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Melinda Rader wears a gown by Octavio Carlin and jewelry by Gabrielle Frantzen as part of the “Oscars Designer Challenge 2011.” show. - Todd Wawrychuk / ?A.M.P.A.S.

Ashland graduate in competition to hand Oscars to the victors

When a prospective employer asked Ashland High School grad Melinda Rader, now a model based in Los Angeles, to walk while holding a water bottle at a casting call about a month ago, she realized she might be in the running for an Oscars event.

"When you go to a casting, you often don't know what they're for," Rader said. "I realized I was at a casting for the Oscars when they handed us a water bottle. They were testing to make sure we could hold an Oscar without shaking. They were making sure we had the arm strength because believe it or not, some don't."

The next thing she knew, Los Angeles-based fashion designer Octavio Carlin was fitting her in a body-hugging, black, slip-style gown for the Oscars Designer Challenge.

The challenge pitted nine designers against each other to create a gown for a random online electorate to select for the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

People logged on to oscar.go.com and filled out an online ballot to select their favorite gown and model from Feb. 16-21.

The winning model will wear the gown of the people's choice to deliver the Oscar statuettes to winners of the Academy Awards presentation at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif. and broadcast live on ABC on KDRV Channel 12. The winning model and gown will be announced on "Oscars Red Carpet Live" at 4 p.m. Sunday, just one hour before the awards ceremony.

Although voting closed, "they have been keeping us in the dark about who won," Rader said. She said she didn't know whether the winners would be informed prior to Sunday or find out at the same time the public does.

Rader, 22, debuted Carlin's gown during a fashion show Feb. 15 in Beverly Hills. Photos of her wearing the gown on the runway and sitting for makeup before the show were published in print and online by various news outlets, including NPR.

The gown, made of black silk charmeuse and silk chiffon, has spaghetti straps that form a V-shape across Rader's back, Carlin said. A train attached to the gown that added some drama to the silhouette during the fashion show will be removed if Rader wins the competition, Rader said. After all, there's no point in tempting fate when the coveted Oscar statuettes are in hand.

"For the Oscars, everything is a little bit more glamorous, insanely to the point of being a little ridiculous," Rader said, recounting the Feb. 15 fashion show. "There's video cameras and lights flashing. It's crazy. Octavio walked next to me on one of the runs. He told me the lights were shining so brightly on his glasses he couldn't see and almost tripped."

During the voting period that followed the show, Rader's mother, Sharon Quoss of Phoenix, and her boyfriend's mother, Terrie Martin of Ashland, spread the news about the competition to try to net more votes for the model.

Rader's interest in modeling began during high school. She took photography while a student at Ashland High School, where she graduated in 2006, but she preferred to be in front of the lens instead of behind it.

"Modeling was something I wanted to do for a long time and something I've been propositioned to do, but I wanted to make sure I finished school," she said.

She finally launched her modeling career last summer after earning a bachelor's degree in creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

"I love to go to work and feel way more pretty than I ever do in my own clothes," she said. "I love to travel, and that's something I can do modeling."

Rader, who is about 5-foot-10, just showed up at a casting call with a few photos of herself against a white backdrop, and Elite Model agency in Los Angeles signed her on.

She said her boyfriend, Ben Claflin, also an Ashland High School and USC graduate, has been her biggest fan and drives her to many of her shoots.

Read more about Rader today at mailtribune.com/style.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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