Not all shoots are the same for Jillian Hicks.
One day she could be on set for 60 hours filming a Super Bowl commercial, the next she could be modeling under extremely dark skies in the middle of a tornado. Each concert and venue has its own story; as a farm production that was the subject of a “Dateline” episode about a murder cover-up. Moments after learning the disturbing news that the killer was still living next door, she found herself fighting over chickens and driving a Corvette.
Just another day in the life of a model.
In May, Hicks dug through her mailbox to find a photo of herself staring at it. SWING magazine had covered a recent photoshoot she had done. She knew the company liked her photos and was interested in using them, but she was surprised to get the cover. The magazine, which has 137,000 followers on Instagram, also featured her with a full page.
“I’ve only been appearing in magazines for six to eight months. I’m still new to this, so getting a cover was big in my book,” Hicks said.
Hicks is 22 and recently graduated from MCC with a degree in business administration. The modeling she has done for the past two years has allowed her to complete her college education without student debt.
With a new job in sales development at Mechdyne, she thought she would spend less time modeling.
“I get enough work where I could go full time, but I think I would get burnt out quickly,” she said.
But as opportunities continue to present themselves, Hicks’ modeling career continues to grow. She will be the lead in a music video for the 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.
More recently, she was contacted about her involvement in the development of the limited series Field of Dreams, which is set to begin production in Iowa this summer.
Her modeling career began when she asked a friend who did freelance photography to take her pictures.
“She was taking pictures in beautiful places with extravagant costumes and dresses. I wanted to look like that,” Hicks said.
Through Instagram, she caught the attention of established photographers who asked her to collaborate and her portfolio grew, leading to more work. She shoots commercials with Hy-Vee once a month and was part of their big Super Bowl spot, and she also helped produce a short film. Hicks has worked with musicians like Benny the Jet, SkyKrow, The Zeffster and Entre Luche, who she says have music currently on the Top 100 charts.
She loves the unpredictability of filming music videos, like the aforementioned chicken, “which just didn’t have one,” she said. “We also got to film a food fight with one take to get it right, which made it fun.”
More exposure gave way to more work. Hicks hooked up with a producer in Des Moines and started getting 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. You are called and you enter a room with a casting agent, producer and director who greets you coldly, places you in front of a camera and asks you to read a few lines. If you’re lucky you skip all the queues, otherwise they stop you halfway and say ‘thank you for coming’, without looking up.
But that’s not how it’s been for Hicks over the past two years. She’s been through a pandemic where casting calls, like everything else, have been moved online. If she feels she’s a fit for the role, she’ll submit a head shot, a video of her speaking, and a resume. About a week later, she will know if she is moving on to the next step or looking for another job.
“It definitely takes the stress out of meeting in person,” Hicks said. “However, traditional casting is still a thing and it can make me nervous. You have to stand for a long time. You just can’t handle it.
More experience gives the perspective needed to meet challenges. Hicks says one of his 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 cannot be learned, everything comes from experience.”
Like most, Hicks went through tough times growing up — glasses, acne, and braces. She doesn’t consider herself a natural beauty.
“I put time and energy into making myself beautiful,” she said. “I go to the gym, eat well and take care of my skin and my overall health.”
In the world of portraiture and fashion, Hicks’ hair and eyes are her most recognizable features, so she looks for opportunities to take advantage of them. Equally important are the intangibles – a positive attitude and energy because “no one wants to work with an over-the-top diva,” as she put it.
Hicks is fairly low-key about his modeling and acting work. 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’m a model. It just never comes up in conversation,” she said. “Once in a while, during a vacation or a family reunion, my grandmother may ask what I’ve been working on, but my other grandparents don’t understand it.”
Her friends understand, however, and many of them are role models themselves with whom she can relate and share experiences. She says her friends outside of that community are also supportive and sometimes tease her about it to keep her grounded.
Hicks thinks modeling can be a place for everyone. It’s not as narrow a market as it used to be, and people want to recognize themselves on the page or on the screen. Anyone can model, regardless of height, weight, race, gender identity or otherwise.
“If you’re told no, you may not be the right person for the job,” she said.
But she acknowledges that it’s hard to avoid comparing yourself to the next person or seemingly perfect model on Instagram.
“It’s very easy to fake everything, so just realize that no one is perfect or close,” she said. “Being healthy and confident will take you further than you think.”
Initially, Hicks just wanted to have fun taking pictures with new friends. Even when she started getting calls, she didn’t have ambitious goals, if any.
“But now that I’m starting to get on ‘next line’ lists, I’ve set goals for magazines and fashion shows I’d like to attend,” she said. “My biggest goal at the moment is to participate in the tribute fashion show organized by Mother Model Management, 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 shows the world that Kerouac should also have visited Marshalltown.