Interview with Hawaii’s beautiful Cherry Lei: Professional model, dancer, rising island star

Danny de Gracia interviews one of Hawaii’s fastest rising stars in the field of modeling, Cherry Lei. Photo: Cherry Lei/Photo by Chester Lee Dauz

WAIKIKI, November 29, 2012 ― Upon visiting Hawaii for the first time, Mark Twain famously said “no land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one; no other land could so longingly and beseechingly haunt me sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same.”

Inseparable from Hawaii’s charm are its unforgettably beautiful local women, many of whom have gone on to become successful Hollywood actresses, models, singers and even nationally elected leaders. I had the chance to interview one such incredible local woman and rising star, none other than the very stunning import auto model and professional dancer, Cherry Lei.

Known for her mesmerizing 1950s-style of classic automobile pin-up modeling and her soul-piercing stares which leap out of a photo, Cherry Lei is one of Hawaii’s most unique, beautiful and popular local models. We talked earlier this week and had an enlightening discussion about what life as a model is like and what the keys to her heart are. Here now is a transcript, with light edits for clarity and style.

Danny de Gracia: Cherry, tell us a little bit about yourself and what it’s like being a model and a go-go dancer. When did you first get started and what got you interested in this particular career?

Cherry Lei:  Actually I’m from Hilo, Hawaii. It’s a very small town, but I moved to Oahu a couple of years ago. Basically it was too slow and there was nothing there for me, so when I got here, I loved to dance, I was just dancing everywhere I would go and so when started going out with people here, I would just pretty much clear the dance floor! (Laughs)

DDG: Right!

Lei: I’d say “Move out of my way, I want the dance floor!” and some of my girls knew the promoters, so they told me to audition to go-go and it took me awhile to be comfortable with testing it, but once I did which was at the Oceans Club, they offered me a spot and within a few months I decided to do a couple gigs here and there.

The modeling actually started because the import car scene includes a lot of go-gos so I started getting a lot of suggestions to do modeling, take a few photo shoots, which I was very uncomfortable, it was not something that was just me … I felt that I wasn’t pretty enough, like, “No, I’m not that kind of girl” but the more I did it, the more comfortable I got and it’s just been building since then.

DDG: A lot of our readers aren’t familiar with what it’s like being a professional model and being on camera. I know that it’s something that’s a lot harder than it seems. But, uh –

Lei: Mmm-hmm.

DDG: Could you tell us what it’s like being on camera and what it’s like at these photo shoots? What exactly happens? How do those work?

Lei: Ah, well you know it’s still kind of nerve wrecking for me sometimes. It’s very … you really gotta get to know your photographer and get comfortable with that, at least for me. You just gotta practice and always study prior scenes and photo shoots. It comes with practice, I’m still learning.

DDG: Well you do so well at it! What’s your secret to looking good?

Lei: (Laughs) I don’t know! Basically just being comfortable with who I’m shooting with and getting pumped up for it. Lately I’ve been creating my own. I like the pin-up type so I’ve been taking photos with classic cars and been creating my own outfit.

DDG: Well you definitely look great with the classic cars, you have a real talent for that.

Lei: Thank you! It’s my favorite.

DDG: One of the things that really seems to stand out to me, especially with your style is the dramatic facial expressions that uh (laughs) you have and that …

Lei: (Laughs)

DDG: … that you have and that other models have. So just how do you do that? What’s the secret? That certain stare or lip-biting smile, I notice a lot of models bite their lips when they smile …

Lei: (Laughs)

Too hot to handle, too cold to hold: Cherry Lei is one of Hawaii’s most unforgettably beautiful models and a rising industry star. (Photo by Oseas Dagdag with

DDG: What’s the secret to that “wow factor” in the photo? How do you do that?

Lei: I think it just comes naturally, but a lot of girls practice the facial expressions at home taking pictures of themselves, especially with Instagram and Facebook.

DDG: So what do you do, you take a picture of yourself and you just keep doing it?

Lei: I practice and take pictures of myself and maybe twenty pictures of the same thing and then after all that you find the right face and you actually learn and get feedback from it, so you kinda learn.

DDG: Got it.

Lei: You know when you’re working with a photographer they give you the feedback, so they’ll say, “Wow, that face right there!” and so all the photographers I’ve worked with, they’ve given me advice and the poses. I’ve learned a lot.

DDG: Well I guess it takes a lot of creativity.

Lei: Yeah. A lot of creativity.

DDG: You gotta have originality! So now what would you say is the most rewarding thing about being a model?

Lei: Just meeting all sorts of people. I’ve been lucky in networking with a lot of people in that industry and the entertainment businesses and it’s just so much fun being invited and doing certain promotional work. It opens up so many doors to other areas.

DDG: Right. Well you know that’s a competitive industry that you’re in and that especially in modeling relationships must be really important, especially for people like yourself. When it comes to personal relationships it must be really, really critical. So what are some of the things that you look for in friends and the people that you get close to because I’m guessing that you must need a lot of support being a model.

Lei: Mmm-hmm. Well, being from Hilo, I really need real people. I try to be a really humble person, so that’s the kind of people I want to stick around.

DDG: Minimum drama?

Lei: Right. Minimal drama, and yeah, I’ve been good at hanging out with a group of people and sticking with those that just keep it real.

DDG: No that’s good advice.

Lei: People that are honest, that don’t create so much drama. And I’m friends with everyone, I don’t hate on other people. I also keep it professional and I’m nice to people.

DDG: So is it true that being a model that you get more heartbreaks? Is there any truth to that?

Lei: From experience I think so (laughs) … I think it makes it more difficult … but I do believe it’s more difficult for people who are in the limelight because it’s a lot to support.

DDG: Absolutely right about being in the limelight. Just like elected politics and being in the media. So for the benefit of our guys reading this, what are some of the things that you think makes a guy attractive?

Lei: Being outgoing, friendly but not too aggressive or pushy. Not constantly attacking you to date. (Laughs)

DDG: (Laughs) Is that a problem in your profession? Do you get a lot of “attacking” people?

Lei: Well just very aggressive. And they are confident but a little too much, but I really just want someone who wants to be your friend and I want someone who dances every now and then. I love a dancer.

DDG: Sounds like you’re looking for a classic guy, just like the classic cars you pose with.

Lei: Right? (Laughs)

DDG: So let’s talk a little bit about fashion? How would you describe your fashion when you’re not on camera and just hanging out and being you? Do you have any favorite designers or brands?

Lei: I’m very casual. I’m a jeans and tank top kind of girl, that’s just me. I love to get dressed up once in awhile but on the off days I just love being very casual. For brands I like Bebe, Betsey Johnson and I love Jeffrey Campbell shoes!

DDG: What’s your favorite color to wear?

Lei: Red and black.

DDG: It’s a good combination! Now some girls are picky about this – do you prefer wearing diamonds or pearls?

Lei: Oh, I would love diamonds. They’re a winner!

DDG: So I gotta ask. Are you an Android, iPhone or BlackBerry kind of girl?

Lei: iPhone! Definitely. I love my iPhone. I’m glued to my iPhone. I’ve tried a Droid and they’re just too confusing to me.

DDG: Do you have the latest iPhone 5?

Lei: Not yet, unfortunately! I tend to break my phones pretty easily, so I don’t want to upgrade yet.

DDG: I have an iPhone 4S. I really like it. Well after this interview you never know, Apple might just see this article and make you a spokesmodel or something!

Lei: Oh I hope! That would be awesome.

DDG: So when you’re just on your own and you want to unwind, what is that Cherry does to get some “you” time?

Lei: Me time? Sleep is the best. I like to listen to Pandora, but really resting at home and sleeping is the best.

DDG: Nothing wrong with that. A lot of our readers haven’t been to Hawaii before. Is there any place you recommend they hang out at?

Lei: Hmm. The beach! Lanikai Beach is really pretty. I love going there when I can.

DDG: That was rated one of the top beaches in the United States, actually.

Lei: Yes, it’s beautiful. They should also visit Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. There’s also always the clubs, I’m always down at the clubs.

DDG: During the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference last year when all the international visitors, foreign dignitaries and U.S. officials came down, did you see a lot of VIPs at the clubs?

Lei: Uh … no?

DDG: But, then again at the club scene everyone claims to be a VIP.

Lei: Exactly! (Laughs) I guess that’s why everyone looks the same to me there. But also, that aside, I love to go to farms and zoos in my spare times. I love animals. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from UH in Animal Science. And other than that, there’s also playing video games. I love Call of Duty. I’m not very good at it, but when I do play, I’m addicted to it!

DDG: I love Call of Duty too. I still haven’t had a chance to play Black Ops II yet because I’ve been so busy with politics. So is there anything in closing you’d like to say to our readers in D.C.?

Lei: Our world has become so dependent on technology and its driving our world so far apart. No matter what, don’t forget about the ones who are right there beside you.


We greatly appreciate Ms. Lei for the opportunity to interview her. For more information about her, visit her official Facebook fan page here and follow her on Twitter.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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