Taylor girl co-stars in Nickelodeon show 'Just Jordan'

If you think that young girl with the engaging smile shopping at the mall during the holidays looked familiar, maybe it’s because you’ve seen her before.

Kristen Combs, 11, has been in more than a dozen television commercials and co-stars in the show “Just Jordan” on Nickelodeon.

Kristen lives with her mother, Dionne, and her 14-year-old brother Brandon in Taylor when they’re not in Hollywood. The strike by the Writers Guild of America halted production on “Just Jordan.” That allowed the Combses to return to Taylor well before Christmas.

They spent plenty of December and January with Kristen’s grandmother, Christine Johnson Adams, who lives in Taylor with her husband Marshall. The young performer also sang “Silent Night” during services at her grandmother’s church, Word of Grace, in the Church of Nazarene on Eureka Road.

Kristen has been performing since she was able to talk, according to her parents, who remember her entering a room and performing small scenes from television shows.

Kristen has been in show business since the first grade. Raised in Lansing, she took modeling and acting classes, where her teacher was convinced she was talented enough to make it in Hollywood. Kristen went to a regional talent event in Chicago that attracted hundreds of other children and dozens of agents.

Breaking into the business came easy – well, sort of. Her first audition for a McDonald’s commercial fell apart due to Kristen’s fear of clowns, in this case one of the world’s most recognizable clowns, Ronald McDonald.

“When she was 6, she was afraid of everything,” Dionne Combs said. “Ants, birds, clowns, the Eastern bunny, dogs – every animal in the animal kingdom.”

But Kristen said she “enjoyed entertaining people.” She overcame enough fears to perform in four television commercials in four months – quite a fete for someone who had no previous TV experience. She played a “daughter” in ads for Sprint and Disney Resorts, a “painting girl” in a commercial for Bubblicious and an “ice cream kid” in a T-Mobile spot.

While she and her brother were home-schooled by their mother, Kristen also received professional runway and commercial training, took an advanced film actors class and enrolled in the Rage Dance Studio to take jazz, ballet, hip hop and tumbling.

As the commercials continued, Kristen enjoyed performing and competing with two dance teams.

At age 10, she was signed to play Monica, the sweet, adorable little sister of the title character of “Just Jordan,” played by Lil’ JJ.
In the show, the outspoken Jordan Lewis has moved from Arkansas to California. Jordan works in a diner owned by his gruff grandfather and has to deal with his little sister, a critical cousin and overprotective mother.

While Kristen is 11 in real life, her character is a 9-year-old who always seems to know where Jordan is and gets involved with his dilemmas, usually offering unsolicited advice. “Monica” cramps Jordan’s style with her constant presence and attention.

“It’s a nice family show to watch,” Kristen said. “It’s about how kids should handle themselves. It teaches a lesson in every episode.”

Kristen actually shares several similarities with her TV character. Like Monica, Kristen often uses her smile and charm to win over people.
Also, like Monica, Kristen’s real-life parents, Dionne and Carlton, are divorced. And she moved with her family to a new state.

After Kristen was discovered in Hollywood, her mother knew their new lifestyle would require lots of travel. Dionne said they purchased a condominium in Taylor in 2005 because it would be easier to travel from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to California than it would be to fly from Lansing to the Pacific Coast.

“We come to Michigan as often as possible,” Dionne said. “My parents are in Taylor and it’s right by the airport. It’s a great location. They were building condominiums that were fabulous. We moved in right when they were going up.”

The amount of commuting depends on the 13-episode “taping season” of “Just Jordan.” Kristen works three weeks and gets one week off. Her brother is now enrolled in John Burroughs High School and is in the school band, so traveling is more limited than ever.

In December, the Combs also visited the Lansing area, where Kristen met up with some of her friends and performed for the student body at Pleasant View Magnet School.

The writers’ strike has frozen many shows and left actors wondering when they’ll be able to return to work.

When Kristen returns to the show, there’ll be at least one change. She’s gotten permission to change her hairstyle from her popular puffy hair balls to a more grown-up style.

“I just got it braided a month ago,” she said. “I’m not a kid any more. Mo Mo is 11 years old.”

About Kristen Combs

Some Basics: Kristen was born September 30, 1996. She is 4 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs about 75 pounds.

Family Matters: Kristen is the daughter of Dionne and Carlton Combs and the sister of Brandon Combs. Kristen lives most of the year with her mother and 14-year-old brother in Burbank, California, returning occasionally to their home in Taylor. Dionne manages Kristen’s career. Carlton, who lives in Williamston in suburban Lansing, is a business consultant as well as a rhythm and blues/jazz musician, singer and composer (www.myspace.com/princecarlton). Brandon is a talented drummer and a member of an independent drum corps, the Black Knights. Kristen’s grandmother, Christine Johnson Adams, is a retired nurse living in Taylor with her husband Marshall Adams, who is retired from Northwest Airlines.

Resume: Kristen plays Monica in the Nickelodeon show “Just Jordan.” She appears in a Kanye West music video. She has done commercials for Sprint, Disney Resorts, Bubblicious, T-Mobile, Honda, GAP, Home Depot, Kellogg’s Scooby Doo cereal, Wendy’s, Netflix, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, TJ Maxx and a public service announcement for gun control. She acted in the movie “Opposite Day,” which is awaiting release.

Education: Home-schooled most of her life by her mother, Kristen now attends school at the studio in California. Her favorite subject is math. Her parents are both graduates of Michigan State University.

Other Interests: Kristen takes dance lessons at the Rage Dance Studio and is a member of both the Rage Competition Dance Team and the LA Hip Kids, a singing and dance performance team. She loves dancing: jazz, ballet and especially hip hop.

-- Dave Gorgon