Pageants

Taste of Colorado Review (aka yummy food pics)

Despite the fact that I am usually a health nut (Me, every time someone asks where I want to eat: “Somewhere healthy”), I love a good cheat meal. It doesn’t get much better than A Taste of Colorado, where there are over 50 food vendors from around the state to cater to your every desire.

 

And by desire, I mean the want to feel fat and happy.

 

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Colorado Capitol

A Taste of Colorado occurs every Labor Day Weekend. So if you feel bloated after eating cheesecake on a stick (just me?) you’ll have an extra day to recover.

 

This past Sunday, the fam and I ventured down to Civic Center Park, just west of the golden dome of the state capitol, with our gluttonous ambitions set high.

 

Here are a few of my favorites treats from the day. Boy, oh boy, was it delicious!

 

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It’s hard to go wrong with the classic turkey leg. I felt like a Renaissance queen while enjoying its juicy, succulent, fatty meat, which screamed, “THIS ISN’T THAT HEALTHY BUT YOU WILL EAT ME ANYWAY!”

 

And I did.

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Proof (as if you needed it)

My little sister [the vegetarian] was not so impressed.

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Not impressed but enjoying her pink lemonade enough to not show it.

Pro Tip: Share a turkey leg. It is an easy fair food to eat, but take baby wipes for the cleanup! A couple with whom we shared a picnic table saw our struggle and graciously offered their wipes. Thanks, random couple 🙂

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One of the best meals I ate all day was the Paella from Los Dos Paelleros. This Fort Collins Paella catering company stewed a giant (literally enormous) cast iron bowl of chicken, beans, rice, and happiness. Leaving the skin on the chicken lent a smooth fattiness to their paella. That’s probably the reason it was so delicious…

 

*Cue light bulb moment. Fat = deliciousness.

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Look.At.That.Pot.

Pro Tip: This booth offered only wooden utensils and plates. I dug it. But if you’re weird about silverware like my mom, you might want to search for different utensils or bring your own. (Can you tell my mother suggested this?)

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Unfortunately for my veggie-loving little sis, these dishes just would not do. Instead she selected a fried option. How do fried cheese curds sound?

 

Honestly, the word “curd” doesn’t sound very delectable.

 

But then I tasted this small, fried piece of paradise. Crunch on the outside, smooth mozzarella cheese on the inside.

 

Wut.

 

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to mess up fried cheese. But this was solid. Especially dipped in ranch dressing.

 

All the ranch dressing fanatics are screaming, YESSSS.

 

And yes, it was far superior to the cheese sticks you get at Sonic.

 

Thanks to the Chicken and Tater Stop (yep, that’s their name) for making the little vegetarian’s dreams come true.

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The look of a happy vegetarian.

Pro Tip: The Taste of Colorado is super accommodating to vegetarians, vegans, and gluten free folk. The menu at each booth shows whether their food falls into these categories. Kudos to you, Taste of Colorado–they list all of these on their website as well! Before you spend a ton of money, plan ahead and select which booths you are willing to stand in line for.

 

As we started running low on food tickets, I saw my opportunity for a small bite. What better to try than a baby empanada?

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To be honest, probably my favorite picture I took that day.

The line was pretty darn long for Lazo Empanadas. Then I tasted their spinach and cheese Argentine delight and understood why. This little empanada’s flaky crust served as the perfect vehicle for the authentic goodness inside.

 

Lazo Empanadas, located on 22nd Street in Denver, knows what they are doing.

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You can actually purchase frozen empanadas at the Lazo Empanadas restaurant and enjoy them anytime!

This knowledge could be dangerous for me during the next strict diet phase.

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When you are so full you can’t sit up…but still want to try the empanada.

Last, but certainly not least, was dessert! This is an annual delight that keeps us coming back year after year–frozen cheesecake on a stick from The Original Berrie Kabobs.

 

My mom, little sister, and I each got sticks of our very own. #oops

 

Drizzled in white and milk chocolate, this frozen delight was refreshing and fun! The taste and texture are perfect for cheesecake served right on its own convenient utensil!

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Imagine the cheesecake before it was devoured…

In fact, as we walked around the grounds, we were stopped several times and asked, “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?” People were ogling our dessert; drooling onto the hot pavement while they stumbled their way to the Berrie Kabob line.

 

I’m not sure if they were stumbling because they had visited the beer tents or because of the large quantities of food consumed.

 

Probably both.

 

Pro Tip: Get the cheesecake.

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As we sat on the grass to eat the cheesecake, I couldn’t help but take a look around.

 

A beautiful day in downtown Denver. Our stomachs full of heavenly manna (or turkey meat). How blessed and fortunate are we?

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I love you, Denver.

You won’t want to miss the other fun moments at A Taste of Colorado. Musical guests on several stages, over 275 arts and crafts booths, cooking demonstrations (we even got free ice cream), food trucks, and carnival rides.

Although I don’t recommend riding anything that spins or twirls after a day of stuffing yourself.

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One of the vendors was selling bonsai trees! Look how cute 🙂

 

A Taste of Colorado–bravo! You made for a fun, family-friendly activity.

 

If you weren’t able to make it this year, I recommend looking ahead to next September. Maybe work out a little harder the day before. (That’s what hiking is for, right?) But also remember that life is too short to always be restricted by a diet.

 

This coming from Health Freak over here who goes to the gym twice a day.

 

Food is meant to be enjoyed! So, find balance and enjoy!

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Being a First Runner Up (Part Three)

Remember that in my last blog post (found here: https://alittlebitofmonicasite.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/being-a-first-runner-up-part-two/) 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.

NOT.SO.HOT.

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.

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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.

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

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

Lol.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 😉

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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.

 

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The Miss Colorado Top 15 in Swimsuit (I am second from the left)
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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.

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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.

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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

 

Being a First Runner Up (Part Two)

If you read my last post, you know that a new acquaintance recommended America’s National Teenager Scholarship Organization (ANTSO) after her daughter was able to get a great scholarship to Oklahoma City University for participating. (If you need a refresher, that blog post is here: https://alittlebitofmonicasite.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/being-a-first-runner-up-part-one/ )

This wasn’t just a great scholarship:

The winner of ANTSO received a FULL TUITION scholarship to Oklahoma City University.

 

Casual.

Disclosure: OCU no longer offers this scholarship to participants.

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The blue dress made a reappearance. Pray for Texas, y’all. #hurricaneharvey
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My priorities were in the right place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward to the summer of 2013. I had just graduated from high school when I flew to San Antonio, Texas to compete in America’s National Teenager. That’s right. I went straight to Nationals. With this particular pageant system, only certain states have a regional pageant that sends a representative.

SURPRISE . . . I was not Miss Colorado’s National Teenager (that title had already been assigned); I was Miss District of Columbia’s National Teenager. It was one of the few remaining titles that no one had claimed and for which there were no locals or state competition. So lo and behold, I was representing our nation’s capital.

 

I had been to the capital once when I was a child so that counts, right…………?

 

If you really want to relish in the spectacle that is Monica Joyce Thompson at eighteen years old, please watch this never-before-discussed people’s choice video…shot entirely in Colorado. #MissDistrictofColumbia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQrrL9Gb4mI

 

After watching this video, you’ll understand why it was a moral imperative that I get a spray tan for this pageant.

Bad news–I had extremely dry skin on a section of my arm (you’ll learn that something always goes disastrously wrong before each of my pageants) that started to peel within the first few days of my being at Nationals. So much so, that my mom had to find the nearest spray tanning boutique in San Antonio to spray me right before the finals night. It was unsuccessful. My body got about ten shades (this is not an exaggeration) darker, except for the patch on my arm! Another awkward moment was when I walked into a cactus. Welcome to Texas. 

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The infamous cactus. 
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Before interview (note the same tan shoes I wore onstage last time) with the business suit I borrowed from a friend.

 

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The evening gown was purchased from a Chinese website. It was for sure a rip-off of a Tony Bowls gown…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be honest; I do not remember a lot from this pageant. I do remember eating some INCREDIBLE spaghetti and meatballs from a restaurant in San Antonio (if anyone knows where I’m thinking, I will be forever indebted to you).

 

 

I remember winning the talent, actress, and speech competitions. I remember my onstage question:

 

“Monica, if we had to spend an entire day with you, and you could talk about only one thing, what would that be?”

My answer was about my favorite animal. Chickens.

 

You have to give me credit for being original.

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My monologue outfit (I couldn’t tell you) 
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My talent outfit for singing “Art is Calling for Me” (bought on clearance at JCPenney)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember designing my Personal Expression Jeans. You read this correctly. At America’s National Teenager, you design a pair of jeans that reflects your personality.

 

 

Let’s take a moment:

 

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Are we surprised?

 

Side note, the piano on these pants was battery operated and actually worked. I thought about playing it onstage and decided against it. Wrong decision? You tell me.

My little sister and I stayed up the entire night before I left for Nationals gluing on small rhinestones and assembling felt chickens. Let’s not skip over the fact that I hot-glued yellow boas onto the bottom of these jeans.

We still find yellow feathers in our house today. By the way, I won this category at the pageant.

 

Maybe I can start a trend…?

 

The final night of the competition is all a blur. The scoring at ANTSO is as follows: 30% Interview, 15% Academics, 15% Community Service and School Activities/Leadership, 10% Onstage Question, 15% Personal Expression (the jeans), 15% Evening Gown.

Although I didn’t really know what I was doing (a common theme in my pageant experience), I do remember peace. In fact, in all my times as a first runner up, I have felt a strange calmness come over me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence–the Big Guy Upstairs has different plans. Since peace comes from God, that’s my theory.

ANYWAY, I remembered being called into the top ten and then the top five. After answering our final night question, the top five went backstage as they tabulated results. During the competition, I felt very confident. But as I looked at each of the girls backstage, I knew that I had not won. For whatever reason, I knew I was going to be first runner-up. In fact, I ended up predicting the correct order of the top five finishers.

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Top Five. From L-R: 3RU Louisiana (has gone on to be a successful vegan food blogger @EmileEats), 4RU New Jersey, Winner Vermont (successful model), 2RU Tennessee (has competed for the title of Miss Tennessee) and 1RU District of Columbia (who isn’t actually from D.C. and who has competed for both Miss Oklahoma and Miss Colorado….)

In other words, I ended up being very, very close to a full tuition scholarship. That was the hardest part of losing this pageant.

I received a half-tuition scholarship to attend Oklahoma City University. I decided to take it.

 

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to win that pageant. I wouldn’t have had to take out student loans. I wouldn’t still be paying off student loans (oh, the joy). But I also probably wouldn’t have competed in the Miss OCU pageant. If I hadn’t competed there, I would have been a very different person than I am now. And yes, I’ll be blogging about Miss OCU and my Miss Oklahoma experience a little later. 🙂

 

Things I learned from America’s National Teenager Scholarship Organization:

-You don’t need to have a lot of money to do well in a pageant.

-You can go to incredible places and meet some pretty awesome people in pageants.

-How to fasten a crown on your head

-God knows better than you do. (I must need this lesson, because I learn it a lot!)

 

As you watch Miss America 2018 this Sunday, think about the hard work and dedication each girl has put into getting on that stage. Be kind in your words, but cheer for your favorites. 🙂 I’m ready for the Pageant Super Bowl!!

I’ll see you next week when I blog about my Miss Colorado first runner up experience.

 

Being a First Runner Up (Part One)

A series of three blog posts about being a first runner-up.

I have won one pageant in my entire life.

 

That’s right. One.

I know what you are thinking: But Monica, there’s a portrait of you with a crown fastened to your head that hangs in the Hall of Honor (aka “the Hall of Hair”) at Oklahoma City University. Aren’t you a pageant girl?

Yes and no.

Told you. 

I did not grow up doing pageantry. No one in my family has ever competed in one. But I do remember watching the Miss America pageant with my mom. She has an uncanny ability to watch the contestants introduce themselves and be able to pick the winner.

We enjoyed the spectacle of the event. We enjoyed the competition. But we never expected to be a part of it.

I was not the little girl who would watch Miss America and then go upstairs, don her fanciest dress, and put on a show for her family. I was the little girl who went up to her room, shut the door, put on a dress, looked in the mirror and thought, “I’ll never be able to do that.” Competing in a pageant was a secret dream that I never, EVER thought would come to fruition.

But that all changed at the end of my senior year of high school.

There I was, accepted into some of the top performing arts colleges in the nation. Most of them were private universities. You know what that means: $$$$$$$$$$$.

I told myself not to worry. I was graduating within the top five percent of my class. I was talented, smart, and driven. Surely a university would fork over a large scholarship on my behalf.

 

Wrong.

 

I told myself not to worry. My granddaddy had left money for my sisters and me to attend college. While true, there is a sad ending to that story. For those who are close to me, you know that my parents went through a hostile divorce when I was thirteen years old. The picturesque family that I thought I had as a child was ripped apart. Though I won’t go into too many details with this post, it turns out that my father cashed in my college fund. He justified this action by saying I lacked communication with him.

 

It was devastating.

 

I place great importance on the value of education; once you have it, no one can take it away. But when my father took that money, I literally had zero dollars to pay for college. My dream of going to college seemed very far out of reach.

Since the divorce, I had grown up in a single parent household. Though my mom worked full time, we struggled financially. I was at a loss for what to do.

Then one day, out of the blue, a friend from high school reached out to me. She had won Colorado’s Distinguished Young Woman Program two years before and wanted to know if I would be interested in competing. To be clear, the Distinguished Young Woman Program does not market itself as a pageant. But what do they offer? A large amount of scholarship money.

That was enough incentive to get me to compete. That is the beginning of my pageant story.

I went into Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado having watched a few YouTube videos of the National Competition in Mobile, Alabama. But honestly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

My mom and I had been traveling around the country for my college music auditions and bought my blue, swishy cocktail dress from a David’s Bridal in Oklahoma.

Yep. You read that right. David’s Bridal.

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Proof. I also still have these shoes, in case you were wondering.

When I arrived at the competition, I remember meeting the other girls. Many of them had competed in previous years or in other pageant systems. The organizer sat us in a circle and explained the different phases of competition: Scholastics (25%), Interview (25%), Talent (20%), Fitness (15%), and Self-Expression (15%).

That afternoon, I went into an interview room for the first time. In front of me, five judges sat at a table. I had perfected my “pageant feet” and remember deliberately crossing my ankles, one in front of the other, as I stood in front of them. I walked out of the interview room feeling great about how it went!

And then I heard every other girl in the competition say the exact same thing:

“My interview was GREAT.”

“They asked me about (fill in the blank) and I answered like (fill in the blank)!”

“I think that was a winning interview!”

We spent the rest of the day rehearsing and preparing to compete that night. Before the event, the girls stood in a circle and said a prayer. There is a misconception in pageants that the girls hate each other backstage. I have never found that to be true. It is hard to explain the camaraderie that is formed during competitions.

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The first category of competition was fitness. Don’t worry–no swimsuits–but a literal workout routine onstage. I wore my mom’s old sneakers during this portion with my black leggings from Target. #stylish  They asked us to wear brightly colored tee shirts.

Let’s put it this way:

Theatre Kid + Workout Routine = Highly Questionable Sit Up/Push Up/High Kicks Thingy

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Looking super uncomfortable in the back corner. I could do a mean step-touch in the background though.
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Cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, although I mistakenly told the emcee the title of the song was “When You Walk Through a Storm”.  (The music theatre major in me died a bit.) My background track was piano which I played and recorded on my phone a few days before the competition. I didn’t win the talent portion.

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When you use your prom gown for your talent gown.

And last but not least, there was a self-expression category (the onstage question). I ended up talking about my journey–from not even getting a callback after my first musical audition to performing in front of 5,000 people four years later (stay tuned for that blog post).

I was having fun despite the fact I had no idea what was going on.

As we were called back onstage for the awards, I could not believe it when I won both interview and self-expression preliminary awards!

 

Then I was called as First.Runner.Up.

 

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Being the First Runner Up at Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I could do pageants.

Funny thing, after the competition I was approached by a woman who had read my program book bio. It mentioned I was interested in attending Oklahoma City University. Her daughter happened to be a graduate of OCU and she knew of a pageant program that offered a great scholarship to the winner. That pageant was America’s National Teenager.

Looking back, if I had won Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado, I would not have been able to compete in America’s National Teenager. And if I hadn’t competed there, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school at OCU.

 

Is God’s timing cool or what?

 

What I learned from the Distinguished Young Woman Program:

-I could be successful in a pageant.

-I could earn scholarship money.

-There is community in pageantry.

 

My first three blog posts will be about my experiences as a three-time first runner up. It’s difficult. It is hard to be so close to your dream, so many times, and not win. But I have also learned that the journey is more important than the crown (or in this case, the medal).

Looking back at these pictures from Distinguished Young Woman, I think about the woman I am today. Pageants have pushed me spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. Because of pageantry, I am resilient, I am passionate, and I am a college-educated woman.

I can’t wait to reflect on my times(!) as a first runner up with all of you.