Local woman goes to New York to see if she’s got the look
When Roxanne Ford sashayed down the shiny black catwalk in her cleavage-revealing silver top and sexy, knee-length white skirt at an open-modeling call in Dallas earlier this year, the judges were clearly wowed.
“Don’t even talk to her,” cooed celebrity stylist Robert Verdi, one of the three judges for TV Land’s She’s Got the Look. “I love her, she’s like Annette Bening.”
The new reality show, hosted by supermodel Kim Alexis, premiered in early June, and is the equivalent of the Tyra Banks-hosted America’s Next Top Model, but for women 35 and older.
“I must say, the word that leaps to mind when you walk out here is the word ‘poise,’ “ continued Sean Patterson, current president of New York-based Wilhelmina Models, founded in 1967 by supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper. “Roxanne, honey, I think we love you.”
After giving a short demonstration of her enviable belly-dancing skills—at the request of judge No. 3, supermodel Beverly Johnson—Ford turned on her high heels and sauntered off stage, leaving exactly the impression she was hoping for.
“Now that’s a model!” said Patterson, almost breathlessly. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
The perky, short-haired 40-year-old Ford was actually born Dawn Adams, and has spent most of her years in the Chico area, where she most recently worked as a bartender at Lost On Main. And it took only the gentle nudge of a friend to transform the small-town girl and avid hiker into a sexy, catwalk-strutting model.
Adams moved to Chico in 1976, and graduated from Chico State in 1991 with a degree in nursing. Fresh out of school, she worked locally in different capacities including as a convalescent and rehab nurse. Adams said her job became less satisfying as hospitals went corporate and patient care declined, and she let her nursing license expire five years later at the age of 28.
It was the summer before she left nursing that Adams says she had a life-changing experience. She began running the general store at Camp Mather in Yosemite National Park and stayed for the next three seasons, hiking trails alone during her off-time.
“[It was] a time of self-discovery, absolutely a turning point,” recalled Adams by phone from her part-time home in Las Vegas.
Adams realized what had been in her heart since her nursing days—a desire to see the world. She began training as a belly dancer, which Adams said allowed her to travel the globe, and give her the sense of freedom that she had been longing for. Adams lived in various cities and towns around the United States—San Francisco, Dallas, “a tiny, one-horse town in Colorado"—and traveled Europe and Central America, where she hiked the rainforests of Costa Rica.
Through all her adventures, Adams has always kept her Northern California ties. Many of her family members still live in Chico, including her sister Melinda and her brother-in-law, longtime local drummer Charles Mohnike.
Adams currently divides her time between her 29 acres in Magalia and Las Vegas, where she has lived part time for the past eight years.
“I need the urban aspect of my life here in Las Vegas,” Adams explained, “because people ‘get me’ here. But I also need the rural environment to refocus and make sure I’m in tune with myself.”
Adams’ decision to leave nursing and seek out her adventurous side no doubt gave her the confidence to do just about anything. But modeling seemed a little out of her realm—and it was the gentle coaxing of a friend that convinced the outdoorsy Adams to trade in the backpack for a satin dress. Always one to rise to an exciting challenge, Adams agreed with her friend that she would be a perfect contestant—over 35, pretty, fit and personable.
“I’ve never owned a TV, but I got really excited about being on a reality show,” she said with a laugh.
Adams ended up being one of the 20 women chosen nationwide to fly to New York and vie for one of 10 spots and compete to become America’s next top—over 35—model. The winner would receive a modeling contract with the exclusive Wilhelmina agency and a photo spread in Self magazine.
The first competitive photo shoot was intense: Using only what they had brought in their luggage, the unsuspecting contestants were given 15 minutes to glam themselves. Ten women went home. Adams stayed.
For the duration of the six-episode show the final 10 would live in the “Models’ Loft” while being filmed 24-7 (including in the bathroom), and taking part in various competitions, including runway walking and being photographed nude with only a length of sheer organza for covering—all designed, of course, to weed out competitors.
The adventurous Adams reigned through episode four, when she and one other contestant were eliminated after a photo shoot on a trapeze, and a slick, high-end jewelry shoot that found her in a suggestively sheer dress sandwiched between two male models.
“I learned that I’m not a very good still model,” confessed Adams, who then gushed about her prowess during the trapeze photo shoot. “But I’m a great action figure!”
Adams almost didn’t make it on She’s Got the Look. Her later success was a far cry from her first open call for the show in Los Angeles. Adams—still using her real name—embarrassed herself by, among other things, awkwardly blurting out, “Dawn Adams, yeah! Las Vegas, yeah!” after being asked to state her name and where’s she’s from.
She was given a polite “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
“I totally blew it,” recalled Adams.
Her second—and successful—attempt came when Adams found out about the open call in Dallas. She booked a flight, stayed with a friend and auditioned. Adams hesitated to use a stage name, but at the same time, she didn’t want to be recognized from the L.A. disaster. She became emboldened by her friend’s advice: “There are no rules to success, so long as you don’t hurt anybody. You just have to get there.”
And so Adams became Roxy Ford, a name inspired by her red Ford Thunderbird that she calls Roxanne. “I’ll remember that advice till the day I die.”
While Dawn Adams-turned-Roxy Ford hasn’t always been the sleek sophisticate who appeared on She’s Got the Look, she is compelled to maintain the show-biz side of her personality, as well as a decidedly down-home side of herself.
“I want to remain fit enough for the rest of my life to sling a 50- to 60-pound backpack on my back and hike the Himalayas,” Adams said. “I can belly dance—just don’t ask me to walk on the catwalk.”