James began her professional wrestling career in 1999 as a valet on the independent circuit, where she was known under the name Alexis Laree. She trained in several camps to improve her wrestling abilities before working for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in June 2002, where she gained national attention. After only a few appearances, she joined a stable called The Gathering and was written into angles with the group. She is also the first and only woman to be involved in Clockwork Orange House of Fun matches.
James appeared in WWE in October 2005 and was placed in a storyline with Trish Stratus, in which James' gimmick was that of Stratus' biggest fan turned obsessed stalker, an angle which lasted almost a year. She received a push, and she won her first WWE Women's Championship at WrestleMania 22, a title she held a total of three times.
Outside of wrestling, James has received her associate of arts degree in business administration and is studying for her Bachelor of Arts degree in operations management. She also grew up on a farm and has an interest in horses, owning three Morgan horses and riding since she was 11 years old.
James grew up in Montpelier, Virginia and attended Patrick Henry High School. Following graduation, she worked at a bar. After a suggestion from a friend, James attended a professional wrestling school in the Washington, D.C. area. She made her professional debut on the independent circuit in 1999 as a valet for KYDA Pro Wrestling under the ring name Alexis Laree, a name created as the result of a combination of her stage name from when she was a dancer and her middle name. As Laree, she managed several male wrestlers, including managing Tommy Dreamer to win the KYDA Pro Heavyweight Championship. In March, she wrestled in her first match, an intergender tag team match with Jake Damian against American Mike Brown and Candie. She trained to improve her wrestling abilities by attending training camps such as the Funking Conservatory, a workshop run by Dory Funk, Jr., and an Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) dojo. She also started competing for Maryland Championship Wrestling, where she trained at camps run by Ricky Morton and Bobby Eaton. Due to the low salary of the independent shows, James supplemented her income by working as a waitress at an Olive Garden restaurant.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
While working in Ring of Honor for a year, James also debuted in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) on the company's second ever weekly pay-per-view under her Alexis Laree gimmick as a participant in a lingerie battle royal. She was not prominently featured until March 26, 2003, when she teamed with Amazing Red as part of his storyline feud against TNA X Division Champion Kid Kash and TNA Knockout Trinity. Weeks later, she became the first member of The Gathering, a stable led by Raven in his feud against NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett. On April 16, Laree became the first and only woman to compete in a Clockwork Orange House of Fun match after The Gathering challenged and defeated Jarrett. She continued to wrestle with the stable in an angle against Father James Mitchell and the Disciples of The New Church, where she was kayfabe burned by a fireball and involved in another Clockwork Orange House of Fun match before leaving the company.
Ohio Valley Wrestling
After two years of sending tapes and making phone calls, as well as wrestling in a tryout match with Dawn Marie, James was signed to a developmental contract with World Wrestling Entertainment, who sent her to train at Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), their farm territory, in August. She began making television appearances for OVW on January 29, 2004, continuing to use the name Alexis Laree, and competed in several tag team matches throughout the year. She also won a Halloween Costume Contest on October 30 and defeated Jillian Hall in a $1,000 match on November 12.
On May 17, 2005, Laree competed in a tournament for the OVW Television Championship, defeating Mike Mondo in the first round before losing to Blaster Lashley in the next round. She began a feud with Beth Phoenix on July 20 after Phoenix interrupted Laree during an interview, setting up a match on July 29 which Laree was scripted to lose. The angle continued into September, with Shelly Martinez being added to the storyline by siding with Phoenix against Laree. On October 12, she appeared in OVW under her real name and finished the year on the losing end of matches against Martinez and Jillian Hall.
World Wrestling Entertainment
James debuted in WWE on the October 10, 2005 episode of Raw, continuing to use her real name, under the gimmick of WWE Women's Champion Trish Stratus' biggest fan. The angle had the two WWE Divas competing together in tag team matches, with James' character becoming increasingly obsessed with Stratus. The storyline included a Halloween Costume Contest in which James was dressed like Stratus and helped Stratus retain the Women's Championship in a Fulfill Your Fantasy Battle Royal at Taboo Tuesday by eliminating herself and Victoria at the same time. She even began utilizing Stratus' signature finishing moves as her own during matches. James became the number one contender for the Women's Title on December 12 by defeating Victoria in a match to determine who would face Stratus at New Year's Revolution. Subsequently, the storyline between James and Stratus developed into a lesbian angle after James initiated an intimate kiss with Stratus under a sprig of mistletoe and complimented Stratus on her breasts. In the championship match at the pay-per-view, James jobbed to Stratus but continued to be enamored of her the next night on Raw, and she confessed her love for Stratus at the Royal Rumble.
On March 6, 2006 the storyline had Stratus confront James, telling her that they needed time apart from each other. The duo teamed together at Saturday Night's Main Event to defeat Candice Michelle and Victoria. After the match, James agreed to honor Stratus' wishes and attempted to kiss her. After Stratus pushed her away, James' character made a complete heel turn by attacking Stratus in the ring and later vowing to destroy her. The two women wrestled each other at WrestleMania 22, where James was booked to win the match to claim her first reign as Women's Champion. During the match, despite the fact that James was playing the heel character, the fans frequently cheered James and booed Stratus whenever Stratus hit an offensive maneuver. The angle ended at Backlash during a rematch after Stratus legitimately dislocated her shoulder when James threw her out of the ring.
James dropped the Women's Title on August 14 to Lita after Lita hit James with the title belt while Lita's on-screen boyfriend Edge distracted the referee, resulting in a face turn for James' on-screen persona. After the Women's Championship was vacated due to the legitimate retirement of Trish Stratus, James entered a tournament to determine the new champion. She defeated Victoria and Melina in the qualifying rounds before making it to the finals at Cyber Sunday, where she jobbed to Lita. The two Divas wrestled in a series of matches where Lita kayfabe chose the stipulations, all of which involved hindering James' wrestling ability. The storyline feud ended at Survivor Series, where James defeated Lita to win her second Women's Championship.
An angle was created between James and Melina, beginning on January 29, 2007 when Melina became the number one contender for the Women's Title. Following a successful title defense on February 5, James teamed with Super Crazy in a mixed tag team match against Melina and Johnny Nitro. After Melina pinned James for the victory, she challenged her to a rematch for the title. James dropped the Women's Championship to Melina on February 19 and, in continuation of their storyline feud, failed to regain the title during the first ever Women's Falls Count Anywhere match in WWE history. Near the end of the match, James fell from the turnbuckle and landed on her neck but was not seriously injured.
The scripted feud between James and Melina continued on April 2 when James interrupted and attacked Melina during a photo op on Raw. At a house show in Paris, France on April 24, James won her third Women's Championship during a Triple Threat Match that also involved Victoria. However, since James pinned Victoria and not Melina, Jonathan Coachman announced that a rematch would take place immediately. James dropped the title back to Melina, giving her the shortest Women’s Championship reign in WWE history.