Yoanna: 'Top Model' Was 'Grueling'

03/24/2004 AT 01:55 PM EST

Yoanna House, 23, a babysitter from Jacksonville, Fla., was crowned "America's Next Top Model" by Tyra Banks on the UPN show Tuesday night -- a win that comes with a contract with IMG Models, a spread in Jane magazine and a Sephora cosmetics catalogue cover.

Runners-up on the show were Mercedes Shorte-Scelba, whom the judges labeled "too commercial," and Shandi Sullivan, who was found to be unable to withstand the professional pressure.

House tells PEOPLE that facing her rivals on the show "was intense. It was grueling. You're thrown in and then you're competing, you're living with 12 girls and you're trying to get along."

As for why Banks, 30, believes the top honor went to House, the supermodel (and producer of the show) tells PEOPLE: "In the end, we just saw that she was really focused. Any type of criticism that I gave her, she took it."

House, who was once a very full-figured girl and shed 60 lbs. over two years with diet and exercise, says she developed a thick skin to take criticism because, as a kid, "I was chubby."

As Banks says, "Who cares what you do in front of your mom and your friends? It's how you handle the people that are in charge, your bosses and the people that are giving her that criticism." She adds: "Also, the fact that (Yoanna) really loved fashion and she really understood it. She knew designers that I didn't know. That impressed me."

As for what the future might hold, House says, "If I could have a career that emulates Kate Moss, that would be like the all-time dream."

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