Anyone who recalls the first season of Make Me a Supermodel in 2008 undoubtedly knows Ronnie Kroell — the out, proud and mega-hot contestant who made an indelible mark in a genre famous for the likes of Snooki, The Situation, and those darn Kardashians. Kroell, however, stands out -- not just as another ‘up-and-comer,” but more of an authentic “here-I-comer.”

Sure, he’s as handsome as they get (he was a featured model in Playgirl’s June 2010 issue), but there’s something way more substantial about this debonair dude than simply what catches the eye.

Beneath that tan, toned exterior is a deeply compassionate nature that’s every bit as appealing. For this, he credits his mother.

“My mom was a single parent,” he says, detailing how she would often do without to put the needs of her son first during his childhood in Chicago. Not the least of these efforts was his solid education.

“I had one of the best educations,” he says, “and she worked her ass off to even make that … possible, so I’ve always appreciated everything I’ve been given and been blessed to have, and I try and do my part to give back.”

It’s exactly this understanding that has made him into the man he’s become.

“I love my father — he’s a great guy,” Kroell says, “but I was raised by women, to be honest — my mother and my grandmother.”

Specifically, he says, “I was raised by very tough women who always fought for the underdog. If we were out and someone was being picked on or being made fun of, either my mom or my grandma didn’t think twice about standing up for them.”

This taught him from the start that “It’s important to get to learn about someone before making judgments.” He says that even in his early years, he volunteered in a program called Church Kids.

“My second-grade teacher organized it, and we would go every Friday and clean the entire church from top to bottom. We also did soup-kitchen work and things of that nature, so even as an only child, I was very grounded,” he says.

It was around this time that Kroell discovered the joys of performing.

“In my first-grade class, I was the partridge in a pear tree during my school’s Christmas play,” he says with a laugh. “Every time they said partridge in a pear tree, I’d pop out with my little beak and feathers and just kind of jump around and be silly.”

It’s clear that the most thrilling moment for him in this memory was how his family greeted him afterward with such pride and enthusiasm.

“It was so exciting, because they gave me a big hug and encouraged me. That’s always been the great thing about my family,” he explains. “The craziest things that I wanted to do — even if they didn’t necessarily agree, they’d always say, ‘Let’s try it out and if it’s what you really want, then we’re gonna support you in it.’”

Over the years, this has included everything from playing basketball, to learning to juggle, to “calling my mom up and saying ‘Hey, I think I’m gonna do the cover of Playgirl. What d’ya think?’”

He may chuckle, but the close, supportive connection he maintains with his parents is refreshingly apparent. “It’s kind of cool that I can have that candid relationship with them and that we can talk through everything,” he says.

Kroell was one of 14 contestants vying for the top prize of $100,000 and a modeling contract as part of the inaugural season of Make Me a Supermodel. The competition took place over 12 weeks, and it quickly became a ratings giant for Bravo TV. Kroell himself found fast popularity among the series’ devoted fans. In the final episode, he was named first runner-up. He continues to be among the most-recognized and sought-after of all those featured on the show’s two seasons.

Not coincidentally, he has had plenty of key modeling assignments, such as the covers of both Instinct and Next magazines. He recognizes how fortunate he is to have been part of that program, but he also knows that it takes more than a winning smile and six-pack abs to stay out there and involved.

He has made an effort to be active in the local community.

“Outside of acting and modeling, I love to go to universities and high schools and speak about acceptance and following your dreams,” Kroell says. He helped to celebrate Diversity Month at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut in September, giving a talk on his positive philosophy.

“If I can help in any way just by sharing a story or voicing my own experiences,” he says, “then that really means the world to me.”

A one-time political science major, he has worked in politics — first back in Chicago with Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Richard Daley, then in New York with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“It really excites me to see the work that they’re doing with legislation and getting to be part of that lawmaking process. Anything that can make people’s lives better is something I’m interested in,” says Kroell.

Among other opportunities the show has brought him have been several feature films, particularly last summer’s popular Eating Out 4: Drama Camp. But how did it feel stepping into the already groundbreaking film series?

“Getting to work on the film was really incredible,” he says. “I’m really proud to have gotten to work with — and also learn from — writer-director Allan Brocka and the rest of the team.”

Kroell plays Beau, a sexy but slightly rough-around-the-edges hunk who develops a crush on Daniel Skelton’s returning protagonist, Casey.

“Beau is one of those guys that you want to root for because he’s just so naive and so like a little puppy dog that follows you around,” Kroell says with a smile. “Plus, he’s just so head-over-heels and smitten with Casey’s character, you’re rooting for him to get what he wants.”

This led to a featured role opposite Jesse Archer in Into the Lion’s Den — a gay-themed thriller filmed in Pennsylvania last summer, even as Eating Out 4 was making a big impact across the LGBT film-festival circuit.

Kroell recently relocated to the West Coast to expand his acting career even further. He says that whatever he does, he does it with heart.

Eating Out 4: Drama Camp is now on DVD from Ariztical Entertainment. For more information or to order, go to eatingoutmovies.blogspot.com. For more information about Kroell and his latest projects, go to www.ronniekroell.com.

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