Don't let the girl-next-door looks and demeanor fool you. Saleisha Stowers, the latest winner of "America's Next Top Model," is one tough...

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Don’t let the girl-next-door looks and demeanor fool you. Saleisha Stowers, the latest winner of “America’s Next Top Model,” is one tough cookie.

“It takes a strong black woman to get out there and work the fashion industry,” Stowers said. “And I am a strong black woman.”

Stowers will need to be strong. The modeling world, which The CW’s “Top Model” demonstrates repeatedly, is not for the faint of heart. It also doesn’t seem to be the place where there are many African-Americans.

“I would love to see more African-American faces,” Stowers says. “We are beautiful. There should be more of us on the runway.”

There aren’t, though. And despite her win, Stowers’ well-publicized strut into the world of high fashion has been controversial and somewhat wobbly. Critics groused that the 5-foot-9 former receptionist from California had an unfair advantage over the other contestants because of her previous modeling experience and ties with Tyra Banks, who produces and presides over the show. Stowers attended Banks’ T-Zone camp for girls when she was 14 and reportedly has appeared twice as an extra on Banks’ talk show.

Stowers says she got on the show “fair and square.” Early on in the competition, she defended herself against two housemates who implied through their questioning that she did not deserve to be there. “Honestly it’s a competition,” said Stowers, who was so riled that she leapt onto a bed. “I don’t care who attacks me. I’m here to win, and I probably will.”

She did. With razor-sharp focus, a cheery personality and a knock-’em-dead strut, Stowers took down her competitors one by one, including Bianca Golden, who once called her “almost plus-sized,” and Chantal Jones, a stunning blue-eyed blonde — who many fans thought was a shoo-in to win.

Stowers is the third African-American model to win on the reality show. She received a management deal with Elite Model Management, a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl cosmetics, and the cover and a six-page fashion spread in the January issue of Seventeen magazine.

Still, Stowers knows that winning the TV show does not guarantee career success. You won’t see her on the runway during the upcoming Fashion Week because her agency is not sending her to any castings.

“Saleisha already has commitments including CoverGirl and doing publicity for ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ ” says Jose Covarrubias, her booking agent at Elite. She also needs to become more seasoned, he adds. However, he says, “We will definitely send her to the next one.”

Stowers is up for the challenge. ” ‘America’s Next Top Model’ is only a door-opener,” she says. “I know it is up to me to make my career.”

The next cycle of “ANTM” starts Feb. 20.