and it’s not just one
genre of people. It’s not a certain age group or a certain gender. It’s
everything and that’s really cool. And I think it’s cool that I broke some
stereotypes, which I think helped with that. So yeah, I’m thankful for it, and
the gay community’s a strong community, and they’re good people.

AE: And you, Ronnie, are definitely a sex symbol for gay men. How does
that feel?
[laughs] It’s still a little awkward. I went out last night and had
people come up and say, "I’ve been watching the show." It’s an
incredible feeling to know that every Thursday, people have been tuning in to
the show just to watch our progress and see what we’re doing and support us.
Just to be able to follow my dream and have this opportunity, and have so many
people just supporting us, to have that fan base, it’s unlike anything I would
have ever imagined.

If you’d asked me a
couple months ago if I’d be in this position I would have just laughed at you,
but I’m flattered and I just hope I can continue in my career and people will continue
to support me in everything that I’m doing. Who knows what’s around the next
corner for me, but I’m ready to see what opportunities present themselves.

AE: During the snow
challenge, Ben, you started hurling homophobic comments at Ronnie and Casey.
Considering your close friendship, that came as quite a surprise to us viewers.
Where did that come from?

BD: I’m an extremely competitive
person. I was on the SWAT team for the sheriff’s department, so I kind of have
this alpha male mentality. When I was losing, I was like… Well, the gay
comments were not aimed at Ronnie. They were aimed at Casey because he was
saying, "I’m building a snow penis," or whatever, and I was trying to
get into his head. It had no meaning behind it whatsoever.

I probably could have, or
should have, just as easily said, "Dude, that’s weird." Not to
associate gay with anything weird. It was just a bad choice of words. It had no
weight behind it. I was frustrated, I’m
competitive. Ronnie and I spoke about it and got it all ironed out.

AE: Ronnie, I really admired the way you addressed it
later. You made your points about how hurtful those kinds of comments can be
without being confrontational or hysterical. It was great to see that on TV.
Were you conscious of the fact that you were making a point for all the gay
boys who have been called names or were you just speaking from your heart? Or
was it a bit of both?

RK: I think it was very personal to
me because Ben and I were so close and it caught me off guard. Being that I
work with diversity issues back home, I thought it was important that other
people understood that, even though it’s reality television and sometimes things are dramatic and you can fight back with punches, I’d rather
take a minute to think about what had happened and address things calmly and
use it as an opportunity to learn together. I think Ben and I did learn a lot
from that situation and it helped our friendship to mature and grow and become
even stronger.

There are a lot of people
out there who have been treated poorly because they’re gay or because they’re
black or any other difference you can throw out there. It pisses me off that in
2008 this kind of hate crime and discrimination still goes on in our country.
It’s something that is really dear to my heart, and it was emotional and I felt
like we both handled it the best way we could and stay focused on the

AE: Ronnie, before you went
on the show, you said you wanted to be a role model for young gay men. Are you
happy with how you performed and presented yourself?

RK: I am so happy. I’ve been able to
finally get online and read some emails and MySpace messages and it’s been
really just moving for me, people who are fifteen, sixteen, seventeen have
written and said I’ve inspired them to come out or talk to their parents and
things like that. I’ve been able to also watch all the shows, and I was really
happy with how I’ve been portrayed because everything is real just as it

AE: Ben, you were coming into this competition with the least amount of
experience of anyone. Did you feel like you were constantly playing catch-up?
Up to a certain point, I felt as though I was. People had years in the
industry, and I’d only had a couple little bitty things that were
insignificant, so I was definitely playing catch-up. But it made it a little
more challenging and a little more fun for me.

AE: At the reunion show, you two were most often chosen by the judges
as the most improved. Who do you both think improved the most between the two
of you?
I don’t know. We both
changed in different respects. This whole thing, going into this between Ronnie
and myself, we knew that we both had weaknesses and strengths and we were going
to use those to help each other with our weaknesses, not lower ourselves but
bring each other up to a higher level. I feel like that’s what we did
throughout the competition.

AE: Ronnie, how did it feel to have the judges constantly telling you
that you’re too commercial or not versatile enough?

RK: It was really frustrating
because I wanted this so bad and the panel continuously telling me I didn’t
have what it takes to be versatile, it made me want it even more so. But I
didn’t know how to change it, so when I had gone into the bottom and came back,
I asked them if I could do anything to physically change my appearance. That’s
when I got the haircut and shortened my hair and got a little more of an edge,
and proved to them that I had a little bit more versatility then they had
thought I had. When I was able to do that, and got an apology from panel, it
felt really good.

AE: You both ended up in the
bottom a lot, but the voters obviously loved you. How did that affect you? Did
the other models frequently say or imply to your face that you didn’t belong? Did
the votes encourage you, challenge you, or what?

RK: They never vocalized the fact
that they thought that either my friendship or alliance with Ben affected us
getting back into the house or not. Maybe some of them thought it, and I think
probably at the reunion, some of them may have vocalized that a little bit, but
you know what? We made it as far as we did because we worked hard and we
realized that it was a competition not only on the catwalk and the photo
shoots, but it was about a competition involving character. I think Ben and I
had some of the strongest characters. We were there, we were focused, and we
knew what we wanted. We tried not to let any of the other drama get in the way
of what we wanted.

AE: What was your favorite
and least favorite runway challenge?
Least favorite, the farm animals. [both laugh] I’d have to say the one
where I had to carry a goat. And my favorite was fashion week, although the
most fun one was the drama one we did, when we trying to kill Holly? I think
that was my favorite because we had the most fun with it.
RK: Yeah, I think one of the most
difficult challenges was to work with the animals. It was like taking a petting
zoo down the catwalk. [laughs] I think my favorite was probably the Ben Sherman
one where we had to do the turnstile and do three different looks. That was one
of the most challenging, but the one I really feel I did the best at.

AE: What was your favorite
and least favorite photo shoot?
All my favorites are near
the end because that’s when I really came into it, but I think my favorite
would be the last one with the four elements. Probably my least favorite one
was the one in the mansion. I think it was like the fourth week.
RK: I think for me I’d have to say
the tank with the snake. That was the week I’d just gotten back from two weeks
being in the bottom and trying to prove myself, and I felt like that picture
was probably one of my strongest next to working with Sarah Silver and being
suspended in the air. That was pretty cool, too. I think my least I’d have to
go with Ben and say the mansion one with Russ, because I just felt like the
whole picture lacked a lot of energy, and I think for me, it was one of my
worst photos.

AE: Watching the show, it
seemed as if there were three distinct camps in the house. There were the
girls, there was Perry’s room, and there was your room. Was it really as
divided as it seemed?

BD: Not really. It seemed more so
that way because we’d sit in our room because we didn’t want to deal with the
BS and immaturity. The girls just kind of never hung out with the guys, and
Perry and his little minions did their thing.

Ronnie and I just had a different
approach to it where we were going to stay away from all the negativity and all
the stuff that’s just going to aggravate us, with the constant hooting and
hollering and joking around and whatever. We just hung out there, and it was
actually a place a lot of people went to just to talk. It was like a real
confessional, because they walked in that door and we gave them what’s real,
not just what they wanted to hear. It was cool. It wasn’t as divided as it
seemed on television, but it was definitely somewhat divided.
I have to agree with Ben that our room was definitely the comfort zone
of the house. People knew that when they came in there it was somewhere they
could just be themselves. Even some of the guys who were in Perry’s room and
bouncing off the walls all the time, even when they walked in our room, it was
very calming for them, too.

AE: What did you think of
Niki [Taylor] and Tyson [Beckford]? What were they like off camera?

BD: We don’t really know.
RK: We weren’t really allowed to
spend time with the panel outside of being on camera, so we just saw what you
guys saw, pretty much.

AE: At the reunion, it
seemed as if there was some tension between Niki and Tyson. Was that just my

RK: [laughs] BD: I think there might have been a
little bit there. It was a mixture of them always going against each other
on panel for the last three months and then probably just wanting to be done
with it, the same as us.
That and panel does have its favorites, you know? It was obvious that
Tyson really cared and looked after Perry. I’m sure that personal favorites
came into play, and they had a difference of opinion that definitely came out.

AE: So you guys did feel that there was definitely some favoritism
going on?
RK: Yeah, it was pretty blatant.
BD: You could tell which ones didn’t
like you, which always sucked.
RK: And it changed from week to
week, too, as we improved. At the beginning of the show, I was told that when
the panel saw the pictures of the contestants they were like, "Hell no!
There’s nothing we can do for these kids." Towards the end of the show,
they definitely changed their outlook, and when we went to the Matthew Rolston gallery opening for our last photo
shoot, they came up to each and every one of us and just said, "You guys
all really deserve to be here and it’s been amazing to go on this journey with
you," so they really did appreciate the growth that we all made and the
progress that we made.

AE: Who do you think was
sent home too early?

RK: I think Aryn was definitely sent
home too early. I think she could have gone a lot farther and had a lot of
potential to grow. America
sent her home too early.
I agree with that. I also think Sarah shouldn’t have gone home the very
first week.

AE: Did Holly deserve to win?
BD: That’s a little bit of a loaded
question, there, isn’t it? [laughs] I felt as though she had a lot of passion
for it, but she was not what I would define as a supermodel. I think any of the
three guys would have had a jump on her as far as being a supermodel and being
able to do certain things. But she won it, so I really can’t say anything about
her because America
thought she deserved to win and that’s what counts.

AE: So what’s next for you guys? Are you going to keep pursuing
Definitely. My plans are to go back to Tennessee, try to sell my house, then we’re
moving out here. Meanwhile, before all that happens, come up here and look for
places, look for work, look for an agency, stuff like that. Yeah, I’m hitting
it full force.

AE: Ronnie, what about you? Are you going to keep pursuing modeling?
Absolutely! I’ve pursued it this far and it’s an incredible industry
that provides so many different opportunities for me. I wouldn’t give it up for
anything. I love the spontaneity of it. Initially, I was going to jump right
into moving to New York, but I need to think
about that, because I think my look is definitely better suited to catalog and
maybe a little editorial, so Miami is a great
place for that. L.A, and Chicago have a great catalog industry as well.
There’s a lot of money to be made, and a lot of experience to be gained there.
So I have a lot of thinking to do.

AE: Ronnie, do you still have political aspirations?
I do. I think that’s down the road. I need to finish my Bachelor’s
degree and take it from there. I’ve worked on some campaigns. I worked for the
attorney general back home in Illinois
and I’ve done a lot of that stuff. I want to get involved in legislation. I’m
intrigued by how all that works, crafting legislation and protecting rights, so
I want to learn more about that.

AE: Do you foresee the two
of you staying close outside the show?

Both: Definitely.
BD: I mean, we’ve been through things nobody can understand besides ourselves,
through the show and what we’ve been through. We were there with each other
every day, so we’re really the only ones who understand each other and what
we’ve been through. We can tell anybody else what happened and they won’t
understand because they didn’t go through it. We’ve all been through the
gauntlet together and we all came out. It’s definitely a lifelong friendship
that’s been formed.