Debuting as a manager in 2002 with Golden State Championship Wrestling, and continuing to hone her craft with various independent companies over the following few years, SoCal Val is probably best known as a TNA producer, announcer and occasional performer. She officially joined the company in 2006 after several appearances the previous year, gained a vast amount of notoriety among fans in 2008 after turning on Jay Lethal after an onscreen romance and engagement, eventually joining Sonjay Dutt as a gold digging heel who was only with Dutt for his – storyline – father’s money.
What many fans wouldn’t realize is that she was also a producer with the company , helping a number of the perfomers with their vignettes – specifically helping them with French, German and other languages she speaks when they need to record country specific promos. She also wrote a vast number of scripts for many vignettes and promos for the international market, as well as fully producing many of them.
After leaving Total Nonstop Action (TNA), she’s kept herself busy modelling, sporadic acting, frequently updating her fashion blog, and working with Shine Wrestling. We recently caught up with SoCal Val to talk about her career, both in and out of the professional wrestling business.
You started off in Golden State Championship Wrestling; what was it that prompted your initial move into the wrestling business? Were you a fan growing up?
SoCal Val: Not growing up, per say. I started watching around 1998 or so. But I was hooked almost instantly. The theatrics of wrestling and the over the top characters and costumes sparked my interest. Most girls love a good drama or soap operas so for me it had elements of that.
I’ve read reports that you admired Stephanie McMahon’s character in WWE; aside from her, have you had many other inspirations in the wrestling business?
SoCal Val: She was and is still my #1 inspiration but as I began to study managers more closely I found ways to implement character traits from Sunny, Dawn Marie, Francine and Missy Hyatt into the SoCalVal persona. I really liked Torrie Wilson and Stacy Kiebler during the WCW Invasion angle. They were great, sassy heels that were seen more as managers than serious wrestlers. Serious women wrestlers never resonated with me. I think you’re drawn to the ones who are doing something you could see yourself doing and I have no interest in personally involving myself into the physical side of wrestling.
I’ve found myself doing a bump here or there or in simple matches that are more theme based (evening gown, bra and panties etc.) and I’ve enjoyed those but training to be a wrestler is not something I have a passion for. I trained a bit at an MMA gym for awhile so I would be more comfortable taking bumps which showed me first hand how difficult it is and how much agony your body goes through. It’s not for me. I’m more of a talkative, creative person. Acting, managing and on-air hosting keeps me fulfilled and it’s where my talent is better suited. So I’ll stick to that!
You’ve been featured in a number of independent promotions – Golden State and Women’s Extreme Wrestling, just to name a few – as well as TNA, and more recently on Shine Wrestling. Have you any preference towards working on an independent show versus a bigger promotion such as TNA? Or is it purely based on the show at hand and who you’re working with?
SoCal Val: My only preference is to be around professional, fun people. Working for both “big” and “small” companies it”s been interesting for me to see firsthand that the size of the company has nothing to do with how smoothly a show is run. The stress level can be just as heinous in a bigger promotion if people aren’t doing their jobs properly. Luckily with Evolve, where I work now, I can honestly say the product is great because the bookers are great.
Gabe for example, in Evolve, has such a great mind for the business but that’s not the only reason he’s an excellent booker. He treats the talent so well, he’s approachable and he creatively works with each individual wrestler to showcase what they’re best attributes are. It’s reasons like that and just generally being a nice guy and fiercely believing in the product that make him such a pleasure to work with.
When you were with TNA, you worked as behind the scenes as well as an on-air personality. When you were working behind the scenes, what kind of role did you have, and what were you responsible for?
SoCal Val: I wrote scripts for my own on air segments like the “Impact Wrestling Review” that went to Spike TV and all our international markets (some of which I did liners in French and German which was so fun!) and wrote scripts for wrestlers that I would produce in commercials and various promos backstage. I edited videos, created web content and new supplemental shows and commercials, made graphics, acted as the office liaison with talent at autograph signings for clients etc.
Toward the end of my time there I had half announcer duties and half office duties. I was thrilled the company thought enough of me to bridge that gap. To entrust me with important roles in so many random areas I thought was a reflection of the kind of employee I was. It’s disheartening that fans didn’t know all I did for the company and always assumed I was just a ring girl. But worrying about others opinions gets you nowhere. All I know is I walked away knowing I did all I could do to contribute while keeping a very positive attitude throughout. That got me respect over time from my peers and superiors which is the greatest accomplishment a female can achieve in this business. I have nothing but great memories from my time at TNA.
Throughout your career, you’ve worked as both a babyface and a heel. Do you have a preference for working one way or the other?
SoCal Val: Definitely heel! It was so funny when people said they couldn’t imagine me being a heel after the Jay Lethal storyline. I think it’s because on a grander scale (Spike TV) I was first featured on the show at ringside as this sweet innocent girl who fell for the benevolent hero. When I finally got to turn heel it came naturally because 90% of the time on independent shows previous to (and during) TNA I was always a heel manager. The “rich bitch” character. THAT is who SoCalVal is.
Since you began your career, you’ve had a number of highlights – your love triangle with Jay Lethal and Sonjay Dutt in TNA being a big one, as well as your current storylines in Shine. Are there many moments in your career that stand out for you?
SoCal Val: The wedding on PPV to Jay Lethal is still probably my favorite. Just because I know I can look back and laugh at the fact I had a “wedding” on PPV in this huge ridiculous gown and it all ended in tears and an all out brawl. Who else can say that? It’s certainly a conversation piece. But honestly I have so many moments I’m grateful for. In general I think signing with a big company like TNA at 18 was the best opportunity overall. I had tried out for WWE a couple times and I could tell they had a problem with me being so young. Which is understandable, especially that many years ago. It was unheard of to take a chance on a girl my age and assume she’d capitalize on the opportunity and remain grateful and grounded. TNA and people like David Sahadi, Jeremy Borash and Jeff Jarrett took that chance on me and I hope they know I’m still just as grateful. I also hope I made them proud!
The majority of your roles in your career have either been behind the scenes, or as a manager for other wrestlers. Have you ever given much thought to being an in-ring competitor?
SoCal Val: As I mentioned earlier it really isn’t my cup of tea. Could I train and become a great wrestler? Hey, maybe. But being great at something means nothing if it doesn’t fulfill you. I don’t live my life that way. Doing what I love has never felt like work for me and the physical exertion of training to become a wrestler has never appealed to me. I respect and admire those who do it because they love it. In the way I hope they respect me for sticking to the side of the business I feel most comfortable in. We all contribute in different ways and should support each other in whatever aspect of the business we feel best suited to.
You left TNA in 2013, and returned in 2015 for a tour of the UK. What was it that made you leave the company?
SoCal Val: I knew in my heart I wanted to move on for quite awhile. This wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself there. It was simply knowing that it was time to bow out gracefully and graciously. I will be honest in saying toward the end I felt rather stagnant in my role. It had lessened and lessened to the point I wasn’t okay with being mostly just a ring girl in the same way when I started at 18.
When the release came I was asked to consider re-signing and to continue on with the company and my response was that I would think about it. I did and came to the conclusion that it was time to move on. I think everyone at TNA knows (because I’ve told them!) how thankful I am for the opportunities. I grew up in that company so it was very emotional to know I wouldn’t see my friends as often. But life goes on and my true friends know who they are and what they mean to me. I will always support the growth of TNA and feel pride for having worked there for 9 years.
Many fans would know that you’re extremely fashionable, and impeccable with your appearance. What some fans mightn’t know is that several years ago, you set up your own fashion blog, and have coined the phrase “The Art Of Overdressing.” What was it that led you to starting your own blog?
SoCal Val: Thank you for saying that! It was simply my love for fashion, shopping and creating outfits. I was always accused (rightfully so) by the guys of being overdressed. Mainly in airports! When I realized there were fans out there that may benefit from my help in styling, a Fashion blog seemed like the obvious next step in my very random and ever evolving career with social media.
I love that I have a mostly male fan base who appreciate my lingerie and bikini shoots (which I really enjoy doing) but connecting with a female audience has brought me so much personal joy. I am a girls girl! In the most over the top, hyper feminine sort of way. If I wasn’t in wrestling I probably wouldn’t have many male friends. I hope my blog is viewed as approachable and feels like I’m just dishing with girlfriends about where and how you can up your fashion game to empower yourself and feel great. That’s the goal of overdressing.
Was the blog set up to show your own fashion skills – which are impeccable – or was it set up so you can interact with your fans more? How successful has it been so far?
SoCal Val: Mainly to connect with fans and make fashion and getting ready a fun experience. It baffles me, for example, when people don’t enjoy shopping or getting glammed up! It should make you feel good about yourself and put you in a fabulous mood that celebrates YOU! The success of the blog surprised me. But having as many followers as I do is appealing to brands so that’s helped me with so many collaborations. Most bloggers don’t get taken seriously when they’re just starting out. Thanks to wrestling I had a bit of a “name” already when it comes to social media influence.
Is it difficult to maintain the blog while you’re on the road with wrestling?
SoCal Val: The photoshoots are often hard to set up and commit to. The written blogs and email correspondence is a lot easier as I work as a social media consultant full time so I’m chained to my computer, iPad and phone anyway! I make it fun though to work from home and on the road. To further my own productivity I wear fake glasses and dress like a secretary so when I’m typing away I feel like Joan Holloway from Mad Men!
In 2006, Playboy contacted you about possibly featuring you in a centerfold, but you turned it down. What was it that lead you to say no?
SoCal Val: It ultimately was TNA’s decision not to have me take part in Playboy at that time. I was on board and would have accepted the offer but it wasn’t something TNA wanted to approve. Everything happens for a reason. I love the Playboy brand and work with them often in “unofficial” capacities. Now that the magazine doesn’t contain nudity it’s likely I could shoot for them in a much less stressful environment. Posing nude is a huge decision.
It didn’t come easily to me when I agreed in 2006 because there are so many other factors involved. You have to think of what it will mean to your family in the future. That was my biggest worry but I think Playboy celebrates nudity in a very classy way. So if you’re going to do it you should do it with an iconic brand like Playboy that puts a positive spin on a rather “taboo” subject.
You’ve also gotten into modelling – including modelling your own outfits on your fashion blog. When did you first get into that, and how has it gone so far? Are there any photo shoots that you think went particularly well?
SoCal Val: After TNA, I focused on a lot more Fashion/Editorial shoots that put me in a more serious position as a model. To work with as many photographers as possible, especially internationally, was important to create a more diverse portfolio. I didn’t want to be seen only as a “Maxim Style” glam, cheesecake model that only ever poses in lingerie or bikinis. But at the end of the day, I LOVE those types of shoots and it’s what the fans want. So it’s a win-win! I just think it’s cool that I can do both. A shoot that has an artistic quality, like the ones I’ve done in Toronto in the last couple years, have been some of my favorites ever. They tell a story and allow me to be a different character through styling, hair and makeup. (Check out my editorials by Kyle Ryan Schruder, Geoff Larkin and DNA Photo Studio to see what I mean.)
You seem to be doing so much work – wrestling, modelling, your fashion blog and some acting. How do you find so much time to fit everything in?
SoCal Val: I barely do! I have a real problem with never feeling like I have time for all of my passions. That irks me so much. I’ll never have time for everything. For example I wish I had more time for my random hobbies; to paint, sketch, learn more French, study architecture, art history and paleontology. Obviously hosting, blogging, working in social media, modeling, traveling, wrestling shows, announcing and all of that have to come first.
What can we expect next from SoCal Val? Aside from Shine, what else do you have planned in the wrestling business in 2016? Are you expecting to work more independent promotions, or are you planning to take 2016 as it comes?
SoCal Val: I’ll still be doing shows and signings, modeling a lot, blogging for my Fashion blog and doing a lot of on-air hosting for the new @FITEtv app. On March 1st I’m off to England for a month and will be spending significant amounts of time there in the future. I’m thrilled to discover new opportunities there in every business that I look to progress in. I love the English culture and have family there so me being around London more often shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s going to be the most exciting transition in my life and I am so ready for it!