Being a First Runner Up (Part Three)

Remember that in my last blog post (found here: I mentioned that something always goes disastrously wrong before each of my pageants? Miss Colorado was no exception.

There I was, the night before I was to leave for Miss Colorado, and I decided it would be a great idea to apply an over-the-counter acne cream to my entire face. Let’s call it Schmear-a-sil.

No big deal. I had used Schmear-a-sil before.

But when I woke up the next morning, I glanced in the mirror and did a double take.

My face was red, swollen, blotchy, and itchy. You know that feeling after a bad sunburn?

Yep. My face. Right before Miss Colorado.

In typical Monica fashion, I was pretty calm. I splashed some water on my face.

It’ll go away here in a second. No reason to freak out.

Then my skin started to burn.

I calmly went to my mom, and with my face hidden behind a door, I called out, “Don’t freak out, but I might be having an allergic reaction. . . .”

She whipped open the door, looked at my face, and gasped.

I imagine this is the way the Hunchback of Notre Dame felt.


In typical Mama fashion, she freaked out. She called the number on the back of the Schmear-a-sil tube and described my skin as a chemical burn.

Honestly, that’s what it looked like….but thanks, mom.

With little help (actually no help) from the lady on the phone, my mom hung up and insisted we go to urgent care right away. My mom handed me random pieces of clothing to shield my face from the sun during the drive.

With no makeup, looking CUTE, we waited in the lobby. And what do you know? In walked the most attractive male doctor that ever has been. Because…of course.

Thankfully, when we got called into the exam room, a female doctor (who really couldn’t look at my face without wincing) saw me. She didn’t think it was a chemical burn but a severe allergic reaction. When we casually mentioned that I was competing for Miss Colorado in a few days, her reaction looked like, “THIS GIRL?!” Because let’s be honest, it wasn’t my best look.

She gave me a prescription for a steroid cream. The worst news?

She said I couldn’t get a spray tan because she wasn’t sure how my skin would react.

This was when I started to freak out. Do you really want “pasty Monica” on stage? in a swimsuit competition? without a spray tan?

The answer is no.

We went home and applied the cream. Honestly, I just started praying for healing. And wouldn’t you know, in a few hours, my skin completely was completely clear. I no longer looked as if I had been smacked in the face by the sun!

With a leap of faith and against medical advice, I went ahead and got a spray tan that night. I didn’t have any problems with my skin the rest of the time. #ThanksJesus

The next morning, I got up bright and early to head to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver for the first full day of the Miss Colorado competition. Wearing my “I Love CO” t-shirt, I put on my wedge heels and felt ready to take on the world.

Because who doesn’t feel like that in wedges?

My mom and I arrived at the Ellie for the drop off and were instructed to unpack my entire wardrobe in the dressing room. Because this is a secure facility, my mom didn’t have the clearance to get backstage. So with my arms outstretched, my mom piled dresses on my arms and unloaded the remainder of my wardrobe onto the sidewalk. Probably not the weirdest thing people saw in downtown Denver that day.

Good thing I had been working out because all those evening gowns are HEAVY.

Funny story, I was walking in with thirty pounds of clothes in my arms, AND THE STRAP OF MY WEDGE BROKE.

RIP, wedges.

I hobbled past the other girls down the long hallway with a smile on my face and promptly changed into my comfy tennis shoes. Fake it till you make it, friends.

With that, rehearsals started. Being the non-dancer that I am, I was thankful to have learned part of the opening-number routine at a Miss Colorado workshop earlier that year. What I lack in technique, I make up for in ridiculous facial expressions that make it look like I know what I’m doing.

I learned this during dance classes at OCU. #ThanksAnnLacy

And just like that, I was moved to center stage where the audience would actually see me!

That night, the contestants went home. I tried to get as much sleep as I could because I knew I would be competing in the talent portion and onstage question the next night.

That means, before the judges ever met me in an interview, they would score two components of competition. Colorado is a little different than…well, any other pageant state.

Considering talent to be my favorite phase of competition, I was so excited for that night. I felt “on” that night. I was just having FUN.

When my group walked out in a line for the onstage question, I was exactly in the middle of the group. I heard the questions coming as the microphone was passed down the line.

What makes the Miss America Organization different from other pageant systems?

What is your favorite phase of competition?

I’m hearing these questions and thinking, “I can answer these!”

They get to me.

“Monica, I have a fill-in-the-blank question for you… We need more of ____________ in the world and less of ___________. And why?”

I laugh into the microphone.

Naturally, a fill-in-the-blank is a harder question to answer. You have to carefully recall the entire question in order for your answer to make sense. But two fill-in-the-blanks? And, I actually have a three-part question!

In short, I felt pretty good about my answer. I said we needed more empowered female leaders in the world and less hate. I gave my reasoning and passed the microphone. 

Contestants freak out about onstage question, but it is literally just answering a question. People do that all the time! You answer questions in coffee shops, on dates, etc. Don’t freak out.

I then changed into my black lace evening gown with a black silk train. That thing was a pain to get on, but so perfectly matched for my operatic piece. After warming up my voice in the bathroom (glamorous) I went and performed my heart out onstage.

For those of you who have seen this talent piece before, you know it is…well…provocative. Maybe that’s what makes it fun to perform because for those 90 seconds, I am in my zone.

While most states award a preliminary talent award, Colorado does not. They do award preliminary evening gown and preliminary swimsuit categories. So, there was really no pressure that night since I was competing in those phases of competition the following night.

After the first evening of preliminary competition, I was approached by so many loving, wonderful audience members who really encouraged me. I’m a words-of-affirmation type of gal, so this meant the world to me.

After night one with my beautiful Miss Colorado Princess. #BuildingStrongGirls

That night, my family and I went to a Wendy’s drive-through.


No, I didn’t get a Frosty…but a grilled chicken breast and side salad sounded great considering the swimsuit competition was the next evening.

The contestants were able to stay in a beautiful hotel in downtown Denver. All the Miss Colorado roommates are randomly assigned. My roommate happened to be Meredith, who would go on to win the title! That’s right–the winner and first runner up shared the same room.

And guess what? We got along. Some people want to paint a picture that the contestants are catty and fighting with one another. It just isn’t the case 99.9% of the time.

The next morning, I woke up, ate free breakfast at the hotel (because what’s the point of staying in a hotel without free breakfast?) and walked with the group of contestants back to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. I changed into my interview outfit and said a long prayer.

In the Miss America Organization, the interview portion is nine minutes and thirty seconds where the judges are asking you about literally anything–your platform, paperwork, political views, etc. For the last thirty seconds, you can prepare a closing statement, which goes uninterrupted by the judges.

Monica before interview
Right outside the interview room before I went in!

I was the sixth contestant to be interviewed that morning, and I walked into the room confidently. I had prepared for this moment. Mock-interview, news-junkie, practicing-questions-in-the-mirror was my life.

They asked me where I saw myself in ten years, what I would change about myself, political questions, and several situational questions. They even threw in some fun ones like, “What is your favorite song in the Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias book?” (If you have ever taken voice lessons, you know this book.)

During the last thirty seconds, in my closing statement, I became very emotional. I teared up as I poured out my heart to them. I felt that the judges accepted it. In fact, I felt they embraced it.

My interview was vulnerable, raw, and real. They saw my heart.

I walked out of the room and burst into tears. Not because I felt I had done poorly. Quite the opposite. There had been so much pressure building up to that moment that when it finally arrived, it was like a weight had been lifted.

Janelle and Monica
With the beautiful Janelle right after interview where she took selfies with each contestant. Excuse my tears. 

That night, I prepared for the final phases of competition: swimsuit and evening gown. If you know me, you know how hard I work out in the gym. Some might even say I’m a health nut. I had really worked hard to get my body into competition shape, and I was excited to show that off.

Miss CO evening gown
Top 15 at Miss Colorado in Evening Wear (I’m fourth from the right)

I had purchased my evening gown back in October of 2016 at Tres Jolie, and I was so ecstatic to finally reveal it! That dress is my favorite thing I had ever put on my body.

My evening gown when I first put it on in the store ❤

Funny story about this dress–my best friend Taylor, my mom, and little sister had all come to help me decide on a dress. After trying on about twenty different gowns, we had not found The One. I wandered back onto the shop floor and drifted over to the rack of yellow dresses. Yellow is my favorite color. I saw this fully beaded gown and fell in love. I brought it back to show my group, and they all said it was ugly–that it looked like buttered popcorn.

I tried it on anyway.

I walked out of the dressing room and they were all silent. The yellow (more golden) and white beaded gown fit like a glove. They agreed that it was my dress. Not only that, but it was one of a kind. The shop owner said she had gotten flack for purchasing it because people said no one would ever buy it.

Goes to show you that there is a gown out there for everybody. Mine just happens to be perfect 😉

The random man who complimented my dress…

Back to the Miss Colorado competition:

This night is where I think I went wrong. This night, my concentration wasn’t on having fun or doing my best. I wanted to win a prelim award.

There is nothing wrong with having goals. But the intense focus that I had translated onstage, and I don’t think it connected with the judges. I tried to add extra turns in swimsuit and maybe took evening gown too slow. Who knows…but it didn’t work.

After competing in swimsuit and evening gown, we stood onstage for preliminary awards.

I did not win swimsuit or evening gown.


Miss CO swimsui
The Miss Colorado Top 15 in Swimsuit (I am second from the left)
Preliminary Swimsuit Competition. Shout out to Results Fitness!! 

Devastated. But then they announced the winners that the Miss America Organization selected for Academics and Community Service. These awards are a different application process that are scored by a different set of judges on the national level.

When they called my name for the Community Service Scholarship, I teared up. My platform, “Building Strong Girls” means more than the world to me. I’ll dedicate another blog post to that, but to win that award was like winning the pageant. Service is one of the points of the crown, after all.

Community Service Award

It was hard to go back to the hotel room that night. I had gotten into my head. The next night was finals night, and I just prayed that I would be able to be a light the next night, and that it wouldn’t be about me at all.

I was lucky enough to have friends come from New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, New Mexico, and different parts of Colorado to watch the finals night. I decided that I was just going to have fun onstage. And I did.

Honestly, the final night is a blur. It happens so fast. You are literally running back and forth between dressing rooms, trying to hook mike packs onto your dress, trying to do some last minute crunches before swimsuit…. it’s chaos.

The greatest friends a girl could ever ask for.

The nerve-wracking part about finals for me was that I was called towards the end (or the very last one for both top ten and top five) to compete in the next phase of competition. Evening gown, swimsuit, talent…and then the famous top five question.

I was super excited to be in the top five! As they went down the line with questions, I realized this was not going to be a walk-in-the-park answer. The questions were tough.

My question was regarding what we can do about the high suicide rate in veterans. 

As we walked off the stage, I again started crying. It was over. I had competed in all phases of competition, and there was nothing else I could do. A dear friend of mine walked over and prayed with me, knowing that God was going to use me whether or not I held the title of Miss Colorado.

The executive director of the pageant approached each of the top five and asked us how we were feeling. I told her I had a peace. It’s true.

As we walked back onstage, I didn’t think I was going to win. I had a feeling I would be first runner up. They slowly called out the names of the fourth, third, and second runners up. I looked over to Meredith (the eventual winner and my roommate) and smiled at her.

We clasped our hands and I felt her shaking. She had been first runner up the year before. As we stood there in the classic final-two pose, I had an out-of-body moment. This was something that I had pictured for a long time. Just to get to that spot on that stage was pure dedication and a positive mindset. There is no trick. There is no scheme. That was hard work.

They called my name as first runner up, and I was quickly ushered to the side of the stage. I clapped for Meredith–she had been chosen and I had not. I fully support her and her year of service.

miss CO final two

The hardest part of being first runner up at Miss Colorado was not immediately after the crowning, actually. There was so much excitement in the air. People asked me directly afterwards, “So are you coming back next year?!” It was a hard question to answer in the moment. Audience members, who were complete strangers, again went out of their way to congratulate me and compliment me.

It’s when all that goes away that it gets hard. It’s packing up your evening gowns, leaving the stage, and eating a sandwich and Brussels sprouts (that’s literally what I ate afterwards) when reality sets in.

The next few weeks following the crowning were tough. I couldn’t escape social media. It was constantly reminding me that I wasn’t Miss Colorado.

But the toughest part for me was reading the HORRIBLE anonymous messages that people posted about me. If you are familiar with the pageant world, you know there are message boards dedicated to keeping fans updated–The Voy Boards. Unfortunately, these boards can be trolled. Wanting to know who other states were crowning, I logged in and read comments about me:

Note: I’m making these comments nicer than the ones actually written about me:

Monica is an Oklahoma robot who thought she could just walk into Colorado and win. Ha! Showed her.

Monica can’t walk or talk.

Sure, her talent is good but she totally messed up her onstage question.

When another anonymous person tried to defend me, that person was attacked.

That must be Monica’s family–she didn’t deserve to win.

It went on and on. People attacking my character and performance. People attacking my family (who didn’t know pageant boards even existed until after I told them about these comments).

They were mean. They were unnecessary. They were blatant lies. They were coming from people who obviously didn’t know me at all.

I was happy with my performance. I am happy with who I am. I am saddened by the fact that people feel the need to attack girls in this organization–an organization meant to build up woman.

Reading those comments tore me apart. My reputation is something that I hold very dear to my heart. I try to be kind to everyone I meet. To read those vicious comments, and to know that people from around the country assumed them to be true, broke my heart.

That was the hardest part of this competition for me: Online Bullying.

I took a break from those boards and plunged back into real life. I got the lead role in my favorite show and starting working at Girl Scouts of Colorado. I started this blog.

A lot of times in life we can feel as though we are not good enough. We can pursue our dream and be SO CLOSE to having it. It doesn’t have to be a pageant. It can be a job, a boyfriend, an opportunity.

You feel like a runner up.

But in my experience, being a runner up should not limit you. It should empower you–motivating you to push harder, to dream bigger, and to recognize that your life wasn’t meant to go that direction.

My biggest takeaway from the Miss Colorado pageant:

-Do not ever, EVER, EVER bully someone or feel entitled enough to put nasty comments on the internet about another person while hiding behind the supposed security of anonymity. And if someone does that to you, prove them wrong.

Although I am just a few months removed from being Miss Colorado’s First Runner Up, I continue to have peace with the direction my life is going. Pageantry can be a part of your life, but it shouldn’t make up the whole of your life.

Miss CO top five
(L-R) 2RU Olivia Novotny, 1RU Monica Thompson, Winner Meredith Winnefeld, 3RU Tiana Cooks, 4RU Chloe Carlson


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