For Abingdon Teen, Fashion is a Passion
Audri Easterling has won numerous awards for her modeling and vocal talents.
By LAURA J. MONDUL | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | April 05, 2010*** Published April 3 in the Bristol (VA) Herald Courier. ***
Audreyanna "Audri" Easterling of Abingdon, Va., has studied voice in Johnson City, Tenn., acting in New York and dancing on Broadway.
She's won awards for modeling and singing, and has been asked to sing the National Anthem for minor league baseball games. She spent the most of the past couple months working in the Virginia General Assembly as a Senate page. Come August, she'll be modeling for a firm based in Japan.
And next year, this 15-year-old freshman at Abingdon High School is planning to study fashion design in Paris. After all, she said, fashion is her first passion.
"Since an early age, I have aspired to be a fashion designer," Easterling said. "Even as a child, my mother had to alter every outfit that I purchased because I was always redesigning it."
As a child, Easterling, accompanied by her mother, frequented The Encounter, a specialty dress shop in Kingsport, Tenn., owned by her mother's close friend, Ethel Smawley.
During those visits, Easterling said, she entertained herself by playing on the stage in the store and in the stockroom and, of course, singing on that stage.
So starting at age 8, Easterling began spending summers in Manhattan to attend biz kids, n.y.c., a theater school for children, and the Pier 40 studios for adults. Also while in New York City, she worked on her dancing skills at the Broadway Dance Center.
At home in Abingdon, Easterling continued her work at a local dance school, trained under voice coach Jim Wilson in Johnson City and continued modeling.
Over the years, she has won numerous national and international awards for her modeling and voice talents, and has been asked to sing for special events.
But because of her family's close ties with Smawley, who carries designer clothing lines from prestigious outlets in New York and Europe, Easterling was able to break into her primary passion.
Recently, she spent time studying fashion at Parson's University in New York. Next year, she will be eligible to attend an intensive fashion class in Paris, France.
By the time Easterling graduates from Abingdon High, she anticipates having a two-year certificate in fashion design from Parson's. Then, she plans to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree in fashion design at the school.
Meanwhile, starting in August, she has the opportunity to work for that international modeling firm in Japan for up to nine months.
"The idea of modeling for an international modeling firm is beyond my wildest expectations," Easterling said.
But it's not all glamour and glitz. For the past several weeks, it's also been politics, up close, for Easterling.
As a Virginia Senate page, she ran errands for the senators and staff and watched as lawmakers argued for their legislation. She resided in Richmond for the session and continued her school studies long distance.
Easterling said she enjoyed meeting new people and hearing the many opinions offered by legislators.
"What I have learned mostly is to hurry up and wait," she said, laughing. "Also, that respect gets you a long way, follow the rules and doing well now will help you later in life."
Gwen Bailey, deputy clerk of the Virginia Senate, said Easterling has a bubbly personality, very good people skills and maturity.
"We call her "our little adult' because we can put her anywhere and she does great," Bailey said. "It has been a joy working with her."
Easterling said she decided to become a page to honor the memory of a family friend and father figure, John Bryan, who passed away four years ago.
Bryan was a lobbyist for Pittston Coal who worked with Easterling's mother, Jeannette Easterling. Often, Bryan allowed Easterling to tag along when he headed to Richmond for legislative sessions. Bryan told Easterling that she would "grow up to be his little politician" and would some day be governor of Virginia, she said.
For now, Easterling plans to share her experiences with other students at elementary schools in Southwest Virginia. She said she wants students here to know that serving as a page is a great opportunity and an experience available to them.
Raised by her mother, who was a pilot for Pittston Coal and who now flies and repairs helicopters, Easterling grew up handling many tasks at home when she was not accompanying her mother on flights. Often, when her mother was busy, Easterling stayed with friends and her mother's coworkers, who became like an adoptive family. Along the way, she picked up many skills and is now something of a jack-of-all trades, her mother said.
"She can do anything around the house," mom said of her daughter. "She can fix anything, rides a dirt bike, she can do wiring, pour concrete, work on mechanics, cook, do laundry – you name it. Many times when I'm going out to repair a helicopter, I can't find the tools to work on them because she's got them out in the garage working on her dirt bike."
Easterling said she most enjoys hanging out with friends and being a "normal kid." But to those who know her, she is an inspiration and a source of great pride.
"My greatest accomplishment in life is Audri and the successes she's had," Jeannette Easterling said. "I am so proud of her independence and that she is self-sufficient, and that she has the ability to reach her own goals. I am so proud of her – she is just amazing."