Many teenage girls spend their summer watching reruns of "America's Next Top Model." Sarah Piette spent her summer becoming one.
Less than a year ago, the 16-year-old Amherst junior never dreamed that her summer would include her very first photo shoot as a model for Exxcel Agency.
"I never even thought about modeling. Seeing people in a magazine, I never really processed that they went into modeling to do that. I wanted to be a teacher pretty much my whole life. That was it," Sarah said.
Modeling first crossed Sarah's mind when a representative from the Barbizon Modeling and Acting Center visited Amherst during Sarah's freshman year. Students were told that by filling out an application, they were eligible to win a college scholarship and to attend an open casting call where new students for the center would be picked.
In the fall of 2008, Sarah received a call from a Barbizon representative inviting her to that open casting call. After listening to an orientation that explained more about the modeling industry, Sarah and the 800 other girls in attendance sat through an interview, where they were asked why they wanted to model and similar questions. Sarah was told she would be called the next day, whether or not she was one of 200 girls who would be selected to attend Barbizon modeling classes.
"They called and I made it! But then we had to make a decision right then about whether I wanted to go farther or not. That was kind of a hard decision because it was very expensive, and I wasn't really sure," Sarah said. "When they were interviewing me, they said it could help with self-confidence. I was very shy, so that was one of the main reasons that I went."
The expense of modeling classes was definitely a concern for Sarah's mom, June Piette.
"Are we going to have the money to help her with this? How are we going to do it? That was my concern. My other thought was that I wanted it for her because growing up, she was very, very shy and she was sick as a little girl, in and out of the hospital. She lacked self-confidence. I thought, if nothing more, it would be good for her self-esteem," said Piette.
In October, Sarah began her classes at the Blasdell Barbizon center. Once a month, Sarah would spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons learning how to walk on the runway, film commercials and music videos, read monologues and fix her hair and makeup to look its best but still appear natural. She graduated from the program April 19 with a final runway show.
"Once we were putting this show on, it kind of processed more, that this whole thing was happening. It definitely made it feel more real," Sarah said.
During this time, Sarah also was participating in modeling competitions where she would be interviewed, walk on the runway and film a commercial. Despite having only done this for a few months, Sarah was selected to go on to the next competition round in Farmington, Mass. On May 2, she was chosen as one of the top 10 in her division.
When the Piette family returned home from Massachusetts, there was a surprise waiting for them. It was a letter from the Williamsville branch of the Exxcel Agency, asking Sarah to sign with them.
"I didn't think I would ever even come this far in modeling, first of all. Plus, it being such a short amount of time, I was just blown away," Sarah said.
Sarah's agent, Maria Porter, shared why the Exxcel Agency signed the new model. "I see people everyday, all day long, so they have to be pretty special. I liked her personality. I asked her a number of questions, and her eyes would just light up, her eyes were so full of energy. I like that because when we send that talent to clients, that's exactly what they're looking for, they're looking for someone who is very energetic, one who can deliver the product."
On Aug. 1, Sarah went for her first photo shoot. Having her hair and makeup done, working with the photographer, and talking to other potential models made the experience a great one, Sarah said. The pictures from the shoot will be used to make a composition card that casting directors will look at, and hopefully pick Sarah for a few jobs.
"I'm really hoping she'll get some jobs, whether it's commercials or advertisements. She'd love to go on to some acting from there. I hope she can get out of it all that she wants to get out of it. I think as a mother, you want them to go far, but you want to keep them home," Sarah's mom said.
Sarah said that the confidence she gained far outweighs any job she could ever get. After completing the classes, Sarah had the courage to join her school's drama club and operettas, something she could never have done before and now loves. She is still pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher but her new dream of modeling will always be there.
"So much more goes into it than what people think. There's tons of money, but you actually have to work very hard to get to it. Almost anyone can do it if they put their heart forward and dedicate themselves to it. When I see different magazines or "America's Next Top Model," I kind of relate to the things those models have been doing. I can see how they got to where they are. It's kind of cool seeing that I'm on my way to being where they are," Sarah said.
Carlene Miller is a senior at Alden High School.