Claire Donald was just 17 when she traveled with her mother to Los Angeles to compete in the International Model and Talent Association’s annual competition. That was early in 2012. Since then this sweet Southern girl has begun to make her way in the city of dreams. Maybe that’s just what happens when someone knows, really knows, what they want to do from a very young age.
“I’ve wanted to do this ever since I saw the Welch’s grape juice commercial,” Donald told us when she visited the Country Outfitter studio while she was back home for the holidays.
“I said, ‘Mom, I want that to be me.'” And Mom has supported her daughter’s ambitions ever since. Mother and daughter stay close by talking two or three times a day.
This Fayetteville, Ark. native is not just chasing bright lights and big fame in Los Angeles; she’s succeeding. Since moving to L.A. Donald has modeled for Junk Food Clothing, Native Standard, and Kitson, among others. While modeling pays some bills, Donald plans to focus on acting, which she sees as a longer term career.
“I have more of a passion for acting,” she says, adding that “modeling can be a toxic world.”
Sadly, not all actors are as grounded as our local favorite. Working in Hollywood has meant coming face-to-face with stars whose public personas don’t necessarily match their private behavior–like the chain smoking Disney starlet, or the barely recognizable leading man who couldn’t stop mentioning how awesome he was.
And then there’s the utter lack of glamour involved in going on auditions, waiting on set, and to hear Donald tell it, the bane of every aspiring actor’s existence: parking tickets.
Donald is glad she skipped the potential child actor drama, but she was eager to go West and moved to L.A about 10 minutes after tossing her graduation cap in the air. She moved into the famed Highland Gardens Hotel, which is a common staring point for many young Hollywood hopefuls.
“it was not at all glamorous,” says Donald.
We believe her. Anything that appears special and effortless on the outside is probably a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes.
Donald is getting used to the way things work in Hollywood, which it turns out is actually the same way things work in pretty much every other industry–success often depends on who you know. The difference is that in show business, those people you know lead lives that are larger than the rest of ours, that are chronicled in tabloids and celebrated on billboards. Donald credits her natural Southern charm and good old fashioned niceness to helping her get to know a lot of people. (Her stunning looks don’t hurt, either.)
Donald seems to be handling her new life just fine. With the help of a team of her manager, acting coach, and a team of agents she’s getting enough work to gain some momentum. To bridge the gap she does what the most show biz hopefuls do, she works in a restaurant. That’s another place Southern manners serve her well.
“Customers love it when you say ‘y’all.’ People just love meeting Southerners,” says Donald.
Donald says the first year out West was lonely, but she has since made friends, most easily with fellow Southerners.
The other thing Tinsel Town has in common with your town: sometimes success is a matter of being at the right place at the right time. It was a gig with Keds that ended up leading to a new friendship and one of the most exciting things that Donald has experienced so far. Donald got a call from her agent asking if she could be at the hotel where the audition was being held in 5 minutes.
“It could have been sketchy,” says Donald. “But it was my agent so I thought it was probably okay.”
The commercial featuring the celebrity endorsement of Taylor Swift had been cast weeks ago, but the producers had decided they needed one more girl. Donald was that lucky girl.
“All the girls were really nice,” Donald says, adding that that’s somewhat unique in the cutthroat world of modeling.
But that’s just what’s given this sweet Southern girl and edge. She’s nice. It’s likely the same reason she got the call when Taylor Swift needed a date for the AMAs. Donald got to experience the full star treatment, from working with Swift’s stylists and hair and makeup crew to walking the red carpet with America’s Favorite Pop Princess.
“Taylor was so sweet,” Donald says. “She introduced me to everyone. I certainly didn’t expect that.”
Traveling in Swift’s circles, Donald gets to see what a successful life in entertainment really looks like.
“You can get what you want, but there’s a lot that comes with it.” Like people feeling free to say whatever they want about you, online and off.
Donald says she loves L.A. because it’s a city full of dreamers and also just because it’s a city, which the small town girl always wanted to be part of. She’s too busy to pine for Fayetteville, but there is one Southern custom she doesn’t get in California.
“I miss walking down the street and you can wave at someone and they’ll wave back at you.”
She also misses the look of a southern gentlemen. “You know the button downs, the boots, and even the casual Patagonia or Chacos. It may seem like a cliche at home but out here its rare. I’m not one for the tight tight jeans, tanks, or skater clothes on my guys.”
As for women’s fashion, Donald is fitting right in. ” I love the boho look that seems to be very California. From vintage loose dresses to cut offs with loose tee’s with a beach wave hairstyle. It’s all very free and dreamy which is what California is like.”
Donald says she was surprised when she first moved to West Hollywood at how open people were with fashion. “You could literally wear anything and no one would think anything different. In fact, I saw an old man on the sidewalk today in a metallic track suit, and no one took a second look. It’s so much fun to be so open and creative with your style and to see others do the same. It’s very inspiring.”
Image Source: Keds on Amazon.com