Candace Cameron Bure is a former Full House star and current cast member of the ABC Family series Make It or Break It. Andrea Stephens is an author, speaker and former model. Rebecca St. James is an actress, author and Dove award-winning singer/songwriter. All three women are not only talented, successful and gracious entertainers, they're women who decided not to play Hollywood's game by Hollywood's rules. All three have weathered the pitfalls of fame and come out on the other side with more wisdom than whiplash. I spoke to each (individually) to find out what their "formula" was, what they think of the industry they've been a part of and what they would tell teens who want to go into the business without suffering the star-studded ailment now known as Britnification.
Meredith Whitmore: You seemed to have avoided many of the industry's pitfalls. How did you manage that?
Rebecca St. James: You know, I'm just as susceptible to selfishness and pride, and all of those [hidden snares] as anyone else. I haven't done it perfectly by any stretch, but God has been so gracious to me and there have been protections in place that He has given me that I'm so incredibly thankful for.
One of the things I think was a protection is that I grew up around music. I think I went to my first concert when I was 6 weeks old, and so I grew up seeing some of the pitfalls of music. People are away from their families. They're away from church. They're away from accountability. It can be something that is very dangerous. I went into it with that knowledge.
Also, music was always about the sense of calling and mission I had. It wasn't this big dream of mine to get up on the stage and to have everybody kind of watch me. In fact, I probably like watching other people on stage more than I do myself being up there. So, in a way, that's a protection too.
Probably the biggest way that I feel God has protected me is through my family. They have been involved from Day One. My dad is my manager. So from the very early stages, he would say, "Don't believe your own publicity. Don't buy in to everything everybody says about you because it could ruin you. You are called to serve God, and it's about Him." I had those reminders constantly.
Candace Cameron Bure: By the grace of God! You know, I've really thought about this. I'm 34 now, so there wasn't the amount of press involved and pressures when I was a teenager that there are now. And, of course, family was incredibly important and my parents' influence and how they raised us. They really guarded us and guided us throughout the Hollywood industry. But I also think there is a big part that it really wasn't my nature to want to become a sex symbol or even feel that way and look at myself that way. I think as a teenager, I was one of those kids who just wanted to be a good kid and please my parents. Not that I didn't make some dumb mistakes, I certainly did. But I think my personality had a lot to do with [surviving].
Whitmore: A formula seems to have emerged for how to become a pop star. What do you think it is?
St. James: Initially, I think, some of the formula for these young pop stars is talent, looks and a schooling on how to do it well. Like a lot of these kids come from the Mickey Mouse Club and arenas such as that. And they're being trained to perform well—to sing, to dance and to act very well. And then they've been given this platform where they can influence a lot of people, but unfortunately the trend ends up going toward one of overt sexuality being used to sell a product.
I feel sad for Britney Spears because obviously she's been surrounded by people who were saying, "Show more skin. Be more sexual. You'll sell more records. This will be good for you and everybody else if you do this." And it's like water dripping on stone. No matter how much passion she has to stay true [to her purity and religious roots], if she's surrounding herself with people who are saying the same things over and over again, eventually compromises set in. That's why your community and accountability are so important.
That's how I feel about Miley [Cyrus] too. And I hope she doesn't continue down this path that Britney has had because it's distracting to herself and the people watching. Honestly, though, if I had been in a similar situation, or you or any one of us had been in a situation like Britney with very powerful people speaking into your life, who knows that we could've done the same thing? By the grace of God we haven't. So I don't think any of us can point the finger and say, "Well, I wouldn't have done that," because none of us are above anything.
Whitmore: I imagine being famous becomes such a part of some celebrities' identities that, when they're surrounded by producers and managers pressuring them into compromising situations, it's easier to make the wrong choices.
Cameron Bure: I agree with what you said. It's so important what people you have surrounding you helping you make those decisions. I think having grounded parents is an absolute must and only positively influence those choices. But ultimately, once these children become adults, it becomes about them and who they want to be. And most of us go through those stages and those years of saying, "I want to try this even though I know it's wrong because I need to figure this out for myself."
I think for me, I got through those years as well as I did because I left the industry in my early 20s. I got married, had children. And I stepped out of the business for 10 years to be a stay-at-home mom. I guarantee you had I stayed in during those pivotal years of my life, I would've made decisions that I would look back on now and regret. But now coming back as an adult and coming back as a mother, I do have a completely different perspective on the industry and how I look at it and how I want to use my influence in it. And it's because I got right with God. That my relationship with Him actually turned into a relationship, and I live my life to please the Lord. But I certainly didn't in my late teen years and my early 20s.
Andrea Stephens: It is hard to find entertainers who haven't given in to temptation. Perhaps they do it in ways we would never see as the general public. Most are not going to go public with offers they have refused or jobs they have turned down due to morals as they would offend the business people they still hope to be hired by for another [modeling or acting] job. But in my opinion, few make it really big without being corrupted. Of course it depends on what it means to make it big or be famous, but from the world's eyes, few have done that.
Whitmore: A young high school girl I know dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a star. She feels she can influence the industry because she is a strong Christian. What would you advise girls who want to be entertainers? Would you recommend they avoid the profession or move ahead?
Cameron Bure: I want to tell girls to just stay away, stay away from the industry. But I know as Christians we need to be part of all aspects of the industry. I just think that if it is truly a desire of yours it's probably in God's will for you to be in the entertainment industry from whatever aspect—whether it's acting or singing or modeling or even behind-the-scenes producing or directing. Whatever it is, I think it needs to be a true desire of your heart and in God's will. I don't think there's anything wrong with pursuing that.
I get nervous for people, though, because fame is involved. So many go in with the perspective, Well I want to become famous so I can influence and use my face to do that. And that's where it gets a little bit scary because you don't need to be famous to influence anyone in your Christian walk. You can be anything. You can be a stay-at-home mom and influence others around you with your Christian walk, whether that's your children, your husband, your neighbors. You can work at Starbucks and influence customers who come through. You don't have to be famous and that's where I would advise girls to be careful. If you have a love for acting or singing, by all means pursue it with God leading you. Just make sure that it's His will and path for you.
Stephens: First, check your motives—why does modeling or acting appeal to you? Are you looking for approval, validation, fame? Modeling can never be your life. It is a job. Develop who you are as a person by going to college and expanding your interests and friendships.
Second, have a good support system. Being on a runway or at a photo shoot is not the real world, so surround yourself with people who are outside of the industry, people who know the real you, people who know and love the Lord.
Third, understand that being a success in life is about discovering God's will for your life and doing it. Success is much bigger than landing a magazine cover or a part in a TV show.
That said, I rarely encourage girls to get into modeling and acting. They will constantly be put in situations that will force them to choose to stand alone or compromise. There will be fear of losing a gig because you won't party or strut the runway in a sheer blouse. Thinking you will be a Christian example to others will last for a while, but I've seen girls be influenced more by the industry than I've seen them be the influencers. I received an e-mail recently from a young woman who wanted to know how to get into "Christian modeling." There is no such thing. There are believers who model and act, but most keep [their faith] to themselves.
Plus, a person's self-esteem can take a beating. Constant rejection and comparisons chip away at confidence. It is huge for anyone enticed by this industry to know who they are in Christ with the firm foundation of God's Word.
St. James: I don't recommend that anybody avoid something that God is potentially calling you to. I think that it's something you need to explore with wisdom. Being led by God's peace. Being led by confirmation of God engineering circumstances. Being led by prayer. Being led by the accountability of the family of God. By community. There are so many ways that we can hear from God about our lives. So, absolutely, if someone is seeing a gifting God has given in the area of the arts, don't avoid it. We need more Christians in the arts. The arts are such a powerful medium for world change and Christians cannot be scared of it. I'm so passionate about that. I encourage people to explore the arts if they're sensing God has a calling in movies or music. In all kinds of art, including writing. But navigate it with wisdom and constantly going to God: "Lord, is this You or is this just me wanting to do this all on my own?"
If you avoid something just because it seems to be scary, that's blatant fear and that's wrong. God does not call us to have a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind. I felt called to come to Los Angeles, which for a lot of people is one of the scariest places to be on the planet. And I feel a very strong sense of mission here to be involved in music, film, and I'm writing as well. But also to be a Christian in this town who is living for God.
I encourage people, whether you want to be a dancer, musician, an actor, to pursue excellence. Work on your craft. Make it something that is truly of such a high standard that it will earn people's respect and, therefore, an opportunity to speak into people's lives. … Because there are a lot of people who aren't Christians who pursue excellence and are winning that platform to speak into people's lives even though they're bad role models.
Beyond that, obviously all of those other things come into play. Your mentors, your parents, your passion. Have accountability. Make sure that if doors start opening up that you have very strong Christians around you to keep you accountable and to wisely guide.
Whitmore: I don't want to make Miley Cyrus the focus here, but she is the most recent example of someone who has definitely been influenced by the industry in a negative way much more than she has influenced it in a positive way. What do you have to say about that?
Cameron Bure: I would have to agree with you. I watched her video ["Can't Be Tamed"] the other night. I was a little bummed out. But I'm in the industry, so I get it. I can understand the place she's coming from. I don't know Miley personally, but I can understand the people who influence her, telling her what's going to sell records and what's going to get videos watched. But as a mom, I'm so rooting for her to be that positive, clean image for our kids.
And yet, that's serious pressure for a teenager. … As a teenager, whether you're in the media or not, that's the time when you're discovering yourself—who you are and who you want to be and who you are in the eyes of the Lord. It's magnified 100% when you're in the media and you've got pressure coming from all sides. You're being pulled to keep your clean-cut image and you're being pulled from the other side [to] be an even bigger star and make all kinds of money. … There's so much manipulation from that other side that says the more you sell the more popular you are and the more you can influence the world with the good things that you want to do.
Whitmore: Why do you think girls are so attracted to entertainment? Of course, there's potential money and fame, but what could many of them truly be looking for beyond these things?
Stephens: We all look for attention, approval and ways to meet our need to fit in. The world worships those who are in the limelight, those who make big bucks, those whom it thinks are physically beautiful. Many girls think this will be the way they will get these inner needs met—but if they do, it will only be temporary. True identity is found in Christ and approval comes from God, but these things are only felt when we make Him our audience of One. Eyes and heart locked on Him alone, making Him the core of our life.
As an illustration, there's a Fisher-Price toy that has a tippy bottom and six brightly colored rings around a center piece. As long as the center piece is present, the rings do not fall off even when the bottom is rocking and rolling. But, remove the center or try to replace it with something else and the rings fly off at the slightest movement. So it is with us. Only God as our core keeps us solid and able to withstand whatever comes our way.
One of the things God really used my New York modeling experience to teach me was that having my face on a cover or in an ad or commercial had no eternal significance. He had bigger plans for my life that that! He desired to use me in ways that made a difference in others' lives and pointed them to Him.
Whitmore: What would you tell Christian entertainers, then, who want to make it big in the mainstream—like Miley, Britney, the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift?
St. James: For one, I don't think it should be our goal to make it big in the mainstream. If that's the focus, I do think it will ruin us. It will hurt us. I think if the goal as an artist, as a performer, as a Christian is to be used by God and to honor God with your craft, then He will use your life. Whether it's locally or on a worldwide level, He will use you to point people to His hope and use you as a positive influence on the world. People get stuck on "I want to be this big star for God," and I think it's extremely dangerous. I really do. He will take you where He will take you and it's not in your hands.
Whitmore: Candace, you're currently on ABC Family's Make It or Break It, a decidedly non-Christian show. Tell me why.
Cameron Bure: The show, of course, is not a Christian show. It deals with teen topics in worldly ways. [But] when we talked about my character in joining the show, the producers had said after we met that they would like to make the character a Christian character, which I thought was pretty awesome and a God thing. That was a really great thing for me. I thought I could actually portray a Christian authentically on television because I think most of the Christians that we see on television can be either hypocritical or just kind of crazy … or extremely judgmental.
The producers and writers have really included me in [crafting that character]. They know I'm a Christian, so they say, "Hey, if something doesn't sound right or if it's not the kind of language you would use, we want to know that. We want her to be real." So I've had the privilege with this character to be very real and authentic. I've even been able to discuss abstinence on the show from a biblical perspective—and just talk about God on prime-time television.
Whitmore: Last question. Andrea, you have a very specific story to tell about a time during which you had to make some hard decisions related to your faith and your purity in the midst of the New York modeling scene. Would you share it with our readers?
Stephens: I was at a private birthday party for a famous photographer at Studio 54 in New York City. OK, here is a good example of how we slowly become desensitized as "good girls" in the modeling world—I had no business even being at this place. But "all the models were going," it would be exciting, and I didn't have to do any partying … so we rationalize.
As any young model, I was star struck by the famous people. Models, actors, everyone. I was especially taken with one particular A-list celebrity—I had seen all of his most famous movies and I found him intriguing and attractive. Then he caught me staring at him. I quickly looked away. Yet I'm sure he figured I'd be an easy catch for the night since I was looking at him.
About 20 minutes later, he and his brother came over to introduce themselves to me and my girlfriend. Then his brother walked away and so did my friend. I was so nervous. What in the world do you say to such a big star? He told me to relax and he started asking me questions about myself—what modeling agency I was with, how long I'd been in New York, etc. Then he invited me to go sit someplace more private so we could talk. His bodyguards kept photographers and media away from us. I finally relaxed and enjoyed the conversation. Then he invited me to go to dinner with him, his brother, agent, bodyguards—his "people," if you will.
Now, this was the first real point of decision. I wanted to go, but also knew that he might think this would mean that I was his for the night. So, being brave, I said, "Well, you just need to know that I am not going to sleep with you." He laughed and said, "What makes you think I want to sleep with you?" I blushed. Oh.
After talking till the wee morning hours and telling my story of getting to New York (borrowing money and working nights at a restaurant to pay for my portfolio photos) he offered to pay the money I owed and give me a small part in the movie he was currently filming. He also invited me to move in with him.
Goodness. I came away from that with my head spinning. This could be my big break—we were all looking for a break! My roommates told me to go for it. But bottom line I knew what it would mean—giving up the virginity I was still saving for the man who would love me forever, and disobeying God.
I seriously agonized over this. I went to a church the next day and sat for hours and cried and argued with God. Why do You say we aren't to have sex before marriage? I see other girls doing this all the time and they seem fine. I know you forgive. Can I just do this and see what happens to my career? But when I walked out of that church, I knew I had my answer. It was no.
Thank God I was smart enough to realize that I had better never be alone with this famous man again—I wasn't sure if I could or would refuse him. So I explained to him that I couldn't come to dinner the next time he asked. Finally he said, "Can I ask you a personal question?" Yes. "Are you a virgin?" My silence gave away the answer.
I don't want to share the rest of the conversation at this point. He did try to get me to change my mind.
Over the next eight months, I began to realize the chances of my making it as a model and trying to stay good were not going to happen. I began to read my Bible more and seek God about what He wanted for my life—all I wanted was to model and act. I'd never really bothered asking Him what He created me to do. I eventually moved home to pursue His plan for me. It was not being in that industry and I'm so thankful!
Read "Hollywood's Math Problem."