Since Central Point teen Branden Rickman won a modeling contract on national reality television, he hasn't been the only one swept up in sudden fame.
Rickman's mother, 54-year-old Diane Rickman, also has gained local recognition as a model of sorts — a model of single parenthood.
1. Don't drink
2. Pay attention to your children
3. Go to church
4. Do community service.
"I have more single moms come up to me and say how wonderful it is to see a successful single mom," Diane says. "It amazed me."
Audiences of Bravo TV's "Make Me a Supermodel" frequently saw 19-year-old Branden praise Diane's efforts as a single parent and her contributions to his fledgling career path. But Branden was better known for shedding tears while admitting that he sorely missed his mother, particularly when the show's high-stress photo shoots and catwalk evaluations started wearing on him. He spent more than two months in New York last year filming the series' second season.
"I got a little emotional, and it kind of sucked," Branden says.
Diane, however, couldn't have been happier with Branden's tributes to her once the show aired early this year. Her co-workers and customers at Central Point's Albertsons store commented daily on how proud she must be.
"I got the privilege of seeing my kid talk about how much he loved me," she says. "I would hug him when he was saying those wonderful things."
The Rickmans' close mother-son bond comes as no surprise to family friends.
"Their relationship did come out in the program," says 54-year-old Julie Rodin of Shady Cove. "They're like an old married couple, actually."
A friend of 35 years, Rodin knew Diane when both worked as Blackjack dealers in Lake Tahoe, Nev. Separated from her first husband and abandoned by Branden's father, Diane says her life was "just a mess" when she started attending a nondenominational Christian church. She recalls being amazed at the pastor's message: Jesus loved her just the way she was.
"I wanted to get to know Jesus," she says. "I think of that to this day."
For the next nine years, the Rickmans actively participated in church life. Choosing a new congregation was integral in Diane's plans to relocate to the Rogue Valley in 1999. Once she and Branden, then 9, attended Applegate Christian Fellowship in Ruch, they knew they'd found a home, she says.
Working as a Starbucks barista before Albertsons hired her, Diane stretched her tight budget to take Branden and his older sister Jessica camping, fishing and to California theme parks for vacation. While Diane struggled to make ends meet, her family did community service together, including raising money for charities like Children's Miracle Network, Diane says.
"I don't spend money on things," Diane says. "I spend money on time with the kids."
Spending time with one's children is the most important gift that parents — single or otherwise — can give, Diane says. Because Applegate's youth groups were so supportive of her family, Diane also encourages single parents to become active in a faith community.
"It just ended up being a wonderful way to live."
Although Branden isn't "a perfect kid by any means," Diane says, his religion remains an important aspect of his daily life, one most "Supermodel" fans likely wouldn't recognize. Branden's talk of Christianity and prayer never made the show's final cut, mother and son say.
"During the show, I prayed every morning I woke up," Branden says. "Whatever you need, all you got to do is pray."
Diane says she trusts God — and prays — that Branden won't fall victim to the trappings of show business. But because Branden's newfound fame couldn't have happened more quickly, his mother says she's hardly had a moment to worry about his future.
"I believed that something big was going to happen for this kid," she says.
Branden's modeling potential became apparent the summer before his senior year at Crater High School as the family vacationed in Los Angeles. Skateboarding bare-chested through Venice Beach, the tall 17-year-old kept drawing stares from passersby, a few of whom suggested he try modeling and acting, Diane recalls.
"It was like, all of a sudden, he blossomed," Diane says. "He went from gangly, geeky."
After the Rickmans returned to Medford, Branden enrolled in modeling classes at Image & Modeling Development with money Diane had saved for his graduation. Proving himself an apt student, Branden won a scholarship to attend last year's International Model and Talent Association convention in New York.
Catching the eye of "Supermodel" producers at the convention, Branden was bound for filming in New York just a few weeks later. More than five weeks of filming passed before Branden was allowed to speak to his mother by phone, a concession after judges criticized him for being "cocky."
Within another few weeks, Diane was on a plane to New York for the show's finale, which pitted Branden against 26-year-old Jonathan Waud, of Southampton, England; and 22-year-old Sandhurst Tacama Miggins, of Tobago. His mother's reassuring presence — a complete surprise — couldn't have come at a better time for Branden.
"Just to see her again boosted my confidence back up," he says. "I think that's what I needed."
With the show's win under his belt, Branden returned to the IMTA convention a year later to claim the association's honor of this year's most successful model. He's since fulfilled Bravo contract duties by shooting a photo spread for the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and landed his first paid job, Diane says, posing for a men's fashion magazine. Branden used his Bravo prize money — about $45,000 after taxes and agency fees — to pay back loans, rent a New York apartment with Miggins and buy a red Volkswagen Jetta.
"He's havin' a ball in New York," Diane says.
And Diane is enjoying the peace and quiet of an empty nest. Since the show, she's lost 30 pounds, taken a vacation to Southern California and has plans to purchase a new easy chair. She continues to mentor homeless women weekly at the Women's Gospel Mission shelter in Medford.
"I'm able to give back to other single moms," she says. "Now all of a sudden, I maybe get to find Diane again."