They've strutted down runways, belted out tunes and shared their most difficult battles with a few million of their closest friends. A few even got famous. And they all spent time right here on the First Coast. Meet reality stars with Jacksonville ties.
Photo © Getty Images/Rob Loud
What are the odds? The First Coast boasts two America's Top Model winners! And Atlantic Beach's Whitney Thompson truly beat the oft-catty fashion world odds by sashaying right past her pole-thin competitors to become the show's first so-called "plus size" winner. Her size 10 (industry standard runs size 0-2), "real girl curves," strong presence and Marilyn Monroe-like sultriness prompted the show's runway coach and judge J. Alexander called "one beautiful, juicy girl. Thompson, a Fletcher High School Graduate, landed a $100,000 CoverGirl contract and representation by Elite Model Management. Surely the moment was sweet vindication for Thompson, who had been offered modeling contracts for years on the stipulation that she lost 30 pounds.
Photo © Getty Images/Carlo Allegri
Jacksonville-born-and-raised Yoanna House was the first local to claim the America's Next Top Model title in 2004. The Bishop Kenny High School graduate attended the University of North Florida, majoring in international relations and Asian studies before making a serious move toward a modeling career. The 5'-11" green-eyed beauty says she dabbled in fashion modeling prior to the show, but found her options limited until she adopted a healthy diet and exercise plan and shed 45 pounds. Today, House is signed with IMG Models in New York, hosts the Style Network's "The Look for Less" and the N's summer reality series "Queen Bees," which aims to help reform girls deemed not very nice by those who know them best.
Photo © Getty Images/Marsaili McGrath
She didn't get the guy. So she penned a little ditty about him aptly titled "Waste My Time" and moved on with her life. Since her unceremonial ousting from the show, Jacksonville Beach native Ashlee Williss (now living in Los Angeles) has focused on her first love: music. The singer/songwriter has landed a string of enviable gigs, including appearances backstage at The Grammys, The American Music Awards, The Country Music Awards, ESPYs, an Oscar party, NAACP Image Awards, Palms Playboy Party, Comedy Festival, Sundance Film Festival and more. Forget the rose-that future Grammy Award will do just fine, thank you.
Photo © Getty Images/Michael Buckner
It all started with wedding day plans gone awry. Navy duty forced Orange Park's Phil Stacey to bail on his best man duties at his close friend's wedding. Forgiveness came with one stipulation: That Stacey audition for American Idol. And it just got crazier from there. Navy duties again kept Stacey from the Birmhingham, Ala. audition, so he made his try in Memphis, Tenn.-and missed the birth of his second daughter (he had missed his first daughter's birth while at boot camp as well.) Some might have seen it all as a bad omen. But Stacey, who was stationed in Jacksonville at the time of his audition, kept the faith, made it to the top six and released his first self-titled album in April 2008.
Evicted from CBS' Big Brother 2 house in the second episode, Sheryl Braxton remains one of the show's most memorable contestants. Weeks after her departure the Ponte Vedra Beach resident was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Rather than sink into private dispair, Braxton fought back in a very public way making a second Big Brother appearance in a 2-hour special featuring an interview with Dr. John Harris, her reconstructive surgeeon. Today, Braxton, who works for in real estate, still gets fan letters - many from new cancer patients impressed with her relentlessly positive attitude. And she's not opposed to more reality TV. "I would love to do The Amazing Race," she says. "Survivor-forget it. I need to eat."
Photo courtesy Alex Boylan
Speaking of The Amazing Race, it was another local, Neptune Beach's Alex Boylan, who won the show's second season trek across five continents with childhood friend Chris Luca. A Boston native now living in Los Angeles, Boylan majored in international business at Jacksonville University on a soccer scholarship. His studies would serve him well in his globe-trotting career. Since winning the Amazing Race, produced Around the World for Free, an online program in which he and a friend traveled the world without a penny in their pockets, depending solely on the hospitality of strangers. He currently produces Dropping In, featuring surfers who travel the globe searching for mystical religions, hidden cultures and perfect waves.
No friends, no cell phones, no TV and no electricity. Sounds like any teen's nightmare. But for Chris VanderWier, it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Then 15, the St. Augustine teen and 19 others from across the nation appeared in Discovery Kids' Endurance: Hawaii. The show dropped contestants in the middle of a jungle on the island of Kauai to compete in a series of physical and mental challenges for a grand prize trip to the Galapagos Islands. All the while, the teens endured tropical rainstorms, intense Hawaiian heat and less-than-luxuruious bedding that amounted to particle boards on mud floors in tiny huts. Today, the Bartram Trail High School grad owns a construction company and continues to work in front of the camera as a model.
Photo courtesy Emilie Christenson
She's our favorite local who didn't quite make the cut for reality TV. Atlantic Beach cutie Carlie Christenson, then a bubbly nine-year-old, was just becoming aware of her budding body and like most girls her age, was little self conscious of certain changes. So she grabbed her crayons and drew up plans for a new product that would become Boob-eez: washable, reusable "headlight covers" with super-thin edges that are virtually invisible beneath clothing including form-fitting swimsuits and dance leotards. Unfortunately, judges for ABC's Simon Cowell-produced show were a bit uneasy about featuring a product developed for girl parts. Still boxes of Boob-eez sell nationwide and are worn by kid celebs including Ryan Newman of Hannah Montana.