There is a plan: for Adela-Mae Marshall to lay amongst a pile of vinyl records, embroidered pillows, and soft throw blankets, barefoot, casually strumming a wooden ukelele. It's meant to evoke the calm of a Sunday afternoon, when Adela is finally by herself—when she is, finally, herself. But it's only a scene, because all around her, stylists, managers, editors, and photo-videographers are busybodying away, a veritable tornado surrounding an eye of faux peace-and-quiet. She transitions from pose to pose like it's a dance, every movement fluid, every adjustment of a wayward hem or cowlick effortless. It's a stark contrast from the high-pressure stakes she took on in Cycle 6 of Asia's Next Top Model. Today, even in the chaos, it's almost like nobody else is here—just Adela and a camera that loves her.
"Modeling wasn't really taking off for me back then, and that was part of the reason I wanted to join the show in the first place."
Many came to know Adela, of course, as an aspirant on AsNTM, where she placed second to Dana Slosar of Thailand. "Modeling wasn't really taking off for me back then, and that was part of the reason I wanted to join the show in the first place. Now, when I look back, it was one of the best times of my life. I met so many great people, and so many new paths for my career have come around." She's since gone on to numerous modeling opportunities in the country, including being a Careline endorser, but she wants people to see her more than just a walking advertising space. "What's great about modeling now is I get to talk to people about the brands I wear," Adela says. "It's not, 'Okay, she's a hanger wearing a piece of clothing.' Now it's 'I want to know what she's like. What other pieces would she style that with?'"
On being criticized for not being Pinay enough: "We have to stop taking at face value what a nationality or ethnicity is. I have a foreign parent and a Filipina parent, but that doesn't make me less of either one."
Adela interacts with fans on the regular, from Instagram Live to chat groups with her fans, where they cheer her on through the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly. "I was really lucky during AsNTM that I didn't get that many bad comments on social media. Filipino fans are so loyal. They really had my and Jach [Manere]'s back. There were some haters, but it was more my friends and family who would get worked up. "'Tell her! You're gonna let her say that? You know it's not true!' they'd say," Adela laughingly recalls. "'It's okay, I know it's not true, and you know it's not true, it's fine!'"
She's especially supportive of the fans who've been there for her even before AsNTM. "I'm like their ate. It's nice to not feel so distant. I know what it's like to be a fan of someone, so I want to make that constant effort."
Despite the success she's achieved, naysayers have questioned her validity as a representative of the Philippines, both in AsNTM and beyond. It's a complex dilemma involving identity that has plagued the likes of Kelsey Merritt and Pia Wurtzbach. If a Filipina with a foreign-sounding last name and Eurocentric features shines on a global stage, is she to be celebrated any less than a full-blooded Filipina? Adela is firm on her response, asserting, "We have to stop taking at face value what a nationality or ethnicity is. I have a foreign parent and a Filipina parent, but that doesn't make me less of either one. I used to tell people, 'I'm half-British and half-Filipino.' But the more I said it, I began to dislike saying 'half' because it's like I'm less than a whole. Why do I have to be split between two? Why can't I be both? At the end of the day, I represented the Philippines, and I wouldn't have represented the Philippines if I didn't feel strongly [about being a] Filipina."
Her dream modeling gigs have since evolved over time, too. "The more jobs I've done, the more I know what I'm comfortable with," she muses. "When I first started [modeling], everyone wanted to do Victoria's Secret. But now, I think something I'd love to do is collaborate with a brand. I've never experienced designing, but I want to understand more about what that process is like and have a clothing line of my own."
Recently, Adela signed with GMA Artist Center. "I'm sure there's more to go [in my modeling career], but acting really drew me in because it's closely linked to modeling in that I take on a different character. It's interesting to look at it in that perspective."
What most people don't know is that Adela got her start in the spotlight not with a camera, but with a microphone. Her parents' diverse and eclectic tastes in music helped spur her musical inclinations forward. "When I was six, I asked for a guitar. At some point in life, I became obsessed with Taylor Swift. How do you become Taylor Swift? You have a guitar!" she laughs. Adela blushes when she recalls the songs she wrote based off of Backstreet Boys melodies where she'd add her own lyrics. "I knew I could sort of carry a tune, but I didn't really think, 'Oh, I'm good enough to be a singer,' until I joined a school competition and won.
On being a K-pop fangirl: "I'm gonna out myself. I've tried so hard not to let people know how big of a fangirl I am! I've been sucked in since 2014."
"When I was living in England I had joined a few competitions and I had started uploading covers, but nothing professional. Moving to the Philippines, I was lucky enough to record a debut song and then release that and promote that around the country." Her music career's been on the back burner ever since her modeling career took center stage, but she still takes the time to fangirl over her favorite K-pop groups, including BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO, and Seventeen. "I'm gonna out myself. I've tried so hard not to let people know how big of a fangirl I am! (laughs) I've been sucked in since 2014."
Despite the demands of her schedule and her burgeoning career, how does a self-proclaimed introvert like Adela navigate under the public eye? With difficulty, she admits. "Everyone who knew me kind of questioned [my decision to be a model] because I was so shy. I was the type who wouldn't speak to people unless they spoke to me first. I don't make eye contact when I speak," she confesses. During one of her first-ever shoots, Adela took it upon herself to create a Beyoncé-like alter ego to get through the day. "'If it's 'someone else' doing it, then I can't be self-conscious. I can leave her at work, then I can go home and be Adela,' is what I used to think. I don't consciously think about that now, but there's definitely still a routine where I 'turn on' at work, and then when I go home, I'm myself again. It helps me overthink less."
On creating an alter-ego to deal with her introversion: "If it's 'someone else' doing it, then I can't be self-conscious. I can leave her at work, then I can go home and be Adela."
When the day is done and Adela's back in the safety of her quiet room, she likes to kick back and watch K-pop "crack" videos and Skype with friends—and she takes special delight in doing errands by herself. 'If I don't have to leave my house, I won't. Going grocery shopping is considered 'going out' for me. I'll put on nice clothes. If I put makeup on that day, it's an accomplishment!" It's a marvel to see a girl who revels in her solitude bloom just as beautifully when all eyes are on her. In a way, it's precisely that solitude that gives her the energy to bloom in the first place.
Now that Adela's forged many paths for herself—a real-life Choose Your Own Adventure with hard-earned, happy endings in store—she's taking the pressure off. "I used to be someone who really wanted a plan. I wanted to know exactly what comes next. But I find that puts unnecessary pressure on me," she says, speaking to herself more than us. "You'll start to ask, 'Why am I here, while someone else I started with has gone further?' I have a more relaxed approach now. When you don't expect too much, you can't be disappointed." And then, out of nowhere, Adela recalls a joke.
What's the best way to make God laugh?
Tell Him your plans.
We laugh together in the shared knowledge that life will always be unpredictable, no matter how meticulously we build our roads. It's that optimistic realism that will no doubt carry Adela-Mae Marshall for the rest of her sparkling, wondrous career.
Shot on location at the Makati Diamond Residences.
Follow Chandra on Twitter and Instagram.
PRODUCED BY: Jacinda A. Lopez
CO-PRODUCED BY: Lily Tabanera
ART DIRECTOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: Jico Joson
ART DIRECTION ASSISTED BY: Mixi Ignacio
SHOOT COORDINATOR: Lou Ferrer
SOCIAL MEDIA: Andie Estella
SITTINGS EDITOR: Jillian Gatcheco
ASSISTANT SITTINGS EDITOR: Lily Tabanera
HAIR: Mark Rosales
MAKEUP: Anthea Bueno
STYLING: Carl Pabilona of Qurator
SET STYLING: Beam Mariano