A model runner-up ... on a runway to success.

Molly O'Connell of Charleston lost by the barest of margins to competitor and friend Brittani Koine on Wednesday night in the finals of the CW series "America's Next Top Model."

And it seemed something of an upset given the overwhelmingly favorable remarks of the show's judges in the final moments of evaluation, which had appeared to place Koine at a disadvantage.

O'Connell, 23, is the daughter of attorneys Michael O'Connell and Ann Stirling of Charleston.

"Being on the show has helped me be more confident and optimistic as a person," O'Connell said. "At each stage of the competition, each time I met my goal I'd put it higher. And I try to put humor into everything I do now."

O'Connell attended Stiles Point Elementary, Charleston Catholic and the Charleston County School of the Arts. She transferred to Porter-Gaud in the 10th grade. After graduation, O'Connell spent a year at Brevard College in North Carolina on a partial music scholarship before enrolling at Trident Technical College. Then came the entreaty from "ANTM."

O'Connell is realistic about the often abbreviated career of even the most successful model.

"Modelling is fun, and I like seeing the end result. When you get to the big time, a shoot is such a collaborative thing, with a ton of talented people involved. ... I'm aware that I might not be able to do it for too long, but I would like to stay in the fashion industry in some capacity. Design appeals to me. I know what I like."

Her parents, who appeared on Wednesday's show, are bursting with pride.

"Molly has got a lot of talents," said her father. "She sings really well, plays the euphonium, and is very smart and good-looking, but she is in some respects shy, and this (competition) has been a challenge for her. It's been intriguing to watch her on the show, but my wife and I get nervous every time. That she emerged from this sea of beauty and talent to get to the finals is very impressive."

Stirling said her daughter has never relented in her pursuit.

"We were a little anxious about her when she first went on the show. Waking up in the morning with a camera in your face is not easy. But not only is it amazing how well she did on the show, but what an extraordinary opportunity she had to learn all these modelling methods and tricks from some of the best in the business."

Dealing with the realization that she was adopted, learning to cope with feelings of abandonment and coming to grips with a problem that briefly landed her in rehab all have helped O'Connell attain a new level of maturity.

"I have had a lot of disappointment and hurt in my life, and always expected the worst out of people and situations," she said. "My parents told me as soon as I could understand what being adopted meant. I felt I'd been given away, unwanted. I didn't really understand.

"... My high school and young adult years were not much fun. I was sad and angry at the world and anyone close to me."

All that began to changed at age 20, when she met her birth mother.

"That was a huge eye-opener for me. I was 'Wow, that's how my life could have been.' Her life is pretty rough. I expected this immediate bond between us and it just didn't happen. It made me grateful that I was adopted and grateful for my parents. I realized how good I had it. And I needed that."

But six months after meeting her birth mother, O'Connell succumbed to a bout of depression and anxiety. She would spend the next six months in rehab at Sober Living in Orange County, Calif.

"I smoked pot and was kind of an idiot in high school. Nothing crazy, but I needed therapy. ... I hated it (rehab), but I needed it."

Like any other young person, O'Connell has had her difficulties, said her dad. "She has been through a lot and has come out well. I think she has righted the ship and matured rather dramatically. This experience has helped her because now she's happy about herself," he said.

In July, O'Connell will move to New York where, despite an intensely personal competition on "ANTM," she will room with her sister finalist Brittani Koine.

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