Carlson is originally from Bloomington, Minnesota, and attended the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota. In addition to acting, she has also modeled, including ad campaigns for Miller Lite, Rembrandt and Oliver Peoples sunglasses. She appeared in the August 2004 issue of Maxim Magazine and on the cover of the October issue of Stuff Magazine.
She is a spokesperson for Smile Network International, a Minnesota-based humanitarian organization that provides reconstructive surgeries and related health care services to impoverished children and young adults in developing countries. An enthusiastic equestrian since the age of seven, Carlson lobbied for a bill to prevent both inhumane transport of American horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada as well as roundups of wild horses by government authorities in January 2010.
Carlson started out in theater, performing in productions of Vanities, Cheaters, Girls Guide to Chaos, Charlotte's Web and Can't Trust the Mate. She also appeared as an extra in the film 3000 Miles to Graceland. In 2003, Carlson booked a guest role in the pilot of the FX drama series Nip/Tuck. Her character, Kimber Henry, quickly became popular with audiences, and she appeared in several episodes of the first and second seasons, eventually becoming a regular in the show's third season, remaining with the series until it wrapped in March 2010.
Outside of Nip/Tuck, she has appeared in several feature films, including Paparazzi (2004), The Marine (2006), the direct-to-video sequel Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) and a supporting role in the comedy film Made of Honor (2008) alongside Patrick Dempsey. She has also made guest spots on Everwood, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, Monk and The Finder. She now is working on her first project as a producer.
She was initially cast in the 2007 horror film Dead of Winter (later retitled Killer Movie) alongside stars like Leighton Meester and Kaley Cuoco, but was replaced by former Pussycat Doll turned actress Cyia Batten before filming began, due to creative differences with the director. After completing work on the final episodes of Nip/Tuck in 2009, Carlson segued into a recurring role on The CW sequel of Melrose Place, playing a Hollywood madam. She also had a short appearance in the Canadian television movie Degrassi Goes Hollywood. She can next be seen in Ghostfacers, an online spin-off of The CW series Supernatural.
In 2001, she was listed on Tear Sheet Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful list. Carlson was also listed at #43 on Maxim magazine's Hot 100 of 2005 list ranked #41, and ranked #94 on their Hot 100 of 2007 list.
Carlson is trained in Kali. She is also a sponsor and volunteer for several organizations, including LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society and Wounded Warriors.