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Model of Virtue

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YOU MAY THINK THAT I’M SOME NAIVE bumpkin, and maybe that’s even partly true,” fledgling, Iowa-born model Sarah Owens (Cassidy Rae) tells her snooty, slutty, Australian-bred rival in the first episode of Models Inc. “But I’ll tell you this: I’ve kicked asses a lot bigger and a lot tougher than yours!”

Somehow that last line doesn’t quite ring true, if only because perky Sarah is sooo darn sweet in almost every scene she’s in on the new Wednesday-night Melrose Place spinoff. Such niceness emanates naturally from Rae, 18, a country girl from Clermont, Fla. (near Orlando), who became a model at 14 and an actress 1½ years later (on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All). And although she has lived in L.A. for more than a year now, she still shares Sarah’s country-fresh outlook. The first clue that she’s not your typical Hollywood teenage club-hound: She attends a weekly Bible study class. Clue No. 2, and a big one: Rae acknowledges that she’s a virgin and proud of it. “I definitely believe with all my heart,” she says, “that [sex] is something you save for marriage. It’s very special.”

Wholesomeness seems to be a family trait. “Some of our friends call us the Brady Bunch” says her mother, Amy, 37, in the living room of the tiny, two-bedroom apartment that Cassidy Rae Joyce (the actress’s real name) rents in L.A. Crowding around them are Cassidy’s father, Ray Joyce, 40, a former citrus grower and now a greenhouse sales rep; her brother Cody, 15; and sister Dustin, 10, all of whom have flown from Florida for a visit. Mom and Dad were witnesses to Rae’s earliest poses—modeling vintage clothes bought at a yard sale. “I used to catch her looking at herself in the mirror, tossing her hair and saying, ‘Cover girl!’ ” recalls Amy. When Cassidy was 14, Amy, armed with a handful of snapshots, charmed her way into Orlando’s biggest talent agency and arranged an audition for her daughter. As commercial offers came her way, Cassidy won her parents’ permission to study with a private tutor. She earned her high school diploma at 15.

Two summers ago, Rae flew to L.A. to lest for the Belle Midler comedy Hocus Pocus. She lost that part but gamely returned in early ’98 and quickly landed a role on Angel Falls, a CBS prime-time soap. Thai led her to audition for producer Aaron Spelling’s Models. “She never should or will be a sex queen,” Spelling predicts, “but she has a marvelous opportunity to play decent girls.”

And quite authentically too. Asked if she has a boyfriend, Rae shyly bows her head. “Nobody serious,” she says, but “a lot of male friends.” She also keeps the long-distance lines to Florida humming. “This is play-world out here,” she says. “I call home and say, ‘I need some reality. Talk to me.’ ”