Everyone has always been so shocked to find out that my first time watching or participating in a pageant was when I competed for Miss Arizona USA 2014.
It was two months before the competition when I decided to compete. My sorority sister was involved in the pageant, and reached out to me on Facebook knowing what a great opportunity it would be for me. Honestly, I never thought in a million years that I would do it. I was always self conscious, and the idea of stepping on stage in a bikini literally being judged on my body?!
NO THANK YOU.
She was persistent. She called asking me what my reasoning was behind not wanting to enter. I told her it was because of all of the negative stereotypes that came with being a “pageant girl.” I made the same mistake that so many others make; I judged these girls before even knowing them.
Finally, after lots of support from my family and friends, I made the decision to compete. I stepped on stage the last weekend in November not expecting anything. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but honestly, I think that’s what ultimately set me apart. I enjoyed every single minute, everything was new and exciting. I was shocked when I heard my name in the Top 5. Standing in the Top 2 was an absolute blur to me.
“Your new Miss Arizona USA is… Jordan Wessel!”
Those words changed my life, forever.
I took the next semester off school and dedicated my life to becoming the best titleholder I could possibly be. Every appearance someone would ask me “So when’s Miss America?!” (I explained the difference between Miss America and Miss USA a hundred times).
Miss USA always seemed so far away. I would talk about it, but I couldn’t envision myself actually being there. Preparing for Miss USA was a full time job, and people don’t realize how much really goes into it, the process takes so much discipline.
The most important part of the preparation was getting my body in the best shape possible. My amazing trainer, Scott Keppel, was the first person to genuinely teach me the importance of self-love and acceptance. He’s a big inspiration as to why I started this blog two years later.
The other huge portion of Miss USA is the interview. In-person interviews with the Judges had a huge impact on whether or not you made the finals. If you made Top 5 you had to answer a random question on national television. We had NO IDEA what the question would be, and when you’re standing on stage in front of an audience and millions of people on T.V., it’s not uncommon to have a brain fart. Jorge Esteban was my interview coach and he was a lifesaver. He challenged me to become a more articulate and confident speaker, which would have helped me dramatically if I made Top 5.
The shopping sprees, outfit planning, packing, hair and makeup lessons, walking lessons, posing courses, that was all the fun stuff. There are SO many incredible sponsors that work with each young woman, and I think every competitor can agree with me when I say “it takes a village.” Hair extensions, spray tans, makeup, clothing, gowns, food, nearly everything was sponsored. I was so blessed to have so many people believing in me. I wanted to do well at Miss USA, not just for myself, but for all the people who supported me.
I arrived to our hotel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with the most intense butterflies and excitement I’d ever experienced. My sister queen, Miss Utah USA, was my roommate which made each day even more exciting because I was spending so much time with one of my best friends (love you Angie). Every day was jam packed with events. We were up at 5am every morning doing our hair and makeup and out the entire day at events or rehearsals. By the time we got home late at night we’d have a dance party to get our cardio in (no joke we did this every night) and then we would quiz each other on current events, soak our feet, and watch the news until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
I was in awe every single day. I still can’t believe that I was one of the 51 girls who was lucky enough to represent my state on national television.
Prelims was one of the most stressful days of my life. Every girl was running around back stage trying to get herself ready. That day was the first time I truly realized that I was in a competition. Since I was one of the first states to introduce myself, I needed to be ready to go early. I lost track of time, and the backstage producers started yelling for me while I was still in hair and makeup. I wasn’t done, I wasn’t ready, but I had no choice. I needed to get my butt on stage and do the best I could. As flustered as I was, I gave it everything I had, but worried it wasn’t good enough to get me a spot in the Top 20. Anxiety set in, and boy was it intense.
Finals was the most exhilarating day of my life. We finished rehearsals in the morning, and had until 7pm to get ourselves ready for the live telecast on NBC. We had a lot of time to sit, wait, pray, and calm our nerves. I got a call from Yahoo! that afternoon asking if they could do an interview with me because I was considered one of the most inspiring contestants. I was in absolute shock. My story was being heard all over the world. Better yet, my story was inspiring others. I couldn’t believe it. I sat on the steps back stage with tears in my eyes while I gave the interview.
Finals night was the weirdest in-between feeling I’ve ever had. I wanted to be Miss USA, but I also didn’t want this competition to end. I wasn’t ready to go home, but I also wasn’t ready to go on stage.
I was getting my hair and makeup done when I was tapped on the shoulder by someone I had never met. She told me to follow her into this closed off corner, where Donald Trump was standing. At this time he was still a part owner of the pageant (don’t get your panties in a wad, this is before the politics stuff began).
He was sweet, SO sweet. Gave me words of encouragement, because he heard my story. The fact that he took the time to notice me made me feel special, and more than anything it gave me that extra boost of confidence that I needed.
6:30pm rolled around, and we were in formation back stage. Girls were praying, most were smiling, and everyone was nervous. I stepped on stage and saw a HUGE audience screaming, the adrenaline set in and I felt invincible. I introduced myself, and I held a statue position in my spot waiting for a commercial break. During the break I could hear my family screaming my name, I spotted them in the audience and my nerves were instantly calmed. The show began, our hosts introduced themselves, and it all became real. There we were, 51 gorgeous young women praying that we would hear our state called into the Top 20. The first 10 states were called, another commercial break. We came back and #11 is called, “Arizona!” I started walking with out thinking, as I heard my voice come over the big screen explaining my story. I did it. I accomplished my goal, I made it into the Top 20.
All the finalists were screaming backstage as we hurried to get ourselves ready for the swimsuit competition. I’ll never forget Angie running up to me back stage yelling “go get em girl, you got this!” One by one the first ten states were called, as Florida Georgia Line and Nelly rocked to their hit single, “Cruise.”
“ARIZONA” I did my best to channel my inner VS Angel and I strut my stuff down that catwalk. I don’t remember it honestly, until I was standing back on stage waiting for them to call Top 10. My state was never called, all I heard was “thank you ladies” which was our signal to exit the stage. I had such a combination of feelings, but was still on an emotional high.
Miss Nevada USA was crowned Miss USA 2014 and we all bombarded her on stage. I honestly mean it when I say, she deserved it. She was prepared emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. She deserved it. Love you Nia <3
The days, weeks, and even months after Miss USA were very hard for me, as well as many other titleholders. Right when I got home from Miss USA I had an interview with a local news station, where the reporter asked how I felt being one of the “biggest” girls at Miss USA.
For reference… I was a size 4.
I felt strong, confident, fearless, and beautiful. Yet somehow that interview tore me apart.
There was plenty of days that I didn’t leave my house. I didn’t want to workout, I didn’t want to hangout with friends, I just wanted to be at home. I felt like I disappointed all of the amazing people who supported me. I looked back on pictures of Miss USA and re-watched the live telecast, but I barely recognized myself on stage. Why? Because I wasn’t myself. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be a “beauty queen.” I didn’t realize then that the reason I won Miss Arizona USA in the first place is because I was authentic. I was 100% me. I wasn’t that same girl on the Miss USA stage, and it’s my own fault. I listened to everyone else, and forgot to just trust my gut and be ME. It’s taken me a while to forgive myself for that. If I could travel back in time, there would be so much I would change. But I can’t. I competed at Miss USA 2014, and I’ve accepted that’s an opportunity I’ll never have again. I’m okay with that because it was a chapter of my life and it taught me so much about staying true to myself.
I’m asked for advice all the time by both future and current pageant girls. My number one piece of advice is to be yourself. It sounds so simple, but the pressure in this industry makes it harder than you can imagine. Be yourself, be poised, be educated, be mentally prepared. Be the best version of yourself.
I feel genuinely excited to watch Miss USA this weekend because I know how hard these girls have worked to be in this position. I take pride knowing that I am part of a very elite group of women, and a piece of me will forever be attached to this crazy pageant world.
So there you have it, there’s my story. Well, it’s the spark note version of my pageant journey. There’s still so much more, but this post is turning into a novel.
Moral of the story is that there is SO much that these girls go through to prepare themselves to walk on that giant stage on national television. Regardless or whether you support pageants, give these girls some credit. There’s so much time, energy, money, and stress that goes into preparing for the national competition. Every competitor has worked hard to be there, and deserves this time to shine. Competing at Miss USA is one of the biggest accomplishments in a young woman’s life, regardless of who is crowned. I have so much respect for these women, and I feel foolish for ever stereotyping a “pageant girl.”
A pageant girl is strong, confident, determined, educated, focused, and of course, beautiful. Inside and out.
With all that being said I’ll be cheering on my home state…GO ARIZONA!!! Proud of you Chelsea. Knock em dead babe <3
If you have any questions about my experiences throughout my reign or at Miss USA, please write in the comment section below 🙂