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Padma Lakshmi, wannabe singer

Mariah Carey plays Lakshmi's backup singer.

Lakshmi: "My character is based on a composite of Apollonia and Vanity from the Prince days. My boyfriend is very powerful and wants to make me a star. He rounds up some girls, and she's one of the backup singers. And of course she has the golden voice."

Yes, Lakshmi sings in the film. "I sing extremely badly, on purpose."

She adds: "Nobody believed that I could really sing. I finally had to hum a tune, to prove that I wasn't tone-deaf. I don't have a four-octave range like Mariah or Whitney (Houston), but I can carry a tune."

Padma Lakshmi has modeled the creations of Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Isaac Mizrahi and Sonia Rykiel in the past six years, and has worked with photographers such as Helmut Newton, Aldo Fallai and Fabrizio Ferri.

Lakshmi, whose first film, The Caribbean, a $ 6 million budget Italian-American venture, has just been completed. Lakshmi wanted to be a model at 17 but her mother said she would still be beautiful at 21 when she would graduate from college.

"She was always right," says Lakshmi, who graduated from Clark University in Worcester in Massachusetts. She used to resent her mother "dragging" her across Tamil Nadu and Kerala to "show her off" to the relatives. "Needless to say, I had quickly become a very irritable girl.