Well, I’m fairly certain that it’s time to retire the crown and move on to greener pastures. I typically refrain from writing posts straight (and bluntly) from the heart, but I can’t just not share my honest thoughts about my most recent pageant experience. Even after letting my feelings simmer for few weeks, I feel obligated to give true insight into my raw experience in Hollywood, FL. In order to break down this post into something less than 5000 words, I’ve created a list of the 10 most valuable things I learned during Miss Florida USA 2015 week.
1. Miss USA is not Miss America.
As a former competitor in the Miss Florida MAO system, my standards for quality, character, and treatment of all delegates are admittedly high. I don’t need to dive into the specifics, but I wouldn’t say that’s 100% true in the Miss Florida USA system. I was pretty much treated as an inconsequential filler; most of the staff didn’t even know my name, although I learned to respond to Elyse, Jessica, and Caitlyn. Oh, and this notion was formulated back during Seminar Day weekend. My introduction segment was completely left out of the Central Florida introductions, and when I brought it to their attention, I was initially ignored by the staff then told it would be fixed immediately once I spoke to the director himself. Was it fixed? Nope. Did I get an explanatory message or apology? Nope. Oh, and I was also removed twice from their email list. That was cool, too.
I’m forever a Miss America girl at heart, and I’ve learned that nothing will change that– not even age lawsuits and accidental crownings. Due to my unforeseen health debacles, which kept me from competing my last two years of eligibility, I was forced to switch systems due to age restrictions; however, I’m confident that I would’ve represented the Miss America organization well in any capacity– local, state, or national. I do not fit the mold of the USA organization, and I’m proud of that. Kudos to you if you do– I’m not knocking what they stand for. I just didn’t appreciate being treated as a newbie background dancer all week when my financial planning firm, my blog, and my charity all suffered from taking 7+ days off. Also, the most tangible differences were that our interview was 4 minutes (1 minute introduction, 3 minutes of interaction with the judges) vs 10, and there was no talent portion, so yes— it really is solely based on your swimsuit and evening gown, which is unfortunate when your fortes are public speaking and performing.
Regardless, it was a week I’ll never forget, and I’ll forever cherish the memories made with a handful of my newest and closest friends. The fabulous madness started literally as soon as we walked into the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood on Registration Day. Because I threw the First Pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays the night before (best.night.ever.), I had to drive in on Tuesday morning, so considering the fact that I primped and prepped post 4-hour drive in both a McDonald’s and Wendy’s bathroom, I feel like I came out looking better than expected. I’ve been dying for a nice collection of Hervé Léger dresses; however, they’re too expensive to buy online, and that’s really all I had time for when preparing my wardrobe. Huge thanks to The Kewl Shop for supplying fabulous blue ombré bandage dresses that fit like a glove for a fraction of the cost.
2. A great interview is a personal– not necessarily panel-wide— victory.
Although (spoiler alert) I wasn’t a finalist in this year’s competition, I knew I was taking a risk in interview by discussing stocks, bonds, and consumerism instead of makeup and how our country can miraculously fix the epidemic of childhood obesity, but you know what? I’m a professional, and at 26, I feel uncomfortable adjusting my level of maturity in any real-life professional situation… because that’s what I considered the “personality interview” segment to be: a legitimate job interview. Plus, from my perspective, it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever given, so I’m walking away with a new-found charismatic confidence. One of the male judges– I always bond with the boys–actually told me I had an “amazing interview” as I exited the room, so at the very least, my dorkiness and I made an impression on one of them.
Plus, who wouldn’t feel like a bombshell in this bomb blue bandage dress from The Kewl Shop? It’s the most daring thing I’ve ever worn in an interview room, but I have to admit… it’s probably also my favorite.
3. When carb deprived, salmon can taste like candy.
Come Day 2 of Miss Florida USA week, we were all already tired, stressed, and harboring insatiable appetites. The first night’s dinner was Italian at Mama Mia’s, which was fabulous, but oh my– Dinner Dos at GG’s on the inner-coastal was to die for. My table mates and I may have embarrassed ourselves getting third and fourth servings of their amazing candy-glazed salmon, but who cares? We needed our protein fix.
Observe the salmon in all its glory.
4. The George Washington hair do doesn’t photograph well.
I’ve admitted it before, but my hair hardly ever holds a curl. To further complicate my beauty routine, my extensions, given the summer’s relentless humidity, were even less likely to hold a curl. Ergo, I was forced to wear my hair + extensions in rollers…all day. Obviously most girls followed suit, but that didn’t stop Tel-Air from documenting our rehearsals on all forms of social media. Dang, we look goooood.
5. a) Girls don’t look cool rapping. b) There are occasions when it’s appropriate to wear false eyelashes with sweatpants.
All I heard in the weeks immediately preceding the state pageant was how amazing Miss Florida USA’s “Fun + Games Night,” which takes place the night before competition begins, usually is. Honestly, I was mostly excited to give my skin a much needed detox, since for me, fun + games=bare face + flip flops; however, even in sweatpants, most delegates still donned stage makeup, complete with fake eyelashes. Serious WTF/FML moment.
All other things aside, the cheese ball in me loves the idea of team building, so ignoring the fact that I was suffering from mild insomnia, I really enjoyed the evening. The emcees were hysterical, and thanks to Bri and her eager passing of a”hot ferret” during a strange variation of musical chairs, we ended up in center spotlight for a rap battle. It didn’t go well; my rap was two lines. But technically, I still won– cause she just said “yo” and “b-reezy” the entire time. Oh, and there was also a dance party. Give me glow sticks and Backstreet Boys ’90s jams, and I’ll get down all night long, or until 9PM in sleep-deprived pageant land.
6. Not placing highly is easier to accept when you’re older.
Turning 26 was traumatic for me, as my age definitively rounds to 30. 26 definitely isn’t regarded as an ideal number in pageant land (27 is the cut-off, so you’re approaching geriatric territory), but having a life outside of my title really helped appease the disappointment of not catching the crown. I’m so proud of the effort I was able to put into my pageant body, since allotting sufficient time for dedicated workouts was out of the question due to my work schedule, and even though my gown may have been what some considered a little too conservative for a USA pageant, I represented myself and my style more truly than ever before.
7. Official or not, sister queens are sister queens.
When I competed a few years ago, I was crowned with two of my all-time favorite ladies, Laura and Kate, AKA my official sister queens. I thought this was a pageantry-wide ordeal, but apparently, in MUO system sister queens aren’t usually a thing. I was crowned solo, and I actually helped emcee the Miss Tampa USA Pageant somewhere around 6 months later, where I met Bri, who would later comprise half of what’s known as Team Tampa. Our territorial bond may not be official, but it’s legit. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the week without this beauty.
And who could forget Devyn? She’s Miss Kissimmee USA, and she also quickly became one of my saviors during pageant week. Our fun little trio pretty much became inseparable, aside from when we were separated into short and tall girls, a division known as Group A vs Group B (no, neither of them are short, but in the MUO system, anyone or anything under 5’8″ falls into midg territory). One of the highlights of our week was getting to meet Sabrina, Miss ARC Broward, who was a doll and a complete inspiration to each and every contestant. You go, Sabrina.
Oh, and my roommate was pretty darn fabulous, too. Natalie, the reigning Miss Hialeah USA, kept me and my feet smiling with routine evening foot soaking sessions and late night room service orders. I lucked out.
8. A white robe can turn an ordinary girl into a boss.
Hands down, the most hyped day of the week is called Press Day, which conveniently fell on the same day as our interviews. Essentially, all the delegates congregate in swimsuits of their choosing, covered initially in luxurious white robes provided by the Westin Diplomat, for a group shot, followed by a slew of group and individual media coverage for local news channels.
The group shot went shockingly quickly, but due to our non-hometown (ie. South Florida) titles, the media wasn’t really all about us– or anyone from the North or Central counties. However, that didn’t disqualify us from being forced to hang out by the pool in the 100 degree heat for over two hours. I really shouldn’t complain, though, because all sweat aside, it’s the only time we saw significant sunlight over a 5-day period. The Westin’s pool balcony and beach view were downright gorgeous.
Huge thanks to Voss for supplying all the girls with refreshing quality h2O during our time of need. I’m confident I would’ve passed out without you.
9. It’s really hard to spell and pronounce my last name.
I don’t know who Stephanie Zinjka is, but she was put in all sorts of news stories throughout the week.
10. At the end of the day, you’ll always be Miss America to those who matter.
On Saturday night I rushed back to the hotel to get my things and GTFO of Miami. Truth be told, it’s just not my scene, and I really wanted a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. When I walked into my hotel room, I saw a gorgeous bouquet of pink flowers and immediately felt a rush of jealousy that Nat’s boyfriend was so perfect and supportive. To my utter shock, they were for me– from my bosses at SWA. The best parts were that a) they spelled “tomorrow” wrong and b) their well wishes arrived a day late, but those minor discrepancies made the gesture all the more genuine. When I told them the news, they responded almost in unison, “You’ll always be our Miss Florida.”
At the end of the day, I know that to be true. Just because a panel of five strangers didn’t see my ability to represent the state doesn’t mean I wasn’t the best candidate for the job– and it doesn’t mean those who matter will see or think any less of me. For the first time since my birthday, I was incredibly grateful to be 26 and to have the life experience and maturity to rationalize what I would’ve previously labeled as my failure of a last pageant hurrah.
My loving friends and family have said it a dozen times, but I’m finally coming to terms with the truth of it. Miss Florida USA would’ve been lucky to have me, but it just wasn’t my night. Different judges, different outcome, different girl. Congratulations to the new Miss Florida USA 2015. She really is beautiful inside and out, and I couldn’t be happier for her! The friends I made along the way have made every credit card bill and ounce of stress worth it, so at the end of the day, I’m one happy and winning camper. I can carefully stow my crown with only the fondest of friends and contestant memories.
I’m definitely still planning on finishing off my year with my best foot forward. I’m actually singing the National Anthem for Orlando City Soccer next weekend, so post to come! Have a great weekend!