COVINGTON - One Covington teenager missed Fourth of July festivities this year because she was in a car for the last six days. Fortunately, she didn't have to fill up the car with gasoline.
Roxanne Barnett, a 19-year-old Georgia College and State University student who graduated from Eastside High School in 2007, was participating in Atlanta radio station Star 94's Ultimate Reality Show.
In the contest that started June 30, eight contestants were to live in two Mercury Milan cars inside Perimeter Mall in Atlanta during the month of July. At the end of the month, those who are still in the car - if they haven't been voted out, eliminated or bailed out themselves - will participate in a contest to determine who will win one of the cars.
According to Star94.com, Barnett voluntarily left the competition Monday after feeling ill, becoming the fourth contestant to leave the reality radio show.
Barnett was not available for comment as of press time.
But on Sunday afternoon, Barnett was still in the car and admitted it was a difficult living situation. Every morning, the contestants would rotate spots in the cars, where they would sit for the next 24 hours. Every three hours, the group got a 10-minute break. They could eat whenever they had food and have visitors outside of a roped-off area, but could not touch anyone outside of the car or get anything out of their duffel bag except during their 10-minute break.
"It's hard to sleep," she said Sunday afternoon from inside the car. "I've learned to sleep through any sound, and I finally pass out in a certain position and call it sleeping."
On the breaks, the contestants would rush to the bathroom, clean up as best they could and get something to eat, if they had the time.
"I washed my hair in the sink, and I had baby wipes to keep clean," she said. "I finally broke down and shaved my legs (Saturday)."
She entered the contest - with encouragement from her mom, Rebecca - after hearing about it on the Atlanta radio station.
To enter the contest, residents had to write in to the station in 94 words or less on why they should be in the contest.
Barnett drives a 1988 Chevy Celebrity with no air conditioning, a skipping transmission and a slew of other problems.
"Everything was going wrong with it," she said about why she entered the contest to get a new car. "Pretty much the only thing that works in it is the radio."
The station received about 200 entries, said Mike Moshure, assistant promotions director for the station, and invited 30 of them to come in for interviews. At first, Barnett was chosen as an alternate contestant.
"We tried picking people with different backgrounds," Moshure said. "We don't want to have eight sorority girls in there; they needed to have different personalities."
After one of the contestants decided not to participate in the contest, station officials called Barnett to tell her she made it in.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I thought there would be so many people who entered that there was no way I'd get in. ... It's so surreal."
Her strategy was to keep quiet and try not to cause too much trouble so she could stay in the contest the longest.
"I'm quiet, and I sleep a lot," she said. "I think I'm the underdog."
Barnett said her main entertainment was talking to visitors in the mall, who would stop by and ask questions. She also relished visits from her family, including her mom and dad, Mark, her brothers, Chase and Tyler, all of Covington, and her fiance Chad York, of Jackson, among other family and friends.
"They've all been really supportive," she said.
Barnett said nighttime at the mall was the most difficult time, since most contestants were sleeping and the mall was empty.
"Everything is closed, and I would always think that I could be at home in my own bed or watching a movie with my family," she said.
She also missed reading and being with her many pets.
A good thing about participating in the contest is the free perks.
"It's not that bad being catered to," she said.
Every day, Star 94 officials brought them items that others wanted them to have, and stores around the mall often would give food and other merchandise to them.
She said Sunday that later this summer she plans to move into an apartment in Milledgeville with her fiance before starting back to school in the fall. She intends to change her major to liberal studies and wants to be a motivational speaker or writer for suicidal teens.
"I was (a troubled teen), and I want to reach out to people," she said.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.