There she is ... Miss America!

"There she is ... Miss America!" Well last night, Miss North Dakota won the Miss America crown. What an honor! Geez! Just to make it to the super bowl of pageants - just wow! But this epic night made me continue to reflect on our TCM summer season and how much pageantry has changed from when I was younger to now.

From the beginning of Miss America in 1921, pageants began as a bathing beauty contest on a pier in Atlantic City. That's how the winner was selected - on beauty, with a nice smile. But since then, interview, fitness, beauty & poise, and in some systems, talent, are all judged to select one winner. Oh how pageants have evolved! Now there are TONS of pageant systems out there trying to make it "BIG" and make their system the "HOT NEW ONE" that everyone wants to compete in. Pageant systems now offer trips, cruises, thousands in scholarships, gifts, modeling opportunities, and so much more in the queen's prize package. When I was younger, there were only a few national systems and you got scholarships and maybe 2 or 3 other big things, and that was it. Just to have won that honor was the greatest prize around! Now, don't get me wrong - all the extra perks are wonderful! - it's awesome that systems can offer a group of queens this experience! But through the last couple of years, I feel like sometimes the moms and daughters get caught up too much with the "stuff" rather than the honor.

In practice I always ask the girls: "Why do you want to win this pageant?" And 9 times out of 10, the younger girls first response always has something to do with (1) win the money, or (2) win a trip, or (3) get "stuff" - and that's totally okay for the younger ones to say that because it is a real & honest answer, but it leaves me asking myself ... what are we teaching the girls about winning if they only see the "stuff" you win instead of the job at hand?

Over the prep months, there was one such young lady from out of state that gave me the most sincere answer that a 7 year old could give me. I asked her - "why do you want to win this pageant?" She sat up a little straighter in her chair and cleared her throat, took a deep breath and said: "Because I want to help people. I help a lot of people and they always see me as the little girl with a crown who brings happiness, and since they stop to pay a little extra attention to me - I want to wear that crown to make even more people stop and stare but not because they think I'm cute (she giggles) - I want them to see what I'm doing and hopefully I get them to start doing the same." There it was. That was what I had been waiting to hear, and it came from a 7 year old. I told her to remember that answer for when she makes it to the Miss America stage one day.

Those who are a part of The Crowning Moment know how much I stress volunteerism. I make all of my girls, starting at age 3, participate in a minimum of 12 hours of volunteer work a month. (And no, they don't only have to be in crown & banner to participate in service work. We queens always have our invisible crown. Not to mention, it will help when they apply for college scholarships!) The Miss America Organization stresses "Service," as it is one of the four points of the Miss America crown. (They also stress scholarship, but I'll save that for another day.) For one year, Miss America gives up her own life for a year of service. She attends fundraisers, gives speeches, visits children in the hospitals, thanks our military, and so much more. She lives out of a suitcase, hotels, airports, and has tons of road trips. An opportunity of a lifetime, all while earning scholarships to help her succeed in her career and future endeavors. She becomes an ambassador of goodwill. She becomes a role model. She becomes part of a legacy that has almost spanned a century. She has the opportunity to promote her own personal platform, as well as promoting the MAO national platform, Children's Miracle Network. In the pageant world, these women will always be known as a Miss America - but for those lives she has changed, they will remember her full name, not just her title. They will remember her smile, her hug, her sincerity, and the difference she single-handedly made upon their lives. They will remember her service. And when she gives up her Miss America crown, she will continue to lead of a life of service, a selfless life, not so much for pageants anymore - but because it has just become a natural part of her life. That goes for any queen, really. I was groomed to be a Miss America and though that dream never came true, I live the life of one quite frequently with the road trips, endless traveling, awesome fundraising events, and opportunities that are rare to come by. But more importantly, I have never stopped volunteering and I don't plan to.

So next time you think you (or your daughter/niece) wants to compete, don't focus so much on the "stuff" you could win but more on the job at hand. Are you ready to work harder than you did in preparation to win this title? Are you ready to make personal sacrifices and be selfless? Are you ready to miss out on parties, family events, school functions, and such to handle this job as queen? Are you ready to be a role model for thousands of people around the world who are watching your every move? Are you ready to inspire, lead, and set higher expectations for those who follow in your footsteps? If YES wasn't your only answer, with no hesitation, then perhaps you need to rethink your role on pageantry. If your answer was YES, then stay focused, stay determined, and stay selfless. Pageants are no longer about beauty alone with a nice smile - they are about intelligence, talent, grace, and service. Who knows? One day we could be singing about you next time you hear, "There she is .... Miss America."