As a young girl, I had always idolized the women on the TV parading on stage in sashes and swimsuits once a year. I had no idea that a few short years later, I would come to know the incredible organization behind the Miss America pageant.
During my senior year of high school, I was approached by a woman in my community regarding a scholarship opportunity. As a broke 17 year-old about to embark on her first year of college, I was looking for any way to pay my way through the financial debt. Little did I know, I was about to get myself into much more than just a scholarship opportunity.
This scholarship opportunity turned out to be a local Miss America affiliated pageant. I began diving into research to find out what I could do to make the most of this experience. I borrowed an evening gown from a friend, dug out my old prom shoes and jewelry, bought a “Michelle Obama” interview dress and some nude heels, found my favorite swimsuit, and began choreographing a dance for the talent portion of competition. I had everything I needed to look good, but there is definitely much more to it than appearance.
I was informed that I had to raise $100 for Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America national platform, and I was able to have my own personal platform in addition. Many people are unaware that the Miss America Organization is more than just a bunch of beautiful women walking around in high heels and sparkly dresses. These are women of substance, women who aim to make a difference in their communities through service and advocacy. I decided that my platform would be dedicated to my grandpa, who had passed away of liver cancer just a year previous. This meant that I would be an advocate for liver disease and cancer awareness, an issue close to my heart. I would make my platform known to the public and do my absolute best to represent the cause.
I spent the next month researching my platform and practicing my interviewing skills for my 10 minute private interview with the judges. Learning everything there is to know about government policies, current events, controversial social issues, and pop culture is NOT an easy task. The public only sees the onstage question part of competition, which is a way for the judges to see how well the contestant can think and deliver under pressure; believe it or not, it’s only worth 5% of the contestant’s total score. Most people don’t know about the private interview with the judges, which accounts for 25% of the total score. This is where the judges get to know the contestant on a more personal basis, and is easily considered the most important part of a pageant. I dedicated nearly all of my preparation time to this part of the competition and I was beginning to realize how greatly the Miss America Organization was impacting me.
Soon enough, pageant day arrived and I was full of excitement and a little bit of anxiety, as I had no idea what to expect. I was immediately greeted at the door by a couple of other contestants and my idea of what pageant girls were supposed to be like was completely contradicted. While I was backstage getting ready for rehearsals and preparing for my interview, I met some incredible young women who remain dear friends to this day. They asked me some practice questions and gave me a pep talk before I walked into my interview, which didn’t go as planned. The intimidation factor and nerves got the best of me and I had a difficult time answering questions to the best of my ability, but the same girls were excitedly waiting for me as soon as I stepped out of my interview. It was at this point that I was beginning to understand the sisterhood that is the backbone of the Miss America Organization. No matter how you do in the actual competition, you are able to walk away with some unbelievable friends (who also understand the struggles of butt glue stuck to an evening gown, but I’ll save that for another day).
A few months later, a couple of the girls I competed with at my first pageant asked if I would like to attend the state pageant with them, where all of the local pageant winners would compete. I was interested to see what this pageant would be like, so I went with them and I fell in love. All of the women on stage displayed such poise, elegance, and charm. I knew that I had to continue in this organization to have that same opportunity. I wanted to be able to wear that sash and crown and represent my community by being a role model. I wanted to serve as an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network and advocate for my personal platform. I wanted to better myself, earn scholarships, and learn new things about this organization.
One year passed, I took valuable lessons from my very first local pageant and the state pageant experience with me and decided to dive head in to another year of pageantry. This time, I decided to raise more money for Children’s Miracle Network in order to be eligible for more pageants, as well as choose a completely new personal platform (one that didn’t make me tear up about my grandpa in my interview). I bought a new evening gown, choreographed a new talent piece, and immersed myself in the organization. At my first pageant that year, I did not win, but I did walk away with some amazing new friends, a great experience, and even some scholarships for placing as a non-finalist talent and non-finalist interview winner. This only fueled my fire to continue to do better throughout the year! The following pageants were all open, which means any woman who lives, works or goes to school in my state is eligible for competition. This tends to be difficult, as former experienced titleholders have the opportunity to come back and compete again, and there are usually more contestants. However, I saw it as a chance to improve myself on a more challenging playing field. I did not win any of the four pageants that I was in that year, but I had grown immensely compared to my very first pageant the previous year and I am now a changed person thanks to my experiences during the short time that I have been involved in the Miss America Organization.
This is only a very small representation of how the MAO has impacted me thus far, but I wish every person would understand the amazing qualities behind the sparkly crown, sash, and televised pageant. The Miss America Organization is one that is truly remarkable because of the sisterhood, scholarship opportunities, and the chance to grow in so many ways, regardless of if you win a title or not.. and I firmly believe that is one of the most amazing aspects of the program. Just by signing up and participating, you learn some incredible lessons about life, the importance of community service, and creating lifelong friendships. I encourage every young woman, age 13-24, to get involved and I can assure you that you will come out changed in ways that you probably never imagined possible. I look forward to continuing my involvement and bettering myself in hopes of holding a title this year, but even if I don’t capture the crown, I am guaranteed a life changing experience.