From UIC to Hollywood
By Mike Pankow — Alumni Magazine
Little did Joanne (JoJo) McCarthy (’97 LAS) realize the same unwavering focus that served her so well on the basketball court one day would propel a career amid the bright lights of Hollywood. Regardless of milieu, McCarthy keeps her eye on the ball.
As the only UIC women’s basketball player to have her number retired, McCarthy often found herself “in the zone” on court, finishing as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,805 points, including a school-record 238 three- pointers.
McCarthy since has forsaken sports for a career as makeup artist for some of the entertainment industry’s top celebrities.
No matter how bright the star, she never blinks.
“I recently was working on Jeannie Mai, one of the hosts of [nationally syndicated talk show] The Real,” McCarthy says. “It was my first time working with her, and though she wanted to chat, I found myself responding with one-word replies because I was in the zone. I was focused on doing a really good job.”
After earning a bachelors degree in psychology in 1997, McCarthy played professional women’s basketball, including a short-lived stint with the American Basketball League’s Chicago Condors. After funding issues forced ABL’s closure, she auditioned for teams in the Women’s National Basketball Association, but to no avail.
Then McCarthy turned to a trade she dabbled in while attending UIC.
“Whenever we went out, my teammates would tell me I did a pretty good job with my makeup,” she says. “One by one, they began to ask, ‘Would you mind doing my makeup or lashes?’” McCarthy complied, enhancing their eyebrows and curling their lashes, among other treatments.
McCarthy’s sister—actress and model Jenny McCarthy—encouraged her to ply her trade in Los Angeles. After some schooling, McCarthy broke in on smaller productions.
“Moving to Hollywood wasn’t a green light for me,” she says.
Due to perceived nepotism, “I had to prove myself more than the average artist. I remember days when I worked 16 hours for $100.”
McCarthy persisted, paid her dues and eventually landed in the makeup departments of marquee television series such as Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol and Pretty Little Liars. She also has appeared on reality shows Donnie Loves Jenny and Kendra on Top. McCarthy’s biggest thrill came when she was recruited for The American Music Awards, providing her the opportunity to touch up musicians Melissa Etheridge and Mary J. Blige.
“To this day, I make sure I’m always learning and never growing too [complacent],” McCarthy says. “My work ethic in basketball definitely transferred to my career in makeup. I’m grateful for that discipline and drive.”
Reprinted with permission from UIC Alumni. Uncondensed version available online.