Being Miss Northern Lights 2016

Going into this journey, I knew that I wanted to remain 100% authentic and unapologetically myself. I promised myself that I would share this opportunity with my community and with the world, never hiding what it really means or what it takes to be a local titleholder. Here you go, the truth behind the crown.

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Photo by: VOSStudios

Now, I’ve only been involved with this organization for three years, so I’m no expert on the whole pageant thing. However, my year as a titleholder has taught me a lot. Self-worth, sisterhood, responsibility, respectability, selflessness, personal branding, marketability, perseverance, the list goes on.

Before I go on, it took me quite some time to finally capture a local title and it definitely was not an easy process. In fact, I wrote about my journey up until the crown in a previous article, “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” (there’s my little sales pitch, now go read it before continuing). Moving on…

Our society is obsessed with instant gratification. If we can’t get something quickly, it’s not worth fighting for at all. At least, that’s what it seems like. There are countless methods pitched to us every single day about how we can become rich and famous, skinny, happy, healthy, successful, etc overnight.

I hate to break it to you, but success rarely comes immediately.

During my two years of competing before being Miss Northern Lights, I walked away without a title five times, not even a runner-up. I spent two and a half years pouring everything I had into each competition but still seemed to always fall short. I was frustrated with myself, honestly. However, I realize now that the previous five times were not for me and I had to know that there was a better opportunity that God had planned for me ahead. I am grateful to have had a tough journey because I think it made me appreciate this opportunity even more.

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On January 16th, 2016, I learned that delayed gratification is a beautiful lesson. Before this day, I had only a small idea of what this journey would entail. I knew I would be able to compete for the title of Miss Wisconsin, I knew I would commit to a year of service to the community, I knew about the scholarships. What I didn’t know was how many doors would be opened through this opportunity; the kinds of people I would meet. I had no idea that a handful of rhinestones on your head can make your voice 10 times louder.

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Rewind to the beginning of last year…

Immediately after the pageant, Katie (my fabulous director) and I met frequently to discuss my goals for the year and how we could start preparing for Miss Wisconsin. At this point, the main priority was to improve EVERYTHING. My paperwork and resume, my platform, my wardrobe, my talent routine, stage presence, knowledge of current events, speaking skills, and interviewing. Most of my time during the first 4-5 months as Miss Northern Lights was preparing to be Miss Wisconsin.

At the same time, I had to start working on my goals as just Jessica. Building onto my platform, starting and marketing my own GEMS program, scheduling appearances, planning events with local officials, and raising money for Children’s Miracle Network (the Miss America Organization’s national platform).

Most people don’t see this part at all, which is why I believe there is such a big misconception about pageant girls. The public only sees the final product of the hard work and preparation, so it’s easy to think that it must only take a pretty face and a pretty penny to pull off the job.

A big part of my mission was to break those stereotypes and misconceptions, which was quite the challenge as one of the only girls in the history of my hometown to ever hold a local Miss America title. Sometimes, people don’t understand and make remarks or simply view you as an airhead Barbie doll, but that’s when you have to step up and do your job. You are not a “beauty queen,” you are an intelligent, confident advocate for the organization, yourself, and your platform.

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Quite honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I correct people on the true job of a titleholder in the Miss America Organization.

“So you just have to be skinniest and prettiest one and you win?”

“You basically just sign up, pay money, and they give you a crown, right?”

“You just get to be in parades and stuff.”

No, no, and no. Definitely not. All wrong.

Believe me, when I signed up for my first pageant, part of me thought that if I could fit those molds, it might be that easy. Boy, was I wrong. The more I immersed myself in the organization and what it REALLY is, I learned that it is not an easy job if you want to do it well.

Sometimes people just won’t understand you and won’t care to. Some people will see you at an appearance and only see the crown, but won’t listen to what you have to say. Some people are just stuck on the pageant stereotype (but of course, do your best to change that).

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As a representative for a large community, like the central Wisconsin region, you meet a wide variety of people. Sometimes, you will be speaking to a kindergarten class, sometimes you will be performing for residents in a nursing home, and sometimes you’ll be presenting to a Kiwanis Club. The common denominator is always you. Most of the time, people are just eager and excited to see you and know that you took the time out of your day to attend their event. THAT is one of the best parts of the job…feeling appreciated.

Aside from Miss Wisconsin preparation at the beginning, I was getting more involved in the community throughout the year. I sent emails and made phone calls to introduce myself to local organizations, speak to them about my mission, ask for support, or help out at local events.

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I had to be independent, responsible, and organized as I scheduled my own appearances. I had to be prepared and professional every time. As a titleholder, first impressions are everything! At each appearance, there were new people who come up to shake my hand and ask what I do. Often enough, this is the only time you will ever meet that person or speak to them, so you have to make an impact every time.

This adds a lot of pressure! People have expectations before they even meet you, so you always have to do your best to exceed those expectations and be the best example and role model during the time you have.

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The year is full of many high points, but in the lows of the year (and there are some), it can feel like all the work you are doing is not enough. There have been a handful of times when I asked myself, “Is this worth it?” Sometimes it feels like you are not making the big impact that you hoped to make. As I reflected on this opportunity, I had to remember something… If I can inspire just one person this year, I’ve done my job. You can’t change the whole world in a year, but you can be the fire that sparks change.

At the beginning of the year when I made my list of goals, I wanted to tackle every single one of them by the time I passed on the title. Truth is, I didn’t reach all my goals during the time I had. Another thing I had to remember was that at the end of my year as Miss Northern Lights 2016, I can continue to pursue my unfinished goals.

I can still plan service projects, I can still host GEMS workshops, I can still be a role model. The only difference is that I don’t have rhinestones on my head. Who said you have to wear a crown to make a difference? You’re still the same person, right? Absolutely.

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I think this was a pretty humbling realization. Actually, the entire year is full of humbling realizations. The little moments are the ones that make the hard work worth it. Standing next to your MAO sisters and feeling nothing but love and support for each other; connecting with business professionals, directors, and judges who push you to be your best, on and off the stage; noticing the admirable peeks of little eyes at an appearance; meeting the miracle kids you collect CMN donations for. It all comes together. Everything you are working hard for IS worth it. The lessons learned, connections made, and the skills gained truly do stay with you even after it’s all said and done.

A girl did an interview with me recently for her English class and asked, “What is your advice to people who might want to start competing in pageants?”

I say, keep yourself grounded. I don’t care if you contacted 100 people to raise your CMN donations or if your evening gown was paid for by your parents. Remember where you come from and who helped you get to where you are today, because you did not do this on your own. STAY HUMBLE.

I also say that perseverance is a beautiful thing. Keep pushing to be your best, stay focused on the goal at hand, and recognize how to improve. BE ACTIVE in your personal development and never be afraid to reach out to those who can help you. You never know when your time might just be around the corner.

This is a job that requires public attention, but you can never let it get to your head. If you are doing this for the right reasons, this opportunity should mean much more than a sparkly crown and waving in parades.

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There is ALWAYS something to improve on. If you can’t think of anything you need to work on to be better, let’s go back to the “humble” point.

During the days when you’re burnt out and tired of planning and preparing, remember why you do this. Remember your passion, your dedication to your platform, and the commitment you made to serve your community.

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It’s not about “winning” or “beating the competition” and many girls often see it that way, myself included at the beginning. You’re only competing against your own scores. Focus on being the best version of YOU, not someone else.

Remember that your job is to serve. You are NOT above anyone just because you have a crown on. I always remind myself that the crown will capture peoples’ attention, but your passion, hard work, and your voice is what will capture peoples’ hearts.

Being Miss Northern Lights was the greatest privilege. I keep my crown and sash on my desk as a reminder of the very special moments held with them. All the little hugs, firm handshakes, tears of frustration and of happiness, and smiles of gratitude and honor. Today, I’m back at square one competing for other local titles for another incredible opportunity in the Miss America Organization. There’s still a lot of work to be done and improvements to be made, but I will do everything to better myself before passing my hard work onto God’s hands. I am not guaranteed a spot on the Miss Wisconsin stage again next summer, but I CAN guarantee that this experience has changed me for the better. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I am changed.

Love always,

Jessica

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How To: Pageant Hair

It’s time to get fabulous!

I’ve gotten plenty of requests to write a blog article or even post a video about how I curl my hair for pageants and appearances. I finally found a little down time to go full glam, which is definitely not an everyday process. In fact, the most exhausting part of Miss Wisconsin week was waking up 2-3 hours early just to do hair and makeup…You can usually find me in athletic shorts and flip flops with unwashed hair wrapped up in a ponytail, so this post is a real treat for y’all.

Every girl does their hair a little differently for the stage, but this is just what works for me and my hair type! Feel free to experiment with different products and techniques to get the look you want. Here’s how I do it:

Collect your materials. I’m not a big fan of fancy and expensive hair and makeup products because I’ve found that anything from the drugstore works just fine if you look hard enough. All of these products can be found at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, or any other drugstore:

  • Big Sexy Hair Big Altitude Bodifying Blow Dry Mousse (optional)
  • TRESemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray
  • Psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo
  • Big Sexy Hair Spray & Play Hairspray
  • Wide tooth comb
  • Teasing brush (Goody, Conair, etc.)
  • 3/4 inch Revlon curling iron
  • Remington hot rollers (20 pc.)

 

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Step 1: Prepare the hair

Weeks before your event: ask your stylist to cut in lots of layers, especially face-framing layers. This will allow your curls to swoop back, softly frame your face and emphasize your features.

The day before your event: Shower and wash your hair with any volumizing shampoo and conditioner. TIP: When washing your hair, condition FIRST to protect the ends and then shampoo AFTER to wash it away. I’ve found this backwards technique keeps my hair softer and healthier. After your shower, let your hair air dry like I do, or use a small amount of blow dry mousse before using a hair dryer. Then, put your hair up on top of your head in a loose bun when you sleep. This draws the hair follicles UP, creating more volume.

Step 2: Prep and protect

On the day of your event, use a wide tooth comb to brush out day-old hair. TIP: Start brushing from the ends FIRST to prevent breakage and split ends. Once the ends are untangled, work your way up. Finally, spray a heat tamer spray  from your ears down to protect the ends of your hair from frying and splitting.

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Step 3: Divide and conquer

After your hair is tangle free and protected from the heat, separate your hair about two inches above your ears and tie off the top section with a clip or hair tie.

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Then, grab your dry shampoo and spray the roots. TIP: When working with day-old hair, or if you hair gets greasy easily, dry shampoo is a life saver to give you more texture and volume, making it look cleaner! Let it sit for a minute and then massage your scalp to work it in. Next, grab your teasing brush and tease at the roots.

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Finally, split your hair one more time down the middle so you now have two even sections to work with.

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Step 4: Curl, curl, curl

Notice that I use a curling iron that has a clamp on it, but instead of using the clamp, I use it like a wand. Clamps on curling irons tend to make kinks in the ends of the hair, and wands are usually smaller at the bottom, creating a strange shaped curl. I decided to go for the best of both worlds and just use this method of ignoring the clamp. When curling the left side of my head, hold the curling iron in your right hand and work with your left hand, like so:

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I usually take pretty small sections, maybe an inch or two in size. Taking too much hair onto the curling iron will prevent the hair from heating evenly, causing your curls to fall flat faster! Also, make sure you always curl AWAY from your face to create the most flattering and voluminous look. TIP: Keep the hair laying flat against the barrel of the curling iron so it comes out looking like a ribbon.

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Switch and repeat on the right side of your head until it’s all curled. Hairspray LIGHTLY.

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Step 5: Divide and repeat

Once the bottom layer is done, let down another section of hair from your clip. Now, only the crown of your hair should be tied up.

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Spray the roots with dry shampoo again, let sit, massage it in with your fingers, and tease once again before curling.

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TIP: Tease ALL layers of your hair for the most volume. Lots of girls only tease the top layer of their hair, but if you want it to stay big all day, start teasing from the very first section. Now, repeat the same curling process, curling away from your face in small sections. Once this layer is all done, spray lightly with a medium hold hairspray, and your base is complete.

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Step 6: Roll It Up

Now that you have a solid base of curls using the curling iron/wand technique (came up with that term myself), plug in some hot rollers. (This is totally optional and something I usually only use for pageants. For an easier everyday look, you can continue the technique using a curling iron if you’d like!)

Since I have very long, thick, layered hair, I NEVER have enough rollers to cover my whole head! Instead of buying a second set of rollers, I resorted to using my trusty curling iron on most of my hair and only using a handful of rollers to finish up. This means more volume on top and around my face (perfect for the stage).

Once your rollers are heated up, take out the top section of your hair and divide it into one-inch sections, starting from the back.

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For this part, I spray dry shampoo at the roots AND I also use a little bit of hairspray at the roots as well.

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Then, tease like crazy!

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Next, take small sections and start putting in the rollers. THIS TAKES PRACTICE. TIP: If you plan on doing your hair with rollers for a special event, PRACTICE before the big day! The last thing you want is to be struggling with them when you’re on a time limit. Like we did with the curling iron, curl your rollers away from your face, too!

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Continue taking small sections, spraying, teasing, and rolling them up until it’s all gone. Feel free to take a few pieces from the sides by your ears as well. Now, spritz with a little bit of hairspray and wait! Be sure to wait until they are cool to touch before taking them out (mine usually takes 20-30 mins…perfect time to start your makeup).

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Side note… If you lose your roller pins/clips all the time like I do, giant hair clips usually work just fine and they are 100x more fashionable…(sarcasm). Believe me, I’ve used clothespins, bobby pins, and even held them all in with my hands for a half hour when I lose my roller pins..

Step 7: Roll On Out

Once your rollers are cooled down, carefully unroll them…DO NOT just pull them out, it’ll ruin your curls! It’ll look a little strange, and the curls from before and the new ones from your rollers will look a little different. Don’t worry, we’ll fix them!

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Take a section from the side of your hair and spray roots with hairspray and tease like crazy until it can stand up on its own.

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Continue this step for all top and side sections until your hair looks a little like this:

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Now, let the hairspray dry and gently smooth out the teasing mess with your comb. The top will be smooth and voluminous.

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Then, touch up your curls with the curling iron so the ones from earlier and the new roller curls blend together and look the same. Do not spray all your hair yet..

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Step 8: Brushing for Backflips

BUT WAIT, you’re not done. Sure, it looks just fine now and you could be done here, but we can do better! Take your wide tooth comb and brush out the ends of your hair from your ears down ONLY. Don’t comb out the top! TIP: Brushing out your curls gives you more volume and prevents your curls from looking too structured and crunchy.

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Once your curls are gently brushed, flip your head over, shake it out, and spray all over. I usually scrunch it up a little too, but that step is optional. Now, keep your head flipped over and tease the back of your head.

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AND NOW, flip it back over, smooth it out to the way you like it, touch up any fallen curls, and SPRAY SPRAY SPRAY. TIP: Make sure you’re using a medium hold hairspray for final touches. Using one that’s too flexible won’t hold your volume and and one that is too heavy will weigh down your curls and make them crunchy.

VOILA! Here is the final product!

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Again, this is a pretty extensive process that I usually only use for the stage. For everyday curls, I’ll use the same process, but without rollers. Now you know!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or contact me using the information on the “About Me” tab.

Fun fact: I LOVE doing hair and makeup for special events. If you’d like to have me do your hair or makeup for homecoming, prom, pageant, or any other occasion, contact me! I’d love to send some examples of my previous work and have the chance to be a part of your special day.

Now get out there and be fabulous.

Love always,

Jessica

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Meet Jade Strick: National American Miss Wisconsin 2015

Time to get back into blogging mode (as I sip tea from my new “blogging day” mug from my wonderful pageant director). Speaking of, there are TONS of pageant organizations out there, from Miss USA, to Miss America, to National American Miss and beyond. Each program is a little different, but they all offer so many life changing opportunities for the women involved.

Back in December of 2015, I was connected to Miss Jade Strick through a mutual acquaintance. I thought it would be a fun idea to collaborate with her on an article about the impact of pageant involvement and how her experiences have shaped her life thus far. This Q & A was conducted through a previous interview she did for a friend, but her answers are spot on! Jade has been involved in the National American Miss program for a few years now and she is currently a NAM titleholder and director for the Miss Amazing program, empowering girls with disabilities. Meet Jade…

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Q: You’re very involved in the pageant industry, could you please explain any pageants or organizations you’ve participated in? Also any titles you’ve won over your pageant career?

A: I have been involved in the National American Miss pageant system. NAM is the largest pageant system in the United States. It is a more “family oriented” system and their staff refers to it as a “confidence pageant” rather than a beauty pageant. The areas of competition are personal introduction, interview, formal wear, and community service.  This is the only system I have competed in so far but I am very familiar with other systems and hope to compete in the Miss USA organization. I currently hold the title of National American Miss Wisconsin 2015 and placed 4th runner up at the national pageant.

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Q: There are many controversies over whether minors should be allowed to participate in pageants. What is your opinion on this?

A: There’s a huge difference between organizations like National American Miss and what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras. National American Miss doesn’t allow younger contestants to wear makeup and it isn’t judged on outer appearance whatsoever. I completely advocate for younger girls participating in pageants like this if it is something they want to try! Beauty pageants, on the other hand, I do not agree with. I would never allow my daughter to participate in anything like what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras.

Q: Are there any ways participating in pageants has positively influenced your life? Anything negative?

A: Pageants have been extremely influential in my life. I first competed in National American Miss when I was 16 years old and it felt like I found my home, my “thing,” if you will. I was never good at sports and I tried and quit countless other activities. When I competed in NAM, I immediately fell in love. I placed in the Top 10 in my first pageant and knew I found my “thing.” When I came back to school in the fall, I felt like a different person. I was always somewhat introverted, not that it’s a bad thing, but the pageant definitely helped bring me out of my shell. I was more eager to speak in front of the class and talk to new people. It also lead me to getting much more involved in volunteer work. I saw the amazing things my fellow competitors were doing and that gave me the confidence to believe that I could make a difference too. I started with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Miss Amazing program a few months later. I would have never had the confidence in myself to be able to direct and lead a statewide organization like Miss Amazing if it weren’t for my experience with National American Miss.

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I think the only negative experience I had with NAM was the final year I competed in the teen division; I was very competitive and put way too much pressure on myself to win. I really didn’t enjoy myself that weekend and ended up messing up my personal introduction and bawling my eyes out when I didn’t win. This really wasn’t a negative experience, it was a lesson.  The lessons I learned that weekend contributed to my amazing week competing at nationals this past year. Of course I would have loved to win, but I did my best, didn’t put pressure on myself, and had fun. It is for that reason that I placed in the Top 5!

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Q: You are very involved in the Miss Amazing program. Could you explain what it is, your role, and how it has influenced the participants’ lives?

A: Miss Amazing is a non-profit organization that gives girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to gain confidence and self esteem in a supportive environment. The founder of Miss Amazing was a National American Miss queen in Nebraska, who designed the pageant to be similar to NAM. I am Wisconsin’s state director, so I am in charge of our program for the whole state. I plan the annual state pageants, which consist of finding a venue, fundraising, promoting the program to get participants and volunteers, and planning all the details that go into the event. I also work with the families of the six queens to get them to the National Miss Amazing pageant and help them get into the community for appearances and volunteer work. Recently, I took on a new role in the planning committee for the national event as well.

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Miss Amazing has hugely influenced participants across the United States. I’ve witnessed it having the same impact on the girls and women who participate as National American Miss did on me.  It is really empowering for the participants to have their time in the spotlight– their time to feel beautiful. I could tell you so many stories. One of my favorite stories is about a girl named Sarah. When I first met Sarah, she was sitting backstage waiting to practice for the talent showcase. My mom pulled me aside from my busy errands and asked me to talk to a really nervous participant. I dropped everything and sat down next to this terrified young lady. I tried to get Sarah to talk to me, but she could barely even look at me. Finally, her mom came back and mentioned that I looked like a character from her favorite TV show, Victorious. That sparked her interest and we finally got some smiles, laughs, and a few words out of her. I asked her if she was ready to go practice, but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, we got her to just stand on the stage. She didn’t practice her talent, she wouldn’t even wave to the small crowd, she just stepped on stage. Her talent was decorating cupcakes and when it came to the final show, I went on the stage with her and helped her do her talent. The next day, I saw her confidence slowly growing and the real Sarah was coming out. Sarah was quirky, funny, and had a contagious smile. The final show came around and Sarah walked across the stage in her red ball gown, flashing that contagious smile and waving to the crowd. My heart was beaming with pride, as she ended up winning her age division and she became the Wisconsin Miss Amazing Teen. I saw the transformation as Sarah grew into a confident young lady and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Q: What is your favorite Miss Amazing memory?

A: If you haven’t noticed, when it comes to Miss Amazing, I could write novels for you.  There are so many memories and stories. One thing that stands out for me was at the end of the second pageant I held. The first one was very small and had only 3 participants and a handful of volunteers. The second one had almost 20 contestants and around 50 volunteers. The show was over and I lead all the girls onstage for a final bow and photos. As I turned, the crowd was on their feet and one of the participants brought me a bouquet of flowers. I immediately started crying because I was so exhausted, but all that hard work paid off in that one moment. That feeling is something I will never forget.

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Q: Has participating in pageants changed your outlook on the world and/or life? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure that they’ve changed my outlook, but they have empowered me to feel that I can make an impact on the world.  They’ve empowered me to be a leader. I am a more confident person because of my experiences with pageants and I am forever grateful for everything I’ve learned.

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Jessica’s reflections…

Thank you for sharing your stories, Jade! Although we do not compete in the same organizations, I definitely connect with many of the experiences Jade has had through her involvement as well. I can honestly say that the Miss America Organization has also allowed me to gain public speaking skills, interviewing skills, scholarship dollars, stage presence, confidence in myself and my abilities, and connections within the community through service opportunities. It is because of these skills learned through preparing for and participating in pageants that I feel empowered to make a change. I encourage all young women to try at least one pageant, whether it be with Miss America, National American Miss, Miss USA, etc. It’s time to end the stigma around pageantry.

Love always,
Jessica

Miss Wisconsin 2016: My Experience

Waking up in my own bed was a strange feeling on Monday. For most people, it’s comforting to get home from a week spent in a hotel and finally sleep in your own bed. Although I am thankful I didn’t have to wake up at 6:30 a.m to head to rehearsals again, I would be back in Oshkosh in a heartbeat if I had the chance to spend one more day with 24 outstanding women for the best experience of my life a.k.a.. Miss Wisconsin week 2016.

Let’s rewind a little bit.

Here’s A Little Background Check

My friends and family know that I started this crazy journey about 2 and a half years ago during my senior year of high school. I heard about a local pageant affiliated with the Miss America Organization being held in my hometown and decided to give it a shot just for fun. Sure enough, I had a phenomenal experience, caught the “pageant bug,” and took on 5 more local pageants after that until I captured the local title of Miss Northern Lights 2016 in mid-January of this year. Since then, I’ve been spending the majority of my time (in between a full-time college schedule and part-time job) developing my platform, making appearances in the community to speak and volunteer, and also prepare for the next step… competing for the state title of Miss Wisconsin.

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Like me, 24 other women from across the state of Wisconsin had also captured local titles and would be joining me to compete at the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant in June. For each and every one of us, our goal was to become Miss Wisconsin 2016 and represent this great state at the Miss America Scholarship Pageant (Yes, THEEEE Miss America. No, not Miss USA or Miss Universe, those are both completely different organizations. We’ll discuss that another time). However, only ONE of the twenty five of us could be Miss Wisconsin. We each prepared in our own ways, working with our directors, local board members and volunteers to improve for each distinct area of the competition: Interview, Onstage Question, Lifestyle & Fitness in Swimwear, Talent, and Evening Gown.

The preparation process became one of the greatest growing experiences for me, as I learned about my personal strengths and weaknesses. As humans, we often do not put ourselves in situations that force us to look at both sides. We tend to avoid areas of our lives where we are weak and continue in areas where we feel comfortable and strong. This opportunity forced me to recognize my weaknesses and address them directly, and that is something I don’t think I can find anywhere else. Preparing for each area of competition was one thing, but the lessons I learned about perseverance, motivation, and self-awareness through that preparation process are skills I’ll carry with me forever.

Time was running down, finishing touches and final mock interviews were held and soon enough, it was time to pack up for Miss Wisconsin week. I took every lesson learned, every word of constructive criticism, and every ounce of confidence in me and I hit the road for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Behind the Crown

So many people think that being a titleholder is such a glamorous lifestyle. At times, it can be. The crown and sash, dresses, makeup, photo sessions, and public appearances can make you feel like a celebrity sometimes. However, that is only a small fraction of what a titleholder does. Me and 24 of my sister queens were NOT competing for prizes, photo shoots, modeling contracts, or fame. We were each competing for the JOB of Miss Wisconsin.

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Miss Wisconsin is NOT a beauty queen. In fact, as soon as she is crowned, she serves as an official spokesperson for her personal platform as well as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and CITGO. She spends an entire year traveling across the state of Wisconsin and beyond to speak about important social issues. She embodies the four points of the crown: Service, Style, Scholarship, and Success. She does not win a fancy apartment or loads of spending money, but instead receives a $10,000 scholarship to go directly toward her college education. She is a fund raiser, advocate, spokesperson, and role model for the state of Wisconsin and the Miss America Organization. Therefore, Miss Wisconsin week is essentially a very extensive job application.

Sorry I got a little excited…

Miss Wisconsin Week

As soon as all 25 contestants arrived in Oshkosh on Sunday, we checked in at the auditorium and the hotel where we would all be staying together for the week.

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Saying goodbye to mom and dad, we went right into orientation and rehearsals on Sunday evening. I was lucky enough to have Miss Fond du Lac, Katrina Mazier, as my roomie for the week. Aside from the competition itself, the time spent with all the girls in our hotel rooms is where my fondest memories of the week will be held. Taking off the gowns, washing off the makeup, and just kicking back and having fun with some of the most incredibly kind and intelligent women I’ve ever met was the best part of the experience.

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The really cool thing about the Miss America Organization is that every girl involved comes with a unique story. Talking to each contestant during the week, I learned what fuels their fire for service and advocacy. Whether she is an advocate for autism awareness or promoting literacy or domestic violence prevention, each woman I met was aiming to make a difference in the lives of others and stand up for something she believes in. When you put 25 of the smartest, most driven, kindhearted, and motivated women in the state of Wisconsin on one stage, it’s a pretty amazing experience. As a matter of fact, everyone is genuinely rooting for each other to be successful, something you’ll never see on Toddler’s & Tiaras, is it?

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MONDAY

Monday was made up of rehearsals, rehearsals, and more rehearsals. We were usually on the go from 8:00 a.m to as late as 11:30 p.m some days. In between morning and afternoon rehearsals on Monday, we had the pleasure of joining the Winnebagoland Shrine Club and some incredible veterans from central Wisconsin for lunch and good conversation. After that, it was back to rehearsals. If you can imagine spending six hours a day dancing and walking in heels, you can get an idea of how nice Band Aids and a hot bathtub felt at the end of the day.

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After rehearsals concluded on Monday afternoon, it was back to the hotel to get ready for Merchant’s Dinner, where we were able to get dressed up to meet our sponsors and judges for a night of dinner, conversation, and entertainment. This was a very cool experience as well, seeing the faces behind the Miss Wisconsin program who make it all possible with their generous donations. Having the opportunity to speak with the judges on a personal and intimate level made the competition seem a lot more comfortable as well.

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TUESDAY

On Tuesday, half of the contestants were preparing for their private interviews. Most people don’t know that this is a huge part (25%) of how a winner is chosen. Before the actual show begins, we all have a 10 minute private interview with the judges, where they can ask us virtually anything. Usually, we converse about our platforms, viewpoints, goals, and accomplishments, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for a wide range of questions. Politics, current events, and social issues are also hot topics discussed in private interview.

I was placed in the second group of contestants, so I went to a two-hour talent rehearsal until my interview on Wednesday morning. After group one was finished with their interviews and group two completed talent rehearsals, we joined together for a picnic with the Oshkosh Kiwanis Club, where we each spoke about our platforms and talents while getting to know community members. After that little break, we were back at rehearsals once again until dinner and relaxation time at the hotel that evening.

WEDNESDAY

DEEP BREATHS… On Wednesday morning, I had my private interview. I was up early to look my best, say a little prayer, and call my director for a quick pep talk. Needless to say, I ruined my makeup with a fountain of nervous tears while I was on the phone (mixed with a little bit of overtiredness). Knowing that all my hard work and hours upon hours of preparation would lead up to this moment was a very scary and emotional realization. But I was ready. I was prepared to show the judges what I had accomplished and all the things I have to offer. I was prepared to show them my passion and drive. You never know exactly what the judges are looking for, so the best idea is to remain true to yourself and be confident in who you are. The best way to win is to win as YOU. I was called downstairs to the holding room until the judges were ready for me. Soon enough, I was introduced to the judges and my 10 minutes to make a lasting impression started right there.

Walking out of my interview, I couldn’t help but burst into tears of relief, gratitude, and pride. I felt that I was able to show the judges who I truly was and that’s the most I could’ve asked for walking out of that room. Whether I ended up being Miss Wisconsin or not, the judges saw ME.

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After interviews were complete, it was back to rehearsals for the afternoon to prepare for the first night of preliminary competitions. I competed in Swimsuit and Onstage Question on that night, which account for 15% and 5% of the total scoring.

Let me tell you, walking on stage in a swimsuit and heels takes a lot of strategy. You have to mix the perfect amount of sexy, classy, and confident. A lot of people disagree with the swimsuit portion of the competition, but in reality, the Miss America Organization began as a bathing suit contest way back in 1921. It’s a part of the program’s history and it continues today as a testament to a woman’s ability to appreciate and take care of her body, regardless of size or shape. Since the job of Miss Wisconsin may include uncomfortable or awkward situations at times, it’s important to remain confident. That’s what this area of competition is truly testing. They always say if you can walk on a stage in just a swimsuit, you can pretty much do anything.

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In regards to Onstage Question, I was asked whether or not I believe Hillary Clinton is a role model for my platform GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve. Regardless of political affiliation, I answered YES, Hillary is in a position of leadership and it’s important for young girls to understand that possibility in themselves. My platform is all about encouraging young girls to make a difference in their communities through service and leadership. We need more female leaders, starting locally in our communities, and if we teach our girls to be confident and proud of their abilities, they can stand up for what they believe in, make a difference in the lives of others, and achieve anything. *mic drop*

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After each night of prelims, there is a preliminary swimsuit winner and talent winner named. My goal was to win a swimsuit prelim, but it wasn’t in the cards for me this year and that’s perfectly okay because I am so happy with how I performed the first night. In fact, our fabulous Miss Madison-Capital City, Sarah, won the preliminary swimsuit award after getting burnt in the leg with a hot garment steamer backstage 10 minutes before the show. Even with her skin peeling off and blistering, she still rocked the stage and looked AMAZING and walked away with a $250 scholarship. You go girl!! *fist bump* Just goes to show you never know what happens behind the scenes. What you see on stage is just a small representation of what actually goes on behind that smile and sassy strut.

THURSDAY

Thursday morning, we woke up for a short rehearsal and then we were free to meet our families for lunch and a backstage tour. After a long week filled with early mornings, late nights, stress, and rehearsals, it was nice to take a break to see all the people who came to support me.

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After lunch, it was back to rehearsals one more time before the second night of preliminaries, where I competed in Talent and Evening Gown. Now, I always say that my talent is my weak point since I have never been professionally trained in any kind of dance. In fact, I only started dancing as a sophomore in high school while many of my sister queens have been dancing since age 3. I knew it was going to be tough, so I put some long hours into that 90 second routine and I am incredibly thankful for all those who took the time to help me create and polish it for the stage. (Shouts to Hayley, Grant, Megan, and Katie). After a very rough talent rehearsal earlier in the week, I was nervous for my talent performance that night. Since talent actually makes up the majority (35%) of a contestant’s total score, I knew I had to nail it in order to bump up into the Top 10 on Finals night. I knew that I had to connect with the audience and captivate the judges by telling a story through movement. I took a deep breath, walked out onto the stage, got into my starting position, and just closed my eyes for a moment and took it all in. I thought to myself,

I was chosen by a local panel of judges who believed in my mission, I practiced and prepared to the best of my ability, I took constructive criticism, and I am ready to perform this talent on the Miss Wisconsin stage. I am good enough, I can do this.

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I hit my turns and finished my final pose strong and looked up in tears as I walked off the stage. I could not have been happier with my dance that night. I may not have had the best routine out of all the talents, but I knew how far I had come and how hard I worked to get there. That was absolutely good enough for me.

After both nights of prelims, we were all able to go into the audience to visit with our families. I cried again (mostly because I was exhausted and relieved by my performance). I left it all on the stage both of those nights and was more confident in myself than ever before.

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FRIDAY

Rise and shine and RELAX! Friday was a breath of fresh air, as we were all headed to a golf outing to benefit Miss Wisconsin scholarships. We were given a lot of freedom, which I could describe as a pilot episode of “Miss Wisconsin Contestants Gone Wild” if you can imagine all of us behind the wheel of golf carts. It felt so nice to get outside, relax, and spend time with one another off the stage.

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Friday was an interesting day because, now that preliminary competitions were over, everyone was (im)patiently waiting to find out the following night who would have the honor of being chosen as a Top 10 semifinalist and continue on in the competition. Friday was a mix of relief and feeling on edge, and those two emotions together can be really exhausting.

After the golf outing, the majority of us fell asleep on the 10 minute ride back to the hotel before having some free time to meet with our directors. As soon as I met with Katie for dinner, I immediately started crying. In fact, I cried almost every day that week. It’s so strange because I always felt so grateful and blessed to be where I was, competing for Miss Wisconsin, but it was also a very stressful week because of the fact that we were all working so hard for that position. With the combination of very little sleep, stress, and an irregular eating schedule, my body was just exhausted to tears. After a good cry every now and then, I put on my big girl pants and focused myself once again. I was taking on the most amazing opportunity of my life and I wanted to soak in every moment.

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Following my vent session, we were all ready to get dressed up again for the Teen pageant that evening. Seeing those young girls perform and watching the crowning of the new Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen made me so excited for the following evening when we would find out who our own Miss Wisconsin would be. Come 11:30pm, we were back at the hotel for bed time, but I could not sleep. The next day would be the final day of an amazing, exhausting, liberating, humbling week competing for the job of my dreams. I didn’t want it to end.

SATURDAY

Today was the day.

My 24 fellow contestants and I were off to the Oshkosh Farmer’s Market for a morning engaging with community members, signing autographs, and taking photos. This is easily one of my favorite parts of being a titleholder because there is no better feeling than seeing a little girl’s eyes light up at the sight of your crown. It’s moments like these that make me realize why I do this. Even though I was running on a few hours of sleep and plenty of physical and emotional stress, I realized that there are people who look up to me and my mission. There will always be a little girl in the corner of my eye admiring my presence, and for that, I am so blessed to serve as a role model in this position.

After the Farmer’s Market, we were off to Festival Foods to have lunch and help bag groceries while promoting the final night of the pageant that evening. By this day, I think the majority of us were all zombies from the lack of sleep and long days, but it was all SO worth it.

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Following our short stop at Festival, we were able to go back to the hotel to rest, recover, and prep for the final night of competition. I took this time to reflect on how incredible this journey had been. Just two and a half years ago, I entered my first pageant not knowing what the Miss America Organization was all about. Now that I had spent the week with numerous directors, volunteers, contestants, supporters, and sponsors, I knew exactly what my involvement meant.

Regardless of the results of the competition, Miss Wisconsin week is made up of just a few of the 365 days that I have the privilege of being Miss Northern Lights. This competition is not an accurate representation of what it truly means to be a titleholder. I was standing there on that stage because I pushed myself to be the best version of Jess. I chose to surround myself with people who were going to lift me up and believe in my abilities. I had a platform that I wished to spread throughout my community and the state of Wisconsin, and with a crown or not, I knew that my mission would still continue after the week’s events concluded.

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Fast forward to the announcement of the Top 10 semifinalists that evening… I stood there  on stage, praying that my performances throughout the week would carry me into the Top 10, a goal I set for myself going into my preparations for Miss Wisconsin. I hoped the judges saw a potential Miss Wisconsin in me, believing in my mission and my abilities to carry the organization further with a state title. As the names continued getting called, I was more and more nervous. I wanted to be able to perform one more time that night for my friends and family. Before the final name was called, I looked over and felt so much pride for my sister queens who were moving forward in the Top 10. The Miss America Organization is beautiful and unique because everyone is genuinely cheering for one another and there is always so much love, positivity, and encouragement between contestants. I was especially excited for my Miss Wis roomie, Katrina, for making Top 10. I wanted to run up and hug her so badly as soon as she looked back at me with such excitement and relief when her name was called as a semifinalist (P.S.. if you’re reading this, Miss Fondy, I love you tons and I am so proud of all you’ve accomplished and overcome).

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After the final name was called and the words “Miss Northern Lights” were left unspoken, I did feel upset. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little disappointed. However, I had to remember that this was not the end of the world. I was still receiving a scholarship just for being there, my family and friends were still there cheering me on, and there were 10 outstanding women who needed my support as they advanced in the competition. I could not have been happier with my performances in all areas of competition that week and I left it all on the stage. I will never forget going back to the dressing room to get into my comfy clothes with the rest of the non-finalists and crowding around the backstage monitor, cheering on our sister queens. Katrina, Miss Fond du Lac, Top 10 semifinalist, and my lovely Miss Wis roomie, came out from her dressing room, ready to perform her talent and I gave her a huge hug and we cried together. This was one of the best moments. I was so incredibly proud of her for being only 18 years old, surviving a very hard time in her life, spreading her message of suicide prevention and awareness, and I was so happy the judges saw the beauty that I also saw in her.

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Fast forward to later that night… a new Miss Wisconsin was crowned (Courtney Pelot, you are fabulous and I am so excited for you!!!!), we all embraced backstage, and I felt so blessed and humbled to have been a part of this experience. Two and a half years of working toward a dream of walking on the Miss Wisconsin stage and I just did it. I reached a goal this past week. I didn’t make Top 10, I am not Miss Wisconsin, and some people might look at those results and give up after not reaching a specific goal like that. However, I am proud of myself and how far I’ve come since the very beginning and I will keep spreading my mission as Miss Northern Lights because that is God’s plan for me right now. This week, I gained scholarship dollars, life experiences, confidence, a greater sense of self, and 24 amazing sisters. Priceless.

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Thank You

During my two and a half years of involvement and preparation, there are so many people I’d like to acknowledge for their efforts toward my journey.

First and foremost, thank you to my family and friends for allowing me to do this. Thank you for watching me go off on my own and always understanding when I had to cancel plans for Miss Wisconsin prep or last minute Miss Northern Lights appearances. Thank you for letting me run wild toward my dreams. I love you all, you know who you are.

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Mitch, thank you for jumping head-first into this pageant boyfriend role. When I met you, I was preparing to compete for Miss Northern Lights and you have never ceased to believe in me and my abilities from that point. Thank you for understanding when I would have to finish paperwork or read up on news articles while you sat patiently next to me, or when I would have to cancel date nights for mock interviews, appearances, and talent rehearsals. Thank you for always treating me like a queen, with or without a crown on my head.

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On the flip side, thank you to those who didn’t think I could do it. For those who doubted me or didn’t think what I was doing was worth it. Thank you for fueling my fire.

Katie, I am so blessed to call you my director. From day one, you put so much time and effort into my readiness for the job of Miss Wisconsin and I am eternally grateful for your advice, hugs, constructive criticism, and words of motivation and empowerment. I look up to you in so many ways and I will be lucky to be half the woman you are when my time as a contestant is over. I am so honored to be your very first Miss Northern Lights. Thank you for teaching me to be confident in my accomplishments and for never giving up on me.

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Megan and Brenda, thank you for all your help along the way. Megan, thank you for traveling hours to help me choreograph and perfect my talent piece. Your advice allowed me to improve as a dancer, communicator, and titleholder. Thank you for sacrificing your time and energy toward my journey! Brenda, thank you for reaching out and getting me involved in this organization during my senior year of high school. Since then, I have loved getting to know you and growing in my faith, my platform, and as a young woman. Thank you for building me up from the very beginning and helping me understand my true worth as a woman of the Lord.

To the host moms who spent the entire week with all the contestants both backstage and in the hotel, thank you for taking care of all of us by donating your time, hugs, helpful hands and kind words. Having you all around made the environment so relaxed, and without you, we all would’ve been starving, dehydrated, stressed, and left with unzipped gowns.

To Jeremy and the rest of the security team, thank you for keeping our best interest in mind and for keeping us all safe and in order. No creepers got to us this week, thanks to you and the crew. You rock.

To the Miss Wisconsin Board of Directors and stage crew, thank you for offering this opportunity to the women of Wisconsin. I appreciate, more than anything, your time and commitment to this organization to make this program a success. I look forward to working with all of you in the future!

To my sponsors: Nona Lione for my alterations, Dave and Trish at Fast Signs for my autograph cards, Big O’s of Portage, Sean Malone, Gary O’Hearn of the Optimist Club, Knights of Columbus, and Amy Sullivan, THANK YOU for your generous donations on the road to Miss Wisconsin. I was able to purchase state wardrobe, pay for gas to get to appearances, and gather everything I need for a successful week at Miss Wisconsin and beyond as Miss Northern Lights. Money is hard to come by these days and I appreciate that you were able to donate to my efforts. THANK YOU!

Finally, to my sister queens, thank you for being YOU. Each of you is unique, passionate, driven, smart, and deserving of this opportunity to serve and represent your communities. It was a pleasure and honor to be surrounded by each of you this past week. Nobody can understand the value of these relationships until they take the step to get involved and I am so happy you all chose to enter your local pageants, because if you didn’t choose to get involved, you wouldn’t have been able to change at least one person’s life with your stories. I am so blessed to call all of you my sisters and I can’t wait to see you all again and continue to watch you change the world with your efforts and missions. I love every single one of you.

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Get Involved

I can honestly say that this organization has changed my life for the better. Like I’ve said before and will continue to say for the rest of my life, there are so many programs to get involved in, but none of them are like the Miss America Organization. Service opportunities, scholarships, sisterhood, and personal growth are all things that I was looking for as a young girl. I found all of that through this program and I encourage every woman between the ages of 17 and 24 to reach out to me personally or visit one of the websites below. Do it, just do one local pageant like I chose to do almost three years ago. I guarantee you won’t regret it because you have nothing to lose, only so much to gain.

To compete to become a local titleholder within the state of Wisconsin:

facebook.com/MissWisconsin

http://www.misswisconsin.com

If you live, work, or go to school in a different state in the U.S:

facebook.com/MissAmerica

http://www.missamerica.org

The state pageant lasts one week, my reign as Miss Northern Lights 2016 lasts one year, but the skills gained through this experience and my involvement in this organization lasts a lifetime. For that, I am forever grateful and so proud to be serving as your very first Miss Northern Lights.

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Love always,

Jessica

Miss Northern Lights 2016

“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” -Walt Disney

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I’m having a hard time getting these goosebumps away, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.

It has been a very eventful week and I can’t even begin to explain the emotions that have been running through me within the past six days. A mix between shock, gratitude, joy, and overwhelming excitement would sum up my feelings fairly accurately, but unfortunately there isn’t a word for all of those combined.

Let’s back up a little bit. What’s going on?

Alright, I’ll start from the very beginning of this crazy journey..

Around this time about two years ago, I heard about a local scholarship pageant happening in my hometown. I’ve seen a little bit about pageantry before as I grew up watching the annual Miss America pageant (and a few glamorous episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras), and I always wondered what it would take to be one of those strong women standing on that stage.

Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to get involved in a program that would allow me to speak about issues I’m passionate about, earn scholarship dollars, engage in community service, represent my area, and ultimately make a change in my life and the lives of others. What do I have to lose?

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As a senior in high school, I was mainly focused on the scholarship aspect in order to pay for my quickly-approaching college expenses, but I would soon find out that this organization offered so much more than just scholarships. I decided to participate in the pageant with absolutely no experience, no platform, no clue what to wear, how to walk, or what a private interview consisted of. Thankfully, I was able to reach out to some friends and classmates who were involved in pageants and I went into the event feeling excited and prepared.

The first pageant was a learning experience, as are all of the pageants I’ve done since then. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I walked through the doors, I was greeted by a few of the other contestants who continue to remain great friends of mine to this day. I was able to get to know the girls, hear their stories, and gain a sense of sisterhood. We were all there for the same reasons– to earn scholarships, serve our communities, and make a difference. Many people see pageants as a catty contest revolved around appearance, but that couldn’t be more false. When you put a group of young women together who have similar ambitions and views on success, it’s a truly remarkable phenomenon.

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Once my first pageant was over, I realized the impact that the Miss America Organization was having on my life. I started to set goals; I had the drive and motivation to do something with my life; I felt that I had a purpose. For the previous sixteen years of my life before getting involved in the MAO, I participated in various activities simply because I enjoyed them. When this organization came into the picture, I began participating because I started to notice immense growth within myself. I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement.

Preparations were under way for my future competitions, but in the mean time, a few of my pageant sisters and I decided to attend the Miss Wisconsin pageant to see the local titleholders compete for the state title and the chance to compete at Miss America. After that experience, watching those women perform and showcase their passions at the state level, my love for the organization grew and I wanted more than anything to be able to have that same opportunity.

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I went home and focused nearly all of my time on developing my platform, improving my talent, working on my interview skills, and embodying the true spirit of the Miss America Organization. I wanted this.

The next year came around and I was eligible for four more pageants in 2015. I took what I saw at Miss Wisconsin and I felt so much more prepared to take the stage once again. However, in 2015, I did not place in any of the local pageants I participated in. I had great experiences, met even more wonderful women, and was proud of what I was doing, but I still felt disappointed in myself and wondered where I was going wrong. Over-analyzing is my middle name, so I beat myself up in every way possible, thinking of all the hard work I put in and not being able to show it to my very best ability.

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Over time, I began to understand that it’s okay to feel upset. It’s okay to be a little disappointed, but every stumble serves as a chance to pick yourself up and continue to improve. I took these experiences as lessons and used them toward bettering myself for the next year. There was no way I was going to simply give up. I had a dream.

In the summer of 2015, my pageant sisters and I attended the Miss Wisconsin pageant again to see the newest class of local titleholders compete. This time, I actually watched and learned. This time, I noticed what the Miss America Organization was really about. It’s not about fitting into the perfect “pageant girl” mold or wearing a sparkly crown. It’s not about instant gratification. It’s not just about a chance to stand on a bigger stage for recognition. It’s about setting goals, perseverance, service to others, hard work, and advocacy. It’s about the journey. THESE were the qualities that I needed to focus on.

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Before heading into another year of pageants, I spent some time reflecting on my past experiences within the Miss America Organization and I realized I hadn’t really been focusing on the bigger picture. Winning a title through this organization means serving as an ambassador and an advocate for change. Being a titleholder comes with responsibility, selflessness, and a heart for service. I humbled myself and started working toward my goal to serve as a local titleholder because I wanted to positively represent my community, my platform, and the Miss America Organization with every ounce of passion in me.

This year, I was made aware of a brand new pageant in my area, the Miss Northern Lights scholarship program. I was already registered for three other pageants later on in the year, but I decided to give this one a shot. I thought of this opportunity as a chance to start fresh and to see how I’ve improved over the past two years. For the first time, I felt very calm during the whole day and I spent a lot of the time getting to know the other contestants, running through my talent performance, and snacking (surprise, surprise). I said a quick prayer while I was alone in my dressing room, asking God to allow me to relax and show the judges who I truly am. I thanked Him for the day and for my journey that led me to this point. In the past, I got so worked up before walking into my private interview with the judges, trying my hardest to focus on saying the right things and being professional. This time around, I just took a deep breath, put away my notes, and told myself to have fun.

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I walked out of my interview feeling relieved and ready for the rest of the afternoon. We had one more rehearsal before the show began, I said one more prayer, and before we knew it, it was time to hit the stage. The actual show feels like one big whirlwind and each phase of competition flies by quicker than the last. Each time I was on stage, I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment. It was the first time where I felt no nerves and I knew that at the end of the day, I couldn’t have been happier with how I improved and performed that day. I left it all on the stage.

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Soon enough, it was time for crowning. I looked around at all the ladies beside me, feeling blessed to have spent this experience with so many amazing and influential people, being able to gain many new sisters that day. Any of those girls could absolutely fulfill the duties of Miss Northern Lights.

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In a matter of seconds, I snapped back into reality as I was flooded with emotions. The tears fell and I soon realized what I had done. By the grace of God, I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals.

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As I cried on my entire hour-long drive home that night, I stopped to pray once again to thank God for giving me this opportunity for a year of service to my community and to Him. I thank him for the challenges He put me through in the previous years, because they taught me valuable life lessons that I will take with me forever. I continue to thank Him for allowing me to spread my mission on a greater scale and soon onto the Miss Wisconsin stage. I pray that I am able to stay focused during this year in order to accomplish as much as possible with this opportunity. I have faith that this experience will challenge me and allow me to continue to grow and I wake up every morning looking forward to what is ahead.

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Now, as I sit here with a crown and sash next to me, I feel so grateful to represent the Miss Northern Lights, Miss Wisconsin, and Miss America Organizations as a local titleholder. I look back to where I started and realize that a dream is only a dream until you take the steps to make it a reality. Through perseverance, determination, patience, hard work, a strong support system, a positive mindset, and faith in yourself and in God’s plan, ANYTHING is possible.

Love always,

Your 2016 Miss Northern Lights, Jessica Hammer

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Lingo, Terms, and Slang Only Pageant Girls Understand

Everyone has that certain circle of friends that seems to speak their own language.  Whether it’s your work buddies, teammates, or sorority sisters, it’s comforting to know that you can turn to a few people who know exactly what you’re talking about when you’re together.  Having been participating in pageants for nearly two years, I learned some lingo along the way that I often have to define when I talk about pageants to people who aren’t involved.  I compiled a list of a few terms only pageant girls understand in hopes of clearing up many of the awkward conversations I’ve had with non-pageant people…because butt glue is not as weird as it sounds. Or maybe it is..

Miss Congeniality:  No, we’re not talking about the classic pageant flick starring Sandra Bullock (although this is a personal favorite).  Miss Congeniality is a term that most people think of negatively due to the reference to this movie.  However, most people don’t know that the “Miss Congeniality” award is nearly as honorable as being named the winner.  This award is decided upon by fellow contestants and is given to the girl that they believe is the most genuine, outgoing, friendly and helpful.

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Sticky boobs:  This is a very unique kind of bra that has no straps or back clasp, but an adhesive layer on the inside that sticks right to the skin.  Yes, there is a style of bra like this, but I may also be talking about duct tape..  Defying all laws of physics, sticky boobs are great because they can be worn with everything including backless gowns, swimsuits, interview dresses, and so much more.  They’re virtually invisible but offer incredible support.  Basically a God-send.

System:  Most people that I talk to that haven’t been involved in pageants have no idea that there is a difference between Miss USA and Miss America.  These are two different pageant systems and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different systems worldwide.  Each system has different rules, areas of competition, and judging.  Sure, pageant girls can do different systems if they choose, but every girl usually has one system she loves the most.

Platform:  A platform is something every pageant girl has, but no two are exactly identical.  A platform is any issue the girl feels passionate about and wishes to educate the community on.  She often dedicates a lot of time, service, and fundraising dollars to her platform.  They can be anything from “Autism Awareness” to “Eat Healthy, Fuel Your Body” to “Keeping the Arts in Elementary Schools.”  Every pageant girl has a heart for service and her platform allows her to spread her personal message.

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Miss America 2012, Laura Kaeppeler

Walking pattern:  When you’re on stage, it’s easy to get lost in the bright lights and hype of the crowd and forget where exactly you’re supposed to be walking.  If you watch closely at a pageant, every contestant walks the same way, turns the same way and poses in the same spot.  This is all thanks to walking patterns and handy dandy “x” tape marks.  Walking patterns ensure that each contestant can strut their stuff on stage in exactly the right spots and can be seen by the audience and judges.

Prelims:  Many people don’t know that every large pageant has preliminary competitions.  Scores from prelims carry over to the final night and determine who the semifinalists will be.  Prelims usually include an award for swimsuit and an award for talent, but awards can vary depending on the pageant system.  Just because a contestant wins a prelim award doesn’t necessarily mean she will be a semifinalist, but there is a good chance she impressed the judges enough to place well.

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Miss Tennessee, Miss Alabama, and Miss Maryland at the 2013 Miss America Pageant

Johnathan Kaynes:  The Cadillac of pageant shoes, Johnathan Kaynes are particularly popular in the Miss America Organization pageant system.  These heels are versatile and can be worn with swimsuit, evening gown, and for any other formal occasion.  If you don’t have a pair of heels by Johnathan Kayne, you need some.

Bad judge:  DUN DUN DUNNNN.  Contrary to the term, the “bad judge” is probably the best judge.  Contestants immediately know who this judge is based on the first impression, usually in the private interview.  The “bad judge” asks the toughest questions, has the scariest facial expressions and is reeeeeally good at being intimidating.  Okay, okay..the “bad judge” isn’t all bad, they push us to our limits and see how good we really are.

A/B stones:  These aren’t just any old rocks you find laying around.  A/B stones are those fancy rhinestones that give off a rainbow shine.  They are most commonly found on evening gowns and pageant jewelry and match EVERYTHING.

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Titleholder:  A titleholder is a girl that currently wears the crown.  She won the pageant she is representing on her sash and is usually preparing to compete for a state or national pageant very soon.  She “holds the title” for one year and this is when she is able to promote her platform even further and positively represent a local community or state.

Butt glue:  The mother of all pageant necessities.  Butt glue is a spray or roll-on adhesive that is applied directly to the skin underneath swimsuit bottoms.  Otherwise known as Elmer’s Spray Adhesive or WD-40, butt glue is phenomenal because it allows the contestant to walk freely onstage without worrying about her swimsuit riding up.  However, butt glue is only great until you have to take OFF the swimsuit for the next wardrobe change…I swear butt glue can take skin off with it.  The old term is still true: “beauty is pain.”

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Miss America contestants apply “butt glue” before the Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimwear competition.

It All Started With An Opportunity

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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.