From Serbia to high school dropout to ‘Next Top Model’

For Mirjana Puhar, life’s path has taken her from Serbia to Charlotte, from a childhood as a war refugee to an adolescence as a high school dropout, from a job at McDonald’s to a gig competing against 14 other pretty faces on The CW’s “America’s Next Top Model.”

The long-running reality competition series’ 21st season premiere aired Monday and will be rebroadcast at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Puhar – who turned 19 in July but was 18 when the episodes were filmed earlier this year – is the youngest member of the cast, and among the shortest (at 5 feet 91/2 inches) competing for the grand prize: a modeling contract, a magazine spread and a $100,000 Guess campaign.

She also is the first North Carolina resident on the show since Katherine “Kathy” Hoxit of Brevard in 2006.

After our interview with her at the offices of The CW affiliate WCCB on Monday, we compiled a list of the top 10 things you’ll want to know about the perky, plucky Puhar.

1 It’s pronounced “Meer-ee-ah-na” – but she’s heard it all, from the obvious (“Mir-john-ah”) to the seedy (“Marijuana”). “It’s OK,” Puhar says, laughing. “I’m used to it by now.”

2 She was born on July 27, 1995, in Srmeska Mitorvica, a Serbian city that sits on the left bank of the Sava River.

3 After the Kosovo War, when she was about 5, her family fled the country and ended up in New York City. Her parents had about $50 to their names. They came to North Carolina about 10 years ago and today, her father is an electrician, her mother works at a restaurant and her 14-year-old brother is a freshman at East Mecklenburg High School.

4 Puhar has been modeling off and on since she was 12, but really got serious at 17. Most of her pre-“ANTM” experience was with Charlotte modeling centers such as Barbizon and John Casablancas (both of which she does not speak highly of), and during runway shows at Charlotte Fashion Week (which she does).

5 She attended East Meck and then Queen’s Grant High School in Mint Hill before dropping out midway through 10th grade, at age 16. She skipped school regularly, got into fights sporadically, and was constantly on the principals’ radars. “I was a wild child,” she says. “I went out, had fun, partied, whatever – I didn’t really have the best influences around me.” When her parents learned she was quitting, they were furious.

6 But they were thrilled when she had a change of heart. Puhar decided she wanted the option of going to college, so she ditched the trouble-making crowd and earned her GED at Central Piedmont Community College last fall – right before learning she had been cast on the reality show.

7 She and her stylist, Belle Sansone, pulled pieces from Neiman Marcus in SouthPark mall to take to LA for “ANTM,” and also borrowed items from the wardrobe of Amelie’s A French Bakery owner Brenda Ische, who has “a beautiful collection of vintage clothing,” Sansone says.

8 Puhar finds love on “ANTM” – sort of. “There’s definitely a romantic interest that you’re gonna see on the show with me and one of the boys,” Puhar says (half of the contestants are male). But when asked if she has a boyfriend, she smiles and says: “No, not currently.”

9 She wants to be in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. “Who wouldn’t?” she says. “They’re hot, they have good bodies, they’re walking runways, they’re making tons of money. They’re amazing.”

10 We don’t know all of her secrets. “I don’t want people dabbling in my personal life, and I’m pretty sure they’re gonna do that after seeing the show,” Puhar says. “Once you watch the show, and you see what they get into, and what I speak about ... then I’m pretty sure they’re gonna try to get into (my past).”