It's not a beauty pageant, it's a scholarship program

It’s Not a Beauty Pageant, It’s a Scholarship Program

Inside: One woman’s ill-advised yet hilarious journey into a beauty pageant, and the lessons learned.

“It’s not a beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship program.”

Let’s call a spade a spade. While I was quoting Sandra Bullock A LOT at the time, this thing I was doing was a beauty pageant…

And while the experience may not have been beautiful all the time, it was really funny. Plus, I left with some great life and career lessons in tow.

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Working Hard for the Money

The year, 2002. The main character, a 17 year old with dreams, and those dreams included taking out as few loans as possible for college.

With that goal in mind I applied for every scholarship known to man. For some reason, a direct descendant of John Adams won the Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship…  And I didn’t “meet the minimum requirements” for the Rodeo Riders of America scholarship…  I call bull.

But when another scholarship opportunity presented itself I jumped on it, and entered America’s Junior Miss Pageant Scholarship Program. They have since changed the name to Distinguished Young Women, which was VERY smart. America’s Junior Miss kind of screams “Toddlers in Tiaras” whereas Distinguished Young Women definitely screams “there is an academic portion of this pageant dammit!”

Let’s go on a little behind the scenes tour of pageant life shall we?

Scoring was based on 1) Fitness, 2) Interview, 3) Poise, 4) Academic Achievement, and my personal favorite 5) Talent. We’ll break it down by the local competition level and the state competition level, which in a completely baffling twist I went to after a win at locals.


Local: The theme of the pageant that year was AMERICA! If you haven’t high kicked to “America” by Neil Diamond you haven’t lived. There was also a stretching portion to “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood

State: Oh dang, the big leagues… I fumbled my way through the kicks and jumping jacks of locals but things got REAL at states. There was so much choreography, and so much neon spandex, and so many trained dancers. I wasn’t just a fish out of water, I was a fish on desert safari.

BUT part of our routine was set to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and I think I can still do part of it. So there’s that.


Local: This is the part where you talk about your hopes and dreams to four strangers sitting in a high school classroom. You should also ideally quote Mother Teresa four times at a minimum. Nailed it.

State: Same Mother Teresa quota, but up your game a little. I had a killer maroon suit with matching shoes that I used for the State interview. Picture a teenage version of Working Girl.

By the way, I crushed Interview which was a good sign of things to come in my career. Think back on what you were good at as a kid, folks. It could lead you in interesting career directions!


Local: Oh poise. This involved more choreography but I was better at this one because it was slow motion walking in lines and smiling. You also got to wear your prom dress again, so score! Poise also included a live question and answer portion. So basically this:

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States: DAMNNNNN was I outclassed at states.

We all had to wear red dresses and heels, giving off a very The Handmaid’s Tale Prom vibe. I looked fine, but these other girls were out of control gorgeous. The hair! The teeth!

While I could get my way through the behind-the-scenes interview question and answer portion, doing that live on stage next to these pros? Geesh…. I managed but probably also said “Dude, like seriously…” at some point and was docked points.

Academic Achievement

Local: All they needed were our grades for this part. Nerd Alert! I did well in this section.

State: Nerd Alert X 2! You’re looking at the Massachusetts Junior Miss Academic Achievement award winner. (Curtsy)


Local: To participate in this pageant scholarship program, you were supposed to have a talent. For whatever reason I thought I could wing this…

I had outgrown my ballet slippers, 13 years ago. My voice is like the heavenly sound of 1,000 angels with pitch issues. My piano playing abilities, well, we’ve discussed that. So my talent – Performance Sign Language! I’m not kidding, I WISH I was kidding.

Signing along to the music from the last scene of Casper accompanied by a PowerPoint slideshow of pictures representing friendship, I used all of the American Sign Language skills I learned in the summer of 1999 to dazzle the crowd. It was in a word, magical.

State: Here’s my favorite part of my pageant experience. When I won the local competition and was going on to states, my local chapter decided I needed some coaching in the talent department. So, on a weekly basis I went to a dance studio to practice my performance sign language, adding more theatrics for the stage.

My coaches were absolutely the loveliest people on the planet and I’d like to thank them sincerely for their patience. This situation was essentially like giving Picasso a paper plate and 4 broken crayons and hoping for the best. (So we’re clear, I was the red broken crayon.)

The other girls’ talents at States were amazing. Irish step dancing, singing, violining, hilarious poem about lack of talent reciting  (you crushed it, Kyla.) And if I actually knew ASL well, it could have been good.

But as it was, I was like the kid sister wanting to participate and the big kids were like “Oh, sure… why don’t you stand over there and tell us when you’re done so we can get on with the rest of the show. You brought a slideshow? That’s cute…”

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And Massachusetts’ Junior Miss Is…

Not me. Definitely not me. But I proudly held the Greater Capeway Junior Miss title for a year and got to ride in a parade.

Plus I did win some scholarship money which was awesome.

Most importantly, I can joke all I want, but the whole process was really fun and I met some wonderful people. I also really pushed myself out of my comfort zone, so big points for that. Not to mention that I now know how to turn very gracefully while smiley coyly at a crowd. #LifeSkills.

Career Takeaways

Let’s see… career lessons from my beauty pageant experience. There are actually a lot!

1. Try Something New

You never know what will happen unless you try, right? If you want to go for something in your career, don’t sit around. Try it. What’s the worst that could happen?

2. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

If I had taken myself too seriously I would NOT have had fun at that pageant. I also wouldn’t have won a bit of scholarship money. We get one shot at life to my knowledge, and your career is a big part of that life! Go ahead and infuse some fun in it!

3. Get Coaching

This is going to sound a bit biased because I’m a career coach, but hear me out.

I didn’t win the Talent portion of that pageant. I mean, obviously. But I was WAY better at States than I was at my local competition and that was because of coaching. They gave me tools, strategy, support, and accountability which was HUGE. Your career coach doesn’t have to be me, but go find your coach!

(But if you want it to be me, let’s chat!)

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  1. HIlarious! I was also in our local Jr. Miss Pageant (it was actually called a pageant back in caveman days). I sang to Hopelessly Devoted to You by Olivia Newton John, wearing a homemade blue nightgown sitting on a porch swing. Praise Jesus facebook wasn’t around then to record and provide video evidence! (hides head in embarrassment and shame)

  2. It’s so funny how our perspectives change over time 🙂 You look fantastic though and I really think that doing this was a great experience for you – whichever way you think of it!!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and laughing with me!! And for complimenting my sense of humor which is basically my favorite compliment of all time. 🙂

  3. This is too funny! Our daughter is determined to get Miss Texas someday. For now, she practices with local pageants and meets with pageant coaches. I try not to become the “pageant mom”. I want her to look back at HER choice to do this and be proud of those moments. She most definitely argues with anyone that this is a scholarship program. lol

    1. That’s awesome!! I hope she gets it! Good for her for putting so much effort towards her goal. I joke about it a lot but it really is a cool experience. And that scholarship money is for real in the big leagues!

  4. Loving all of the Miss Congeniality references!! I did a couple of 4H pageants in high school. I had some pretty dorky answers, and now I think about how I could do way better now. Or I’d at least be more confident in my dorky answers. Can there be a pageant for moms? We can win Chick Fil A gift cards and coffee.

    1. OMG, a mom pageant is brilliant!!! We’d still do evening wear for fun, but fitness will definitely be done in some black leggings and messy buns.

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