I got my start in pageants half way through college and it was the best decision I've ever made. I earned more than $23,000 in scholarships, (Miss America wins $50,000! And that's in addition to what she won at the local and state level!) and made some of the best friends and career connections out there. The girls in the Miss America program do not fit any stereotype. They aren't privileged dolls who stand on stage and talk vacantly about world peace. These are girls who are driven to improve their lives and the lives of others through education and community service.
I remember Caressa Cameron, the current Miss America, telling a story about how she was called "wolverine" when she was younger because she had sideburns and a uni-brow. She developed a mean outer shell because of it. But it was a school visit from a Miss Virginia that changed her attitude and her life. Another friend of mine in the pageant world actually lived with her mother and brother in their family car during tough times... she is now an accomplished actress. You can find her on the Showtime series "The Tudors". Another grew up in a rough neighborhood and was told by everyone around her that she'd never go to college. In fact, they predicted she'd end up a pregnant high school drop-out. She became the student body president of her university and graduated college with honors, in part because of the scholarships she earned from competing. This is just a small sampling of the incredible women we have in Virginia.
As Miss Virginia, it's more than just waving in parades and cutting ribbons. Over the course of a year, a Miss Virginia will travel about 4,000 miles A MONTH (alone, no entourage) and get 5 hours of sleep a night if we're lucky. We write our own speeches, do our own hair and make-up and hope that we present ourselves 24/7 in a way that makes our state proud.
A typical day consists of waking up at 5am, driving 3 hours to give 6 presentations in a row at a school, drive 3 more hours to visit one of the many Children's Miracle Network hospitals in Virginia (doing phone interviews with various media outlets on the way), drive 2 more hours to speak at a charity gala that evening then drive to a host family's house in the area where they have generously gathered local movers and shakers to run a mock-interview with you. Then, you retire to your room, answered a few dozen e-mails, prepare for the next day, and finally sleep. Redbull is your best friend.
Now, Miss America, travels over 40,000 (!!!!!) miles a month and she runs on adrenaline as she'll be lucky to get much sleep at all!
A little background on the current Miss America,Caressa Cameron and me: When I won Miss Virginia 2008, Caressa was my first-runner-up... so for the record, I beat the future Miss America (little victories for my self esteem). Caressa came back the next year and ended up winning Miss Virginia and then Miss America. I am so proud to call Caressa both a great friend and my Miss Virginia sister.
As soon as I crowned her, I knew I was passing my reign on to the next Miss America. Caressa is a dynamo in personality, talent, and intelligence. She was a talent preliminary winner both at Miss Virginia and Miss America singing "Listen" by Beyonce (Beyonce better step up her game because Miss Cameron is right on her heels!). At Miss America she impressed even the toughest of judges with her intelligence and devotion to her personal platform: Real Talk: AIDS in America. She lost a close family member to AIDS and her family has taken in and cared for children stricken with juvenile AIDS. As an ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network she has moved mountains to educate and spread awareness of this disease and how to prevent it.
The current Miss Virginia, Caitlin Uze is one of my closest friends. She grew up tormented by bullies over her speech impediment (she has a lisp), and her weight. She uses those experiences to relate to students across the commonwealth on the important and relevant issue of bullying. Caitlin is one of the most caring, compassionate, funny, and brilliant women I know. Virginia is blessed to have her as a representative. She works tirelessly and brightens the lives of everyone around her. Go to this link to vote for Caitlin as "America's Choice" to help get her into the top 15 and one step closer to becoming Miss America.
The women involved in this program are nothing like the horrible stereotypes that surround pageants. Many people get the Miss America program confused with Donald Trump's Miss USA beauty pageant. Here are the big differences:
Miss USA: For-profit beauty pageant. No talent portion. Interview not heavily stressed. Modeling contract prizes. Great for girls who want to get into modeling or want exposure in the entertainment industry.
Miss America: Non-profit. Talent, intelligence, and community service based. Largest provider of scholarships to women in the world.
There have been many scandals involving beauty queens in recent years. Those have all been involving the Miss USA Pageant contestants. Miss America had a major scandal in the 1980's when Miss America 1984 was stripped of her title over nude photos she had taken prior to her pageant days. That young woman: Vanessa Williams, award-winning actress and singer.
As far as kid pageants... I never competed in any and don't know many girls who have. My thoughts: every little girl likes playing dress up. I don't think they should be judged on it. The Miss America age range is 17-24 years old.
So there you have it. The truth about the Miss America program. It's awesome. If you, or anyone you know, might be interested in the Miss America program, please visit www.missva.org or www.missamerica.org and learn about the largest provider of scholarships to women in the world... Or talk to me!