During my Miss Tennessee preparations this year, I like to reflect on growth and change since I've started competing. Looking back to when I first started - which TimeHop loves to remind me about- it makes me proud of how far I've come and grateful that someone finally told me to stop wearing blue eyeshadow and to get lowlights haha.
Looking back at pictures from when I first started competing also remind me that there's hope for everyone haha!
Warning: This is a really, really, really long blog post. but it's funny. continue if you have time to read a really long, really all-over-the-place narrative.
I remember competing in my first ever preliminary pageant as a 17 year old senior in high school. I had just turned 17 and had never worn a bikini- in my backyard pool or otherwise.
(So you can imagine my poor dad when he realized there would be - lord forbid- MEN seeing me in a swimsuit. Gasp.)
My dad is actually the one who talked me into competing.
I'll just let that sink in for a minute.
He's the best pageant dad out there, this is a sport to him and he is VERY competitive haha!
I remember not knowing what in the world was going on when I filled out my paperwork, being very confused when I was told there was a "walking pattern", and really wondering what I had gotten into when the concept of butt glue was explained to me.
I was less than graceful in my sky scraper heels when I practiced, didn't understand the whole pageant world, but darn it I was gonna compete in a pageant. (And yes my dad talked me into it)
My mom was there to help me figure it out every step of the way, and boy we had no idea how much we had to learn. But I also had no idea that I would fall in love with The Miss America system and the sport of competing in pageantry.
My mom always says that when I was little, when we ran errands I'd run off and she'd find me trying on sparkly high heels. So naturally, a pageant seemed like a natural fit once the time came.
So we signed up for the Miss Memphis / Shelby County pageant, not knowing what to expect.
I originally thought I was competing in teen, only to find out a few weeks before that I was competing for the Miss Title- meaning that not only was I the YOUNGEST competitor in the state, but that I was competing against women up to 24 years old with masters degrees that were seasoned pageant pros.
It's safe to say I was slightly intimidated.
The day of the pageant finally arrived and we made our way to the venue, not knowing what to expect.
One of the contestants that I immediately clicked with, Callie Compton, was so friendly and kind and sweet and so unlike the stereotypical pageant girl I was expecting. (And I'm proud to say 3 years later we are still dear friends)
Erika, the MSC makeup artist, styled my hair and makeup and gave me pep talks leading up to the interview portion about breathing and being myself.
the time came for interview, I held my breath, walked in the room, and cried after being asked the first question. (In my defense they asked me about texting and driving and I had just lost a dear friend from a texting and driving accident.)
I thought I was done. Time to go home.
Pageant's over. Peace y'all.
But it wasn't. There was still the actual on stage pageant that evening.
So a pep talk from mom and some Panera later, we load in for the Onstage portion of the pageant.
Some girls were spray tanning, some putting their hair in rollers, others organizing makeup and what not.
I wasn't sure where to go so I sat down next to Callie, the only familiar face that I recognized. We all finally started chatting, some girls keeping to themselves, others branching out a bit more, and finally one sweet girl lead us in a prayer in an attempt to calm nerves and build a sense of comradary in the ever-intimidating dressing room.
Ivy Depew, who would go on to become Miss Rhode Island 2014 and also a former Miss Memphis, sat down next to me, talked me through every stage of competition, and calmed my nerves the whole pageant. I just remember sitting down and this vibrant redhead talking to me and all I could think was, why would someone so beautiful and successful want to talk to me?
Ivy embodies a lot of what I fell in love with about the Miss America Organization. She was interested in investing and encouraging a young woman who she saw potential inside of.
On stage introduction and questions came and went, then came the dreaded swimsuit portion.
This was my first time wearing a bikini in front of anyone. (So naturally it's pretty intimidating to be competing your first time wearing one)
I had no idea someone would be coming up behind me and GLUING me into this bikini bottom! (Side note, I also had no idea how much pageant bikinis cost. dear lord jesus.)
I put on my heels, bronzed my abs and shoulders, and got ready to go onstage.
I remember Shay Bader, the MSC Executive Director, encouraging me before I went onstage and reassuring me that I looked fabulous and told me I had the longest legs she'd ever seen, haha.
(Thank you for always making me laugh, Shay!)
I sucked up my fears and strutted my stuff onstage for those daunting 20 seconds.
I don't remember a nanosecond of that part.
But I suppose I made it through haha.
Then I prepared for the talent competition. I sang "The Warrior Is Child" and I could not tell you what key it is in, who it was by, or how my performance went. I just remember I loved the gown for talent haha!
Finally came the evening gown competition. My mom and I had found a beautiful blue gown at a local boutique - I felt absolutely stunning for the first time in my life.
And I remembered why I agreed to compete- I wanted to find myself and find confidence in myself and who I was.
I DO remember the evening gown competition - and WOW I'm glad that I have learned how to walk in heels since!
After the last portion of competition, I was ready to go eat junk food and go to bed.
Finally, all the contestants were called back onstage for final awards and crowning.
I remember standing on the back row of lineup and thinking I wouldn't make it into the top 5.
And then the called my name.
THEY CALLED MY NAME INTO THE TOP 5.
That was already a win for me!
My first Miss America preliminary and I made the top 5 contestants without any idea what I was doing.... AWESOME!
After what seemed like years onstage, my name was called as second runner up- you would've thought I won the Olympics.
But that wasn't even the best part of the pageant.
The best part was following the pageant.
I specifically remember Brandi Murphy -hey girl hey- who served as the interview chair of Team MSC coming up to me and telling me "You need to keep competing. You can do it! I know you can!"
Those words meant so much to me. Knowing that somebody saw something in me that I couldn't always see in myself meant more to me than anyone could ever know.
Ivy came up to me and hugged me and told me how proud she was and that I had no choice but to keep competing.
These two instances I remember clear as day but I can remember so many other warm embraces and hugs that day and feeling so cared for and loved.
And that was when I fell in love with the Miss America Organization.
I realized in that moment that, if these women - who are not compensated for their time- these incredible women, who had no idea who I was and had nothing to gain from encouraging me, yet came up to me anyway and followed up with me and reached out to me in the future and kept encouraging me...
they did this out of the kindness of their hearts because they believed in me. How could I not participate in such an amazing organization?
That's when the MAO bug bit me!
It took me a few more prelims and a lot more training but the next year I came back and won the title of Miss Memphis 2014.
But that's a story for another time.
Sorry if this post was ridiculously long but thanks for sticking with me!
There you have it folks, my first pageant. Thanks for reading it through!