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Kohl's ad could launch bubbly 4-year-old's career

STERLING – Joanna Rabadan blossoms in front of a camera.

The click-click of the shutter. The muffled pop of the umbrella lights. The hum of the studio.

None of it intimidates her. It just makes her smile, giggle and jump up and down.

Joanna, 4, the youngest daughter of John and Jessica Rabadan of Sterling, this summer will appear in a print advertisement – a July direct-mail catalog or newspaper insert – for Kohl’s department store.

The soon-to-be kindergartner has a promising modeling career – or so the professionals say.

“They said they wanted her back. They didn’t even know it was her first time,” Jessica said. “The photographer [who did her headshots] said she’s such a natural, she should be working.”

Joanna, who will be in kindergarten come fall, launched herself into modeling after a beauty pageant. Then 3, she took first place in the Firecracker Princess pageant in Rockford in July.

The contest, put on by Illinois Natural Pageants, does not allow contestants to wear makeup or over-the-top costumes.

“I didn’t want anything too ‘Toddlers and Tiaras,’” Jessica said in reference to the reality TV show that showcases the competitive, often cutthroat, world of beauty pageants. “I wanted them to see her for her.”

Joanna wowed the judges and took home a sparkly crown and a session with a photographer to get headshots. She also was signed by Bravo Talent Management in Chicago and Model and Talent Management in Milwaukee, both of which book children for print and TV commercials, TV shows and movies.

Her parents sent her headshots – a glossy, oversized postcard with a large photo on one side and four smaller photos and her hair color, eye color and measurements on the other side – to talent and modeling agencies in the region.

The bubbly brown-haired, brown-eyed girl soon was recruited to do some work for Kohl’s. She and her parents traveled to Wisconsin, where the retailer is based, twice within about a week earlier this month, once for casting and once for shooting.

At the casting, which lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes, Joanna impressed the photographers. She was natural and produced genuine smiles and other expressions. She was not shy.

“I was surprised, actually,” Jessica said of her daughter’s ease in the studio. “She surprises me a lot, though. I was such a tomboy growing up. I didn’t do nail polish or dresses or all the pink. But she’s so girly ... .”

And then, at the shooting, which again lasted only 15 minutes, Joanna, who picked out a colorful sundress and silver sandals, got to work.

“I think they were trying to advertise the shoes,” Jessica said. “They had her jumping up and down, running back and forth, looking down at her feet.”

At home, Joanna, clad in a pink Disney princesses dress and pink flats, enjoyed showing off her energy Thursday morning. She again jumped up and down, bounded back and forth and swung her long hair around in front of a photographer. She talked about her upcoming vacation and even pulled out her pastel-colored suitcase and fake, pink camera.

Her favorite part of having her picture taken?

“Bouncing up and down,” she said.

Joanna was paid $75 for her work with Kohl’s. Her parents intend to start a college fund for her. They hope the gigs continue.

And they aren’t worried the modeling will interrupt her little-girl life too much.

“We’re still sort of freaked out, like ‘Wow, she got it!’” Jessica said. “We said even if she doesn’t get anything, just being signed by a talent agency ... is enough for us. ...It doesn’t come up that often, and she just has fun with it.”

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