Nichole Van Croft is no ordinary Southern belle, and it's written all over her skin. Her German ancestors introduced the use of herbs for beauty purposes in Florida, a practice that has rubbed off on Miss October. "I read medical books all the time," says Nichole, a native of Jacksonville. "I must have 10 zillion herb and physiology books from my mom. But even before I knew my family's history I had a little garden and grew peppermint and other herbs. I'm 26, but I look younger because I take really good care of my skin and use natural stuff like buttermilk and cornmeal on my face." Sounds delicious. But even though Nichole wants to launch her own line of skin-care products someday, don't get the impression that this future beauty entrepreneur is all primp and no play. "I played every sport in high school: volleyball, basketball, and I even broke my collarbone playing football," Nichole explains. "I was voted homecoming queen and it was such a dilemma because I was playing in the homecoming basketball game. I gave up my crown so I could play basketball." After attending high school in Arkansas, Nichole went to college in Memphis, then moved to Las Vegas and transferred to a school in Arizona. Her parents also moved to Sin City, an unusual place to call home given their conservative Christian background. "I'm still somewhat religious, but it's more of a theory," she explains. "I believe God created the world -- I don't believe in Darwinism or anything like that. I'm really glad I was raised that way, because it kept me out of a lot of trouble. I never wanted to embarrass my parents. I'm not rigid about religion -- I know I'm not going to go to hell for posing in Playboy." Nichole didn't experience fire and brimstone, but she did go all the way to a recording studio in "Hell-Ay" to cut her first album, scheduled for release this month. "It's like Britney but with funk," she says. "I collaborated with somebody at EMI who writes songs for Mariah Carey and TLC." Has becoming a pop star always been this blonde's ambition? "I sang in the church choir and at my parents' wedding when they got remarried," she says. "I've always dabbled. This CD is major important to me." Since promoting a debut CD is a time-consuming affair, Nichole is in search of a man with a plan for romance. "I like a take-charge attitude," she says. "You want to get in the car and have him say, 'OK, we're going here and we're doing this.' It's so sexy, and it makes you feel so womanly." Playboy photographers have approached Nichole since she was 18, but she finally said yes to one who introduced himself as she was eating pizza in South Beach. "It makes sense now with my CD coming out," she says. "I'm the queen of timing." Does Nichole feel like she intimidates other women? "Yeah, and I don't know why because I'm really extra sweet," she says. "I get along with tough girls. I have one friend who's a model and smokes cigarettes and she's real cool. I get along great with girls who are like Angelina Jolie. I really like girls with attitude who are funky or offbeat." Even though she's Miss October and Halloween is just around the corner, Nichole tells us she isn't particularly fond of scary movies. "I turned off Scream halfway through," she confesses. "I'm such a wimp. I can't even watch Jaws. But recently I did see Sleepy Hollow and I really liked it. So that's my favorite scary movie -- and I love Christina Ricci in it."
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