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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.