"God is the reason you'll stand out..."

Former Miss Kentucky Maria Montgomery had the world in front of her after her pageant success. But it was through prayer and searching she decided upon the counsel of Advantage Models and Talent and owner Nise Davies (AMTC Board Member). Through Advantage, Maria was introduced to AMTC and SHINE, where she won Overall Fashion Model and Overall Fashion Actor. It’s not easy to stand strong in the modeling industry, but Maria proves how it can be done with both class and reverence to God.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got started in the industry and all about your labels and jobs…you’ve done so much!

It all started when I entered the Miss USA pageant when I was Miss Kentucky, USA 2009. I went to Miss USA and I got in the top 5. I was only 19 years old. I barely qualified and barely missed the Miss Teen USA. Now as I see it, I was definitely not ready. I was surely not ready to hop on a plane and live in NY for a whole year. God had the timing.

What did you do after the competition?

Because I had that experience, I wanted to continue something in this industry and had modeled a bit in Kentucky, but that’s very limited, so I looked in the Nashville area and met Nise Davies at Advantage. I was so drawn to her because she was a previous Miss Tennessee, so I knew she wouldn’t frown upon my pageant history. I was never a serious pageant girl or typical one at least. I knew she could differentiate modeling and pageantry. So I learned so much from that, and Nise got me into AMTC.

What happened at AMTC?

I had several callbacks (2010). One was from Ford Models Chicago. I almost didn’t go because it was such a time-sensitive matter, but I went on a whim, and signed with them. I lived in Chicago for a while (actually 3 times now). But they got me signed with Ford in Miami and I’ve lived there. I live places typically 1 to 3 months. But a huge God-thing happened in Miami. My best friend, before I was even working with Ford, also signed with Ford Miami, simultaneously. Then she got signed in Chicago and we were roommates there, too!

So you work in Chicago and Miami, but still live in Kentucky?

Well, one of my agents from Chicago moved to Wilhelmina in LA and signed me there. Because of AMTC I’ve signed with Ford Chicago, Ford Miami and Wilhelmina in LA.

I also heard that you’re in school. How is that working out ?

At the moment I’m in grad school. Although I did my undergrad in Eastern Kentucky University I knew I needed to try this industry. I said that if I got in, then I would do both, if not then I’d just concentrate on modeling for a while. I don’t know how it happened but I was one of 30 out of 400 that got into the online program!

And you’re studying speech and language pathology?

I love working with children and special needs. What makes [modeling] a bit difficult is that I had to do 3 internships and I’ve done 2 so far. So the days I’m not interning, I fly out to work during the week wherever they need me. It has it’s ups and downs. It’s paying for grad school and I travel a lot. I do love it.

As Miss Kentucky there’s understandably a lot of charity work. How do you bring God to bear on that work?

I love going to schools and doing public speaking on my personal platform Staying True to Yourself, showing that God brought you here for a reason. People get nervous in places like AMTC when you’re auditioning, or even at a job interview. People just say "Hey, be yourself," And it always went in one ear and out the other, because it’s just so cliche. But it really it hit home before Miss USA when I was trying to be like the previous Miss USA, when my director sat me down and said, "This is not you. What happened to the girl next door? That’s how you got this far in the first place." And it suddenly clicked. For castings, for auditions, at AMTC – I learned about the business of being yourself. God is the reason you’ll stand out. I do work with some pageant girls and I pretty much just stress that: be yourself, not just ‘don’t stand this way or walk that way.’

How does your faith come into play in the modeling industry? How have you dealt with adversity?

It’s definitely difficult. If you’re with an agent and they want you to take a job – they are making money, too. They want you to take any job regardless of your standpoint. But thankfully, it’s been a real blessing to me with my agents at Ford, Wilhelmina and Advantage. They may get those requests, but agree that I won’t do suggestive roles with nudity. They know me and sometimes that filters it out. They may still send them sometimes and it is tempting, but it’s easy to say no, knowing that another door will open. There was a recent role and it required a country accent and I was so excited because I’d gone through training to get rid of mine! But I looked over the script and it was definitely not what I wanted to portray.

But it never fails that some role immediately opens up and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s definitely a God-thing. It is very hard when someone else’s money is on the line, but it never fails about being true to yourself and sticking to your standards. And I stick with the simple stuff, too. I didn’t think there would be enough jobs out there that were clean-cut, but I’ve been surprised and very blessed with JC Penney’s, catalogues, Kohl’s, Sears and a few music videos. It’s what I prefer. I love high fashion as well, but it’s definitely easier to avoid those problems when you stick with the comfortable things.

What about future dreams, goals or aspirations?

People ask me that a lot. I have a hard time answering because I’m content. It can be a blessing or a curse! A blessing because I don’t’ feel I need to sell my soul to do something bigger and better, but at the same time I’m not pushing myself as far as I could be. Honestly I couldn’t imagine it being better than doing what I’m doing. I do want to continue to grow my clientele though just because they change somewhat often and you never know when they will change or leave, or need someone else when they will book you. It’s week by week. I love being able to work from Kentucky.

I’m also recently engaged but I’m not planning on stopping modeling. About 50% of the people I work with are married. And there are lots of moms out there who do this too. They have their kids and travel a day or two out of the week and hopefully that will all work.

What was your SHINE experience like?

I can still remember going to several seminars and meeting people. My favorite ones were the ones that agents from the agencies that you were going to interview were talking.

I remember one thing Shannon Lane from Ford said that I have never forgotten: "Don’t let this industry become who you are, let it be what you do, not who you are." It’s a great mindset. And it really hit home. I was almost going to go to Milan and I realized that it wasn’t what I was supposed to do at that time. I thought I’d make it big time and let it become who I was, eager for success. But it would no longer be Maria doing that, but just be ‘that’ – an empty bottle. It would just take the fun out of it. So I stayed where I was.

I love AMTC because it opened up so many doors. I never, ever, ever thought I’d pursue acting, but I went out of my comfort zone and now I like it just as much as modeling, sometimes more. I would never have tried that if it hadn’t been for AMTC.

What about obstacles that you’ve had in your life that God’s helped you with.

In the industry, it’s been the closed doors. But I’ve learned that He will open more. Trusting him and taking leaps of faith — from going to grad school, traveling, numerous flags and praying to Him to open things. I am so blessed. I have a happy healthy family. I have my downfalls, but I’m blessed. I think I get on people’s nerves because I’m such an optimist!

What advice would you give to girls who want to get into modeling, pageantry or acting who also want to make a positive impact for God?

Remember your light is shining all the time! There are so many people who are around. I’ve met a lot of Christians and it helps to feel that you’re not in the dark, or not by yourself. But also it’s important to remember not to worry about being perfect (we strive, but nobody CAN be), but be yourself.

I have a good friend who is a makeup artist who was talking about being so aggravated with some Christians who were pushing her to go to church and I said that I was sorry to hear that because not all Christians are like that and told her that I was a Christian. And we’ve been friends since.

I think we shine more than we realize and we just need to be friendly. And if you don’t want to rely on that alone sometimes I take along my devotionals and read them when I’m in the makeup chair and it’s just the best conversation starter. They want to know what I’m reading then they ask what today’s is about. You don’t have to preach someone’s head off. Some people don’t take that well! I am a firm believer in loving people! It’s important to customize it to who you’re around.

I think that anyone in this industry has to focus on how they can show the light to someone else and make a difference and be Jesus—be that love.