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More Than Meets the Eye

The Boy Next Door

By Toccara Castleman • June 20, 2008
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        He’s addicted to reality TV shows. Yes, this is the wildest guilty pleasure I was able to drag out of Jaizen, a model who’s been in the industry for 10 years.
        I met him on a rainy Friday night at Tillman’s in New York City and in true gentlemanly fashion he stood waiting for me with a welcoming smile and friendly hug.
        In a sense, the atmosphere is exactly what you would expect. All the waiters in the lounge seem to know him, the fellas give him respectful nods, and the women steal quick glances, but he himself defies all the stereotypical pitfalls of the “male model.” Far more polite than he is pretentious, Jaizen is more reminiscent of the boy next door, than the pretty boy with an empty shell one might peg him to be at first glance.
        He’s 29, 6’2”, was raised in a tough section of Queens Village, New York, and never had childhood dreams of being a model.
        “I never even thought about it, there were so many other things going on around me,” says Jaizen. “I didn’t even think that I was going to make it out [of this neighborhood].”
        His Chinese mother and Afro-Cuban father gave him and his sisters up for adoption to an African American family when Jaizen was three, but he was able to keep in regular contact with his biological parents. 
        With loving parents from all facets it seemed that his life would pan out like any other. But a chance meeting with Hillory Beckford, mother of Supermodel Tyson Beckford, would change his life forever.
        “I was like, modeling? Umm, I don’t know. But let’s just say once I saw how much I could gain from it, I quickly changed my mind,” he says laughing.
        The music rises in Tillman’s and the story begins to take an interesting turn. Under Beckford’s direction, he received work from noteworthy designers, such as Maurice Malone and Tommy Hilfiger, and was able to move out of Queens.
        Capitalizing off his ambiguous ethnic features, Jaizen booked work in various runway shows and print ads. He also appeared in R & B singer Mya’s video “Moving On.”
         For a time, he seemed to have it all, but tragedy struck when his adoptive mother died of breast cancer. Jaizen was forced to make the unenviable decision of attending her funeral or grabbing an opportunity that had just presented itself.
        “I didn’t go to her funeral,” says Jaizen. “I couldn’t even grasp it, and everybody kept urging me on, telling me to do it for her [his adopted mother].”
        So the 19-year-old boarded a plan and moved to Milan to further his career, from where he would travel to Switzerland, Germany, and Paris.
        Yet when he returned to the States he had trouble finding work in New York after the 9/11 attacks. Switching gears he moved to LA where he tried his hand at acting in independent films and commercials.
        A constantly evolving fashion industry and a sudden overrun of models with similar features as Jaizen, caused him to start doing some necessary soul searching.
        “I was 175 pounds and this one agency wanted me to lose weight. I thought to myself—this is crazy.”
        But rather than waif his image to meet industry standards he devised a plan and began to refocus his career goals.
        “The industry is always changing and you have to be ready to change with it. You have to aspire for more aside from modeling because it doesn’t last forever.”
        Spoken like a true professional. Jaizen is back now living in NYC and in his 10th year as a model.  He has scored consistent work with the likes of Hugo Boss, Sean Jean, and Rocawear, and is now shopping around for a new agency to sign.
        Taking his own advice to aspire for more, he and colleague Candice Sonneman, work with Sonneman Productions, where he oversees new business developments and special evens pertaining to fashion and entertainment at different venues around NY. And amidst this, he is active with nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society.
        He’s also in the beginning stages of developing his own clothing line, which will be Euro-urban with Asian influences.
        “It’ll be all that I am.”
        As he’s smiling under the low lights of the lounge, you can’t help but hope that things will work out for the boy next door. 
        I ask him one last question before I leave to go out into the stormy night. What’s been his biggest regret?
        He pauses thoughtfully and then says, “Nothing. I try not to live with regrets because everyday in this life is an adventure.”

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