How I Got Started
When I was a little girl living in New Orleans, I was a dancer and singer which lead to me performing on stage. I would say I was pretty girly - I loved dressing up, getting my hair and makeup done for performances, and all of that fun stuff. This is where I overcame most of my fears of talking/singing/performing in front of large crowds. After moving to Texas, I decided to get into sports and ultimately decided to stick with volleyball. I played for school and club for about ten years until my senior year of high school.
When I was a junior in 2015, there was a flier posted in the cafeteria about the Miss Magnolia Pageant. The contestants got to be a part of the Magnolia Christmas Parade and then would compete in the pageant in the high school auditorium later that night. The winner would get a college scholarship and get to attend events around the city. The reining Miss Magnolia at the time was actually previously on the volleyball team with me (she was 2 years older than me) and encouraged me to compete. I thought it would be a fun opportunity, I loved dressing up and being on stage, and there was a scholarship involved. I thought, why not give it a go?
The whole experience was actually very fun. There was a mandatory orientation in the library about a month prior to the pageant. We each got our headshots taken, posed for a group picture, and paid our entry fees. The week of the pageant, we met up on two different days in the auditorium to rehearse and get all of the final info before pageant night. The morning of the pageant, all of the contestants rode on a hay trailer and waved to the crowds attending the annual Magnolia Christmas Parade. It was so fun having our families and friends come and watch us and hearing all of the little girls saying "Look at the princesses!"
I really didn't know what to expect for my first pageant. I had seen pageants on television and thought it would be fun to do, but I never really saw myself competing until this opportunity came up. The pageant was formatted as follows: All of the girls did an opening number dance in a "boots and bling" outfit and we each said an opening statement (where we told the audience something about ourselves, thanked our sponsors, and all of that). From there, we walked across the stage in our gowns and had our bio's read which we had previously filled out (thankfully there was no fitness competition). From there, the judges went into a room during intermission and narrowed down a top 10, which would each answer a question, and then a top 5, which would all answer the same question.
Without going into much more detail, I placed third runner-up at the pageant. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I definitely didn't expect to finish in the top 5. I was very happy with how everything went and knew that I was going to compete again my senior year.
(Insert picture - as you can see, I didn't know spray tans were a thing at the time)
The next year, I competed again and went unplaced. I was disappointed, but didn't think too much about it afterwards. I thought pageants were over with since I had graduated, so I went on to college with other plans.
Miss Texas USA
It was the summer before my freshman year and I was at Fish Camp - the camp for incoming freshman at Texas A&M. While I was there, it made the news among the girls at camp and around my hometown that Karlie Hay had won Miss Teen USA (she lived in the city next to mine). I thought it was cool that someone from our area won the opportunity to hold the national title and travel across the country doing appearances, inspiring younger girls, and other cool things. From there, I started looking into the Miss USA system more and kept up with everything Miss Texas USA. After Nancy Gonzalez won Miss Texas USA 2017, I watched the Miss USA competition and decided that I wanted to be on the Miss USA stage someday.
On a whim and without giving it very much thought, I applied to compete at Miss Texas USA 2018 and got the email that I had been accepted. Let's just say that I was WAY too optimistic and had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't realize that I'd need professional headshots taken, interview coaching, runway coaching, a swimsuit nicer than Target quality, and a gown that was worth more than $300. It was a LOT of money, and when I had been accepted, there wasn't much time left before the deadline. So a few days later, I decided not to go through with it and wait.
Miss Texas USA is usually held on Labor Day Weekend, but since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston around that time, the pageant got postponed to January 5th and 6th. A few days later, I got an email from the director saying that they decided to reopen applications and that they were accepting new contestants, something that was very unique. I got a little excited but still wasn't huge on paying for the entire thing myself. I thought about sponsorships, so I reached out to a friend that owned a business in Houston who I met while I was serving at a pizza restaurant. He offered to sponsor me if I wanted to compete (Joel, if you're reading this - you're awesome). I thought all of this coming together was a sign that I was meant to compete at Miss Texas USA, so I decided to go through with everything and compete at the 2018 competition.
My first year at Miss Texas USA was truly a humbling experience. I got my headshots taken with professional hair and makeup, worked with a few wonderful coaches who taught me things about the process (and myself) that I didn't even know, and picked out a gown that may not have been the most expensive or most glamorous, but I thought it was perfect. There I was - 19 years old and competing at the largest state competition with 104 beautiful, talented, and amazing women in the most prestige pageant system in the world. As soon as I got to check in, I was horrified. I wasn't as skinny as the other girls, didn't have glamorous outfits like they did, and definitely didn't have the confidence they all walked with. I knew right then and there that I definitely wasn't coming close to winning (I definitely didn't expect to win, I didn't even expect to make the top 15). I went through the weekend learning, making friends, and having fun. I did go unplaced that year, but one thing was for sure - I was coming back until I won the title and fulfilled my dream of going to Miss USA.
My interview outfit and gown from Miss Texas USA 2018 weekend (I finally got a spray tan)
THe Journey Continues
In total, I've competed in 6 pageants:
Miss Magnolia 2015 - 3RU
Miss Magnolia 2016 - unplaced
Miss Texas USA 2018 - unplaced
Miss Texas USA 2019 - unplaced
Miss Heart of Texas USA 2019 - 3RU
Miss Texas USA 2020 - unplaced
And plan to compete in more this year!
Now I know what you're thinking... you're seeing "unplaced" a lot and wondering why on Earth I'm still competing. Honestly, sometimes I wonder the same thing. But then I remember all of the heart and soul I've put into competing, how hard I've worked to get to this point, and why I compete.
Honestly, pageants have brought me more joy and brought out more of my true potential than anything I've ever done. I would've never developed the speaking skills, poise, and confidence I have today if I never would've decided to compete. I've always been one to set big goals for myself (becoming class president, voicing an animated character, and gracing the covers of fashion magazines, to name a few) but have never gotten anywhere close to making any of them come true - and to be honest, it bothers me. Miss Texas USA is the first thing I've gotten into that I can't get my mind off of. I want this to be the one thing I don't give up on and the one thing that comes to fruition.
As someone living with epilepsy (seizures), I lost a lot of my hope and confidence as a teenager. I am able to drive, participate in athletics, and live a relatively normal and healthy life, but the fact that epilepsy isn't very widely accepted by the public kind of put me in my own little shadow. It was the reason I'm not able to focus, lose weight easily, or do as well as everyone else in school, along with many other things. Originally, I didn't like being different, but competing in pageants made me realize how beautiful it is to be different and how amazing it is to embrace it.
Throughout my journey, epilepsy and neurological disability awareness has been my platform. I advocate for neurological disability awareness and acceptance and get on stage to inspire others who live with these disabilities, who don't have a voice and don't have any hope, to go out there and get that job, go on that date, do something wild and crazy, and aim for the stars - just because we live with a disability and may not always be able to control our own bodies doesn't mean we can't accomplish amazing things like "normal" people can. I also finally got the push and confidence to start The Every Moment Counts Foundation, which has become my heart and soul. I have found my purpose throughout this journey and absolutely love what I do. I wouldn't have it any other way.
What I've Learned
1. God's timing is EVERYTHING.
Let's be honest, there are always those thoughts after you don't win a pageant or something doesn't work out how you want it to in general. I've had those thoughts pretty frequently: "What did I do wrong?" "What could I have done differently?" "What didn't they like about me?" and all of that.
I realized how true this was when I competed for Miss Heart of Texas USA 2019. I went in prepared, excited, and then had a complete meltdown at the end of the night. The clip on my gown popped and my gown wouldn't stay up without me putting my hands on my hips (it was strapless - if you never see me wear a strapless gown again, this is why). Then I went blank when I was read my final question and words wouldn't come out of my mouth. I was horrified and devastated. I didn't know what the judges thought about me throughout the day and didn't know how close or far away I was to winning the title, but I definitely knew all chances were gone after not being able to spit out an answer. I didn't even ask myself what I did wrong after the pageant (The answer was obvious).
This was in the spring of my junior year when everyone was applying for summer internships. About four days after the pageant, I got an email from the company I was interviewing with offering me the job and stating that I would be spending three months in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. It's funny how things work out, right? If I would've won Miss Heart of Texas USA 2019, I wouldn't have been able to do anything for the three months of my reign leading up to Miss Texas USA on Labor Day Weekend. Traveling across the country to prepare with my sponsors would've been extremely complicated and stressful. I actually wasn't scheduled to come back to Texas until a week before the pageant.
This is probably one of the most important lessons I've learned so far. When it's not your time, it's not your time... only God knows the right time, and most likely he won't tell you ahead of time when exactly that is.
2. How important it is to BE YOURSELF.
After not winning a pageant and start to have those thoughts that I mentioned earlier, I start to think "What if I do what *the winner* did? The judges liked it and it worked for her, so maybe if I do it, it will work for me too!" Not that I was ever "fake" while competing, but I started to think things like having to have a white gown to win, having to wear my hair up to win, having to wear this specific designer to win, etc. That is SO far from the truth.
If I've learned anything throughout my training and competing, I've definitely learned that the judges want to see the true you, and that if you're saying something just because someone else said it or because you think they want to hear it, they can see right through you. The judges want a titleholder who is well rounded, authentic, and isn't afraid to be different and be herself. I've had problems in the past thinking I'm just not good enough to win in general, but it's that exact mindset that has hindered my performance in the past. Don't let this happen to you. YOU ARE ENOUGH. Don't model yourself after someone else. Be true to yourself and everything will fall into place.
3. How much it really takes to win.
I can't tell you how many times I've been told by people, friends, and even family, to stop "wasting my money" and put my time into something else. How am I supposed to succeed if I give up after not winning?
Competing in pageants is a full 360 picture. It takes time, dedication, and 100% effort in every aspect of the competition. That means watching the news instead of that new show on Netflix, trading in that pizza and ice cream for some grilled chicken and veggies, skipping a night out with friends to go to the gym or practice your walking routine and interview/on stage questions, and spending money from your paycheck on a gown instead of something else you wanted. This process is full of sacrifices, and if you really want that crown, you'll make those sacrifices gracefully.
It's also about sticking with the process. What's the point of putting all that work in if you don't see it all the way through? Sure, there will be disappointments, failures, and times where nothing goes your way, but that's just a part of life. The true measure of a woman is not how many times she falls down, but how many times she gets back up. If you want something bad enough, go for it, work for it, and don't give up until you have it. Don't ever let anything or anyone stop you from fulfilling your dreams.
Thank you for reading my story all the way to the end. I hope I've inspired you to get into pageants or try something new!