One of the most common questions I’m asked after someone learns that I compete in pageants is how or why I got started.
My favorite place to start is with my childhood memories with my Grammy. We used to watch Miss America on TV, and I always admired the contestants’ intelligence, beauty, and talent. I felt drawn to the competition and excitement, and I wanted to embody those same qualities when I grew up.
After convincing my parents to allow me to compete in my first pageant by raising all of the entry fees, I was hooked. At 14 years old, I discovered the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program. Not only did the competition offer scholarship money for college, but it would be the perfect training ground for me to prepare for the Miss America program when I was old enough to compete.
After my first year at Miss California’s Outstanding Teen, I have to admit that I felt overwhelmed and defeated. The competition was intense and the talent portion, which made up 30% of the overall score, was intimidating. As a competitive gymnast, I faced challenges in translating a skillset that was meant to be performed on a springy gymnastics floor to a hard and slippery stage.
However, my perspective changed several years later when a friend I had competed with in the past was crowned Miss America in 2015. Kira Kazantsev, one of the most beloved Miss Americas in history, won the entire competition with a nontraditional talent (best known as the “Cup Song”) and a personality that is impossible to not fall in love with. The next year, another former fellow competitor and gymnast, Jessa Carmack, won the title of Miss California. These felt like signs encouraging me to bring this dream out of retirement. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?
Last year, I began my journey to Miss California, and it’s not over yet. While it hasn’t been easy, and I have faced many more 1st and 2nd runner up placements than crowning moments, facing my fears and accomplishing something I used to think would be impossible has stretched me in ways I never could have imagined. With less than a month left before Miss California, I can honestly say that this accomplishment makes me feel like I’ve already won. Four-year-old Nicole would be so proud.