Local model lands magazine cover
Not every shoot is the same for Jillian Hicks.
One day, she could be on set for 60 hours filming a Super Bowl commercial, the next she might be modeling below a direly dark sky in the middle of a tornado. Each gig and location has its own story; like a production at a farm that was the subject of a “Dateline” episode about a murder cover-up. Moments after learning the unsettling news that the killer still lived next door, she found herself wrangling chickens and driving a Corvette.
Just another day in the life of a model.
In May, Hicks pulled the contents from her mailbox to find a photo of herself staring back at her. SWING magazine had picked up a recent photoshoot she had done. She knew the company liked her pictures and was interested in using them, but she was surprised to get the cover. The magazine, which boasts 137,000 followers on Instagram, also featured her with a full page spread.
“I have only been appearing in magazines for the last six to eight months. I am still new to it, so to land a cover was big in my book,” Hicks said.
Hicks is 22 years old and has just graduated from MCC with a business administration degree. The modeling she’s done over the last two years accorded her the ability to finish college with no student debt.
With a new job working in sales development at Mechdyne, she thought she’d spend less time modeling.
“I get enough work to where I could go full-time, but I think I would get burned out quickly,” she said.
But as opportunities continue to present themselves, Hicks’s modeling career keeps growing. She’ll be the lead in a music video for Iowa rapper Coldsaint, which will be released at the end of the summer. In September and October, she will be part of Midwest Fashion Week and the Iowa Bridal Collection.
Most recently, she was contacted about being involved with the Field of Dreams limited series in development, which is slated to begin production in Iowa this summer.
Her modeling career began when she asked a friend who did freelance photography to take her photos.
“She was taking pictures in beautiful locations with extravagant costumes and dresses. I wanted to look like that,” Hicks said.
Through Instagram, she drew the attention of established photographers who asked her to collaborate and her portfolio grew — which in turn led to more work. She shoots commercials with Hy-Vee once a month and was part of their big Super Bowl spot, and she was also involved with the production of a short film. Hicks has worked with musicians like Benny the Jet, SkyKrow, The Zeffster and Entre Luche, who she says currently have music in the Top 100s charts.
She enjoys the unpredictability of shooting music videos, like the aforementioned chicken, “who just wasn’t having it,” she said. “We also got to film a food fight with only one take to get it right, which made it fun.”
More exposure gave way to more work. Hicks connected with a Des Moines producer and started receiving more casting calls. Most think of a casting call and imagine walking into a room or hallway lined with dozens of beautiful people who are there competing for the same job. Your name gets called and you enter a room with a casting agent, producer and director who greet you coldly, put you in front of a camera and ask you to read a few lines. If you’re lucky you get through all the lines, otherwise they stop you halfway through and say, “thanks for coming,” without looking up.
But that’s not the way it’s been for Hicks over the past couple years. She came up through a pandemic where casting calls, like everything else, have been moved online. If she feels like she fits the part, she’ll submit a headshot, a video of her talking and a resume. A week or so later, she’ll find out if she’s on to the next stage or on to looking for another job.
“This definitely takes the stress off of meeting in person,” Hicks said. “However, traditional casting is still a thing and that can make me nervous. You have to stand around for a long time. You just can’t psych yourself out.”
More experience provides the perspective needed to take on challenges. Hicks says one of her biggest strengths is confidence.
“You don’t have to be the tallest or thinnest person in the room. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you,” she said. “Confidence can’t be taught, it’s all from experience.”
Like most, Hicks had awkward stages growing up — glasses, acne and braces. She doesn’t consider herself a natural beauty.
“I put time and energy into making myself look my best,” she said. “I go to the gym, eat well and take care of my skin and overall health.”
In the portrait and fashion world, Hicks’ hair and eyes are her most recognizable features, so she looks for opportunities to leverage that. Just as important are the intangibles — a positive attitude and energy because “nobody wants to work with an over-the-top diva,” as she put it.
Hicks is fairly low-key about her work modeling and acting. She says she rarely talks about it with her family, unless something big like the SWING cover comes up, in which case, she might text her parents.
“I still have cousins, aunts and uncles who don’t know I model. It’s just never brought up in conversation,” she said. “Occasionally at a holiday or family gathering my grandma might ask what I’ve been working on, but my other grandparents don’t understand it.”
Her friends get it, though, and many of them are models themselves who she can relate and share experiences with. She says her friends outside of that community also support her and also tease her about it at times to keep her grounded.
Hicks thinks modeling can be a place for everyone. It’s not as narrow of a market as it has been in the past, and people want to recognize themselves on the page or screen. Anyone can model, regardless of height, weight, race, gender identity or otherwise.
“If you are told no then you might just not be the right fit for that job,” she said.
But she does acknowledge that it’s hard to avoid comparing oneself to the next person or the seemingly perfect model on Instagram.
“It’s very easy to fake everything, so just realize nobody is perfect or close to it,” she said. “Being healthy and confident will get you further than you think.”
Starting out, Hicks just wanted to have some fun taking photos with new friends. Even when she first started getting calls, she didn’t have lofty goals, or any at all.
“But now that I’m starting to come on the rosters of ‘the next up-and-coming,’ I’ve set goals for magazines and fashion shows I’d like to be a part of,” she said. “My biggest goal at the moment is to get in the tribute fashion show put on by Mother Model Management, which is who discovered Ashton Kutcher.”
In Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel, On The Road, he wrote, “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”
Hicks is showing the world that Kerouac should have visited Marshalltown too.