Nevada County native Sarah Marie in running for Maxim magazine cover
If you asked her at age 4, when her first local furniture commercials aired, she would say her name was “Tewa,” unable to pronounce Rs and Ss and struggling with a speech impediment that extended well into her adolescence.
At that time, she was still happy to accept a lava lamp for payment, but now Nevada County’s own Sarah Marie Stidham, 27, is in Los Angeles pursuing an acting career and ranks as a top contestant for Maxim magazine’s cover photo contest, along with the $25,000 prize money that goes with it.
As of Wednesday evening, Sarah Marie — the stage name she uses — ranked third in her group in Maxim’s 2019 Cover Girl competition. Voting for top 15 in each group ends at 8 p.m. Thursday. Voting for the top 10 will then start, lasting through Sept. 26.
People can vote for Sarah Marie here: https://maximcovergirl.com/2019/sarah-marie-2.
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Growing up in Nevada County, Sarah Marie spent her early childhood in Nevada City before moving to Grass Valley and then Penn Valley, but wherever she went she always felt that she just couldn’t quite fit in. She loved escaping to the Yuba River, but once back at school she struggled with the rigid academic structure that wouldn’t allow her to learn her own way and never found a community to belong to.
“I just could not grasp the information,” she said, adding that today schools are more accommodating to different learning styles. “School was always difficult. I never felt like I belonged in any one group and just went from group to group, experiencing a little bit of everything.”
She dutifully attended speech therapy classes daily, but would at times break down crying in frustration at the daunting task that she just couldn’t grasp, and the haunting prospect of not being able to communicate to others in the way she wanted. The school intercom calling her to therapy for all to hear certainly didn’t help her fit in or fend off bullies.
“I felt I had to always defend myself,” she said, describing instances of stashing tennis shoes in her locker just in case she had to fight someone after class, a not unfamiliar threat for the petite teenager.
Her mother, The Union advertising director Julia Stidham, recalls Sarah Marie eating lunch alone in the girls locker room. She tried to help her daughter by providing perspective: none of this would matter once she was chasing her dreams and living life on her terms.
“There’s nothing worse than 15- and 16-year-old girls who don’t like someone,” Stidham said.
Those days were a struggle for her but her adoration for the arts and performing carried her through until graduation, when she moved to Los Angeles to attend Santa Monica College and follow her passions.
Her grandfather Detlef Kiesler was not at all shocked she left for a big city.
“It’s a small community and there’s really not much for kids to do here, so it really wasn’t a surprise for her to leave,” Kiesler said. “She’s very strong-willed and she knew exactly what she wanted. That’s going to take her far.”
It was clear to anyone who knew her — even to some strangers, according to Stidham — that she was destined for stardom.
“I realized I’m going to be miserable doing anything else, so I had to make it happen,” Sarah Marie said. “I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it … and my mom understood.”
Since her safety conscious mother knew there was no keeping her in the Gold Country, she and the rest of the family drove behind Sarah Marie to Los Angeles to see her off and make sure she was safe.
“I just told her to trust herself, you’ve got that wisdom inside of you and don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings,” Stidham said. “I think we all know a lot more than what we allow our brains to recognize. There’s the subconscious and you have to listen to that.”
Moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career was one thing, but surviving was another. According to her grandfather, who helped raise her, seeing Stidham struggle at times as a single mom gave Sarah Marie early insight into what it means to have courage and strength.
“She’s very independent and she’s very stubborn, in a good way — and in a bad way. Mostly good,” Stidham said. “She really knows what she wants to do and she doesn’t want anyone telling her she can’t do it.”
By Sarah Marie’s account, it was singing in the Grass Valley Chamber Choir at age 12 that really pushed her into the arts and allowed her to flourish. Despite having problems speaking, she had no trouble singing.
“It was a boost of confidence that I never felt before,” she said. “Since then I’ve always had quite the mouth on me and could always stand up for myself using my voice.”
Her struggle to find her place and her voice helped prepare her for the rigors and rejection of the entertainment industry. She went from not being able to pronounce her own name to her voice being her biggest weapon in fending off stereotypical Hollywood executives.
Now she has an IMBD page of acting credits, made it to a final round of auditions in the recently released movie “Hustlers” and is in the running to earn a feature spread and cover photo in Maxim magazine. She credits her upbringing in Nevada County for her perseverance and success.
“Nevada County made me who I am — for good and bad it’s in my heart and it is my soul,” she said. “Even after being in LA for 10 years, I still feel like a Nevada County girl and I’ll always feel that way. Without those Nevada County experiences, I would just be another girl in Los Angeles.”
Contact Staff Writer John Orona at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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