Chenese Lewis set her mind on working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and, without one connection in the business, figured out a way to make it on her own.
“I got bit by the modeling and acting bug when I was still in Baton Rouge,” said Lewis, who was born here, graduated from McKinley High School in 1997 and studied English at LSU. “I left to be a star in Hollywood in 2004.”
What makes Lewis unique is that she is not a skinny starlet. She is a plus-size woman with the self-esteem to make it in the low-fat world.
On Saturday, she will host a plus-size fashion show, a first for Los Angeles Fashion Week. The event, to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, will feature eight different designers with designs, all size 12 and above.
Her first break came in a plus-size beauty pageant in Monroe. “I walked away with the title of Miss Plus America,” Lewis said. “I figured that now that I have a national title, I can move to Los Angeles. I moved on faith and a dream.”
When she had been in California only three weeks, Lewis landed a lead role in a music video. “Everybody at home thought I was famous,” she said. “I thought it was a sign from God. Some people struggle and struggle for months, and here I was able to book a job on my own.”
Not knowing how the industry worked, Lewis got scammed by a woman who offered to be her manager and promised her bookings on national television shows like “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” “I was paying her a fee every month,” she said. “I was straight out of Louisiana and didn’t know that managers are paid a percentage of what they book for their clients.”
That’s when Lewis concluded that she was going to take her career into her own hands. The Internet became her tool. “I used it to look up jobs,” she said. “I would then submit myself. I could do modeling and acting.”
In no time, she was modeling for Torrid, a national modeling chain, handling all of her own bookings.
In 2007, she became a cast member on “Hell Date,” a popular series on BET (Black Entertainment Television). “It was kind of like a prank dating show,” Lewis said. “People thought they were going on a blind date when they were really going out with actors, who acted crazy. It made for really funny television.”
One of her most popular projects is her Plus Model Radio that streams every Monday at 8 p.m. CDT. Each year, Lewis interviews celebrities at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. The interviews along with interviews with other personalities are part of her podcast available on the Internet at http://www.plusmodelradio.com.
She has appeared in several movies including “The Missing Link,” “Driving Bill Crazy” and “Family Reunion” and on television shows including “Dr. Phil,” “The Insider” and “Xtreme Fakeovers.” Her latest movie, “Noobz,” opens in January. She has done commercials, music videos, theater and numerous modeling gigs.
Her parents, Willie D. Lewis, a retired clerk of court administrator, and Tharis Lewis, who teaches children with autism at Riveroaks Elementary School, travel to California three times a year to see their daughter.
Tharis Lewis said she had no idea that her daughter had such a strong interest in entertainment when she was growing up. “When she was in school, she was more into computers,” Tharis Lewis said. “She is a very smart girl. She passed the GT (gifted and talented) test in the first grade.”
Chenese Lewis is making quite a name for herself as a speaker on self-esteem and a positive body image. These days, she is in the very beginning stages of a new project, a women’s conference in Baton Rouge possibly next year.
“I speak all over the country,” she said. “I speak to a lot of plus-size women, but I have moved in the direction of eating disorders. I am plus-size, but the issue is universal. The issue is women.”
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