ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque native Jessica A.M. Kalil has accomplished many goals – and at 30, she’s got a whole new set of them.
The 2006 Rio Grande High School graduate moved to New York City and obtained her bachelor’s degree in musical theater and dance from Pace University. She then continued her studies, receiving a master’s in media communication arts.
That was just the beginning.
Kalil somehow found the time to become cheerleader for the NFL’s New York Jets for a year. Then came the opportunity to work on a cruise ship as a dancer and aerialist.
Once that was stint was over, Kalil moved to Texas and was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader from 2013 to 2015. She also worked as a marketing administrator for a law firm.
In Texas, she met her husband, Ozzie, and felt complete. But it was a question from Ozzie that would change her life.
“Once we got married, we kind of talked, and he said, ‘What is something you’ve been wanting to do like a passion project or something that you just feel like you’ve never had the chance to fully dedicate yourself to?’ ” she said. “… And I go, ‘I’d really like to start a YouTube channel for makeup tutorials.’ So we talked about it, and I ended up quitting my job.”
Kalil’s fascination with makeup started at a young age, and her techniques are self-taught.
She remembers taking her mother’s makeup box and painting her face.
“I would create myself into a dragon or a witch, something crazy, and come out and perform for my family. So like painting my face or doing crazy makeup has always been in my blood,” she said.
Kalil started her YouTube channel in February and soon garnered a small following of about 100 subscribers.
Shortly afterward, she took a leap of faith and submitted a video to the NYX Professional Makeup’s 2017 Face Awards, which she had been watching and admiring for six years.
She submitted videos of painting faces, doing short films and character videos for a chance at a big cash prize, fame and cosmetics.
Things started steadily with an open challenge, then a second challenge called “Royalty,” in which Kalil chose to turn herself into a “Stone Queen.”
“I hustled on Facebook and Instagram and got votes,” she said. “And then I made it to top 20 and then top 12. The challenge was ‘Animal Kingdom,’ and I painted myself as an octopus. And then from there, I was just amazed that I was in the top 12, and I really didn’t think I’d make top 6.”
The votes kept coming in for Kalil, and she took on the final challenge of “Cyber Punk,” which she was “really worried” about but after about 10 times of repainting her face she found a design she was satisfied with.
NYX flew Kalil and the other top 6 contestants to Los Angeles for two weeks for promotional appearances and final competitions.
For three days, they each had to film a 90-second film with a “Magic” theme. Each contestant had the opportunity to work with a Hollywood production team. Kalil was assigned a crew that had worked with some big names, including Beyoncé, rock band Imagine Dragons and NBC’s singing competition show, “The Voice.”
On Aug. 19, Kalil was announced 2017 Face Awards Vlogger of the Year. As part of the title, she receives $50,000 and a year’s supply of NYX makeup. She also will have to make appearances and do other promotions for NYX.
“My Instagram has seen the most growth, so before that Aug. 19, I had probably like 3,500 followers, and now I’m at 15.67K, so it went up quite a bit,” Kalil said. “I’ve also gotten a handful of business opportunities like sponsored videos or sponsored posts on Instagram. I have companies sending me makeup products for free to try, and so definitely there’s been a huge shift in just the exposure of the Face Awards and just coinciding Ozzie’s and my hopes for what I would like my channel to become.”
Kalil and her husband recently used some of the winnings as a down payment on a home where they live in Plano, Texas. They also plan to expand their family in the spring. In the meantime, Kalil travels back home to speak to students at local high schools as well as the Westside Community Center, which Kalil used to frequent as a teenager.
“Coming from the South Valley, coming from, you know, not with the highest expectations but just kind of show them that anyone can do it if you believe in yourself,” Kalil said. “I really try to push that message.”
Westside Community Center staffers are proud of their protegé.
“They were just completely amazed,” Kalil said. “They felt like providing some of the opportunities that they do does pay off with kids, especially in the South Valley, and their commitment in helping kids and lifting kids up, so it’s kind of like a success story. … They were pretty impressed and pretty happy, and they thought that about the programs that they provide to the teens and the kids. … These programs that end up being free for some of these families. I think that’s really important.”