“It took me a while to register what was happening. A reality show on Zee TV? I grew up watching the channel with my family, and the fact that I had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to star on that channel, I asked, Why me? What made me so special? Mixed emotions hit me with nerves, anxiety, excitement—the unknown. I called my parents, and I’ll never forget their encouraging words. ‘Do it, Kanika. Don’t even think twice.’ Their reassurance, and the fact that this is everything I worked for in Los Angeles, pushed me past my comfort zone to say, Yes! I’m in!”
These are the words of Kanika Lal, contestant of Zee TV’s first ever Hollywood reality show. Called “Made in America,” with 2014 Miss America winner Nina Davulari at the helm as host, the show follows six South Asian millennial women who participate in gruelling physical and mental training as part of the competition. Why? The winner secures a spot on the runway for Andre’ Aquinol Couture New York Fashion Week, a one year modeling contract with a top New York City Modeling Agency, and the opportunity to be cast in an upcoming Bollywood movie.
Set over a period of eight weeks, each episode weeds out a contestant pushing many of the women participating to their limits, be it physically, mentally, or both. We had an opportunity to catch up with Kanika and learn about her own personal reaction to the challenges and what it brought out in her.
Kanika shares, “At first, I was so intrigued by what the show entailed, I wanted to take in every second and make the most out of the several weeks we filmed. I kept reminding myself to show my best and authentic self to others. I soon realized, however, vulnerability and highlighting my weaknesses were the only way to portray who truly am.”
Once Kanika had this epiphany, she says her goal was less about highlighting her strengths only. Rather, as time went on, she felt more comfortable with the idea of showing her weaknesses; doing so would be staying true to herself, yes, but there was another motivation for being open about her self perceived flaws. Kanika felt energized knowing that keeping it real with audience, she would set the tone for every young South Asian girl “to embrace who they are and take pride in what they believed was their weakness or flaw.” She further theorizes that “what you pick on yourself for is the most beautiful thing about you. The most unique. The reason we have this melting pot of a universe.”
In fact it was host Nina Davulari’s advice to contestants to focus on their individuality that really stuck with Kanika. Kanika says of the former Miss USA, “she is a perfect example of someone who had to endure criticism and taunts for winning the Miss America title because she didn’t look “American” enough. The concept of how we are supposed to look and supposed to act remains is only a concept. We are entering a period of time where self-expression is finally accepted. We still have progress, but at least it’s moving forward. I won’t please everyone. “
Though Kanika can say this with confidence now, she is up front that she had to endure many challenges and that her journey of self acceptance was a process, not simply an overnight phenomena.
Starring on the show and whole-heartedly participating in the grueling challenges served as a catalyst for growth and self acceptance. Kanika confesses, “It was very early but, the first fitness challenge hit me harder than expected. I have to admit, watching that scene with the fitness instructor, Scott, on television made me realize that the cameras captured only a fraction of what I was feeling inside. It was obvious I became emotional. But the fact I became a little teary-eyed was unexpected. It was the endorphins from the workout, Scott’s lecture on working hard, and achievement that hit close to home. From school, to jobs, to my overall career, things haven’t come easy. And they still don’t. While I don’t believe in giving up,sometimes feeling less lucky or accomplished as those around me can be hard to deal with. I had to always put in 200 percent to every task, only to receive 2 percent back. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a contestant, I felt stronger and ready to work as hard as I could so that I could feel proud and worthy of what was coming my way.”
When asked what her highest high and lowest low was of starring in the reality show, Kanika explains, “Feeling support from my fellow contestants and everyone involved in MIA was the highest high. The teamwork we felt on and off shooting was significant to me and something I’ll never forget. My lowest low also became my high because I learned to accept myself, and change the way I thought about what a flaw or weakness were. Instead, those are factors that helped me grow and move forward. Being open and vulnerable, especially in front of others, was a challenge, but that is what helped me find my highest high. We all shared the thrill of how far and long we’ve come since the start of the show. And from whatever happened that day onwards, part of who we are and our lives would be forever changed.”
And what does this powerhouse contestment hope the future bring her after the show?
“The future is unknown! Whatever comes my way, I have to welcome it with open arms and roll with it. That being said, I hope to acquire as many on-camera, writing and producing projects I can get my hands on. It’s a goal of mine to star in a Bollywood film. Until that happens, I am achieving my other goals which is being a media personality and storyteller. I’d love to host and produce my own documentary/reality series and start a digital network with original content and information under it. Currently, I’m focusing on a new project on the digital platform, Snapchat, where I am hosting and producing my own show. It’s the future of entertainment and a way to consume information, so I’m excited for the opportunity to be creative.”
Kanika learned how to love herself more and completely after enduring the challenges of the show. When asked about the show itself and what she got from her participation in it, she said she admired its ability to “highlight the beauty of Indian culture, and also showcases what it means to be American. American isn’t classified as one way of looking and acting. America is a mixing and melting pot of culture, religion, politics and art. That’s what makes America strong and truly great. And this show, especially in today’s time, displays that beautifully. It touches upon topics that Southeast Asians face and gives viewers a taste of a different viewpoint and cultural background. MIA breaks the stereotype and classification of what it means to be “beautiful,” and defines beauty as something else. The show defines beauty as a person’s individuality. In addition, the show also touches a lot upon self-love, self-acceptance and living up to your greatest potential – important reminders to always have with us as we go through the journey of life.”
This is a woman with a strong head on her shoulders! We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her. To catch up more on Kanika’s journey, watch Made In America airing every Thursday at 10pm ET/7 pm PT in the USA and 10:30pm in the Caribbean ZEE TV USA/CARIBBEAN.