Amanda Henkel


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While she was growing up, Amanda Henkel was the sibling no one expected to go into show business. Her older sister, after all, was the attention-grabber, the girl who lit up for the camera, took up dancing and entered beauty pageants. Amanda was the tomboy, the shy but fearless one who played soccer, rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers and served as a deck hand on her father's shrimp boat.

Eventually, though, Amanda's competitive spirit helped her overcome her shyness, and her natural beauty and talent did the rest, leading her to a career as a globe-hopping supermodel and ultimately to Nashville to pursue her first love--singing. Now, with the release of her debut album, Amanda enters a new career chapter. The magic she could call up from inside on a runway or in front of a camera now infuses the songs she sings, as she immerses herself in the music that had marked her since birth. "My dad loved Waylon Jennings," she says. "We'd get in my Mom's Cadillac when I was little and I can still see the Waylon eight-track we listened to over and over. My parents had named me for his song 'Amanda' and I thought when I was little that it was written just for me. It was my song and I thought I was so cool."

Still, as a girl in Slidell, Louisiana, music was a faraway dream. She sang in church, where her father led a band, and excelled in sports and as a cheerleader. Competing with her sister for attention finally helped her break out of her shell, and her life changed when, at 15, she answered an ad involving a model search. She had gradually learned that she was photogenic--she had an inner glow she could turn on for a camera--and modeling seemed like a natural extension of her growing self-confidence. "I was a little scrawny thing," she says with a laugh, "and I'd never walked in heels before. All these girls were so much taller than I was and they all had heels. They told us to walk a runway and I watched these girls do it. I didn't come up to some of their shoulders but I didn't let that bother me. I walked the runway and someone from the Elite Modeling Agency who was there pretty much signed me on the spot."

Her modeling for Elite launched a career she still claims is "something I just fell into." At 19, a transportation mix-up and her natural gifts combined to take her to the upper reaches of the modeling world. She had entered a Hawaiian Tropic modeling competition and was trying to follow another friend in the competition to a photo shoot. A limo mistakenly took her to a top-level beach shoot, where a photographer sent her through make-up and wardrobe and photographed her. The owner of the company saw her photos among those of dozens of top models and was impressed enough to ask if she would become their international spokesmodel--the new face of the company. What followed were photo shoots, ads in major magazines and life-size store posters worldwide. She traveled the globe for the company, and won its Miss Hawaiian Tropic International Pageant twice.

Through a portfolio involving companies like Cadillac, Yamaha and J.C. Penney, and photo shoots in Bali, Tahiti, Europe and a host of other exotic locations, she carved an enviable career. She was featured regularly on shows like Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and Hard Copy, and on the covers of a host of magazines. It was a life of Super Bowls, film festivals and great resorts.

All through those years, while modeling paid the bills, music remained a passion. In her increasingly precious spare time, she formed a band with her sister called Lil Sis and played at fairs and festivals around the state of Louisiana, and at night spots like the House of Blues.

It was through a perk of modeling, though, that she gained entry into the upper reaches of the music business. She and other models from around the world were attending a Mardis Gras ball in New Orleans. Confederate Railroad was performing and some of her friends told keyboardist Cody McCarver that she was a singer. Through him, she met an entertainment attorney who asked for a demo. "I didn't have one," she says, "so I opened a phone book and called a studio." The next day she had a demo that the attorney sent to producer Csaba Petocz, known for his work with John Michael Montgomery and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among many others.

"I made sure we didn't send him a picture," she says. "I wanted to see what he thought of the music, not the photos or my modeling career." Petocz listened and called her manager.

'I really like this girl's voice," he said. "She's got something different and I'd like to try to work with her.'"

"It felt good," she says, "because I felt like I was given a chance based on the music and not anything else."

Together, they recorded five tracks that became the core of her new album. They are now showing country fans nationwide the extent of Amanda's singing talent and the sheer personality packed into her voice. "Climbing Up Mt. Everest" is Amanda's take on mountain-high heartbreak, in a song that ends nonetheless in a bit of self-affirmation. "A Million and One," a fresh-voiced look at the breaking point in a romance, puts Amanda's believability squarely in the forefront. "Break My Stride" is a slow and quirky country reworking of the '80s smash by Matthew Wilder, while "No Easy Way Out" is musical story-telling at its best, a dramatic look at a young woman's life-changing decision. "Can't Trust The Weatherman" is Amanda at full tilt, bringing her high-voltage personality to bear on the story of an outlaw couple on the run.

Amanda has begun the process of taking her music to live audiences, drawing on the attitude she honed during her years as a top-flight model. "That experience really helped me," she says. "It prepares you for so much. If I can walk a runway in a swimsuit, there's nothing to getting on stage and singing in front of a bunch of people."

As good as modeling was to her--she became friends with the likes of Donald Trump and lived a life most people only dream about--she is more excited about music. "I left at the peak of my career," she says of modeling, "but this is what I've always wanted to do, and I don't want to look back and say, 'Why didn't I do this?' And if I'm going to go after something, I'm going to give it my all."

The tomboy who grew up loving country music on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain has come full circle, giving her all to the music that first inspired her. One by one, Amanda is captivating audiences the way she once worked her magic on press and photographers, and the future seems hers for the taking.