When and how did you first become interested in pageants?
I began doing pageants at a very young age in the Cinderella Scholarship Program. My mom and her sisters competed with the Cinderella system when they were young as well. From the first pageant I did I knew I loved being a part of the sisterhood I found with the other girls. This particular pageant system was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. It was not like the "kiddie glamour" pageants you see today because we were allowed and expected to be kids, not mini adults. I think it was an amazing place to start my pageant career and most of all I think it helped me to not be so shy as a young girl. I was very proud to end my participation in that system as a Teen International Winner.
Do you remember your first title? What was it and what did that feel like?
The first one I remember was a hometown Fourth of July pageant. The winner got to ride in the parade after the pageant so that is what I was most excited about! The first title that I won in the Miss USA system was Miss Central Texas Teen USA. I remember being so excited to be apart of the pageant and I couldn¡¦t wait to go to TX Teen! In 1997, you won the right to represent Texas at Miss Teen USA.
Tell me about your favorite experiences from that pageant.
Was and will be one of the most memorable years of my life. I remember having so much fun competing that year because it was a chance to see my friends I had made the year before. The gown I had originally picked out for competition was ruined by a seamstress days before I left to compete, so I had to scramble to find another one. After that happened, I decided I was just going to go and have fun with no expectations. I had a blast that weekend and truly loved every minute of competition. The best moment though was hugging my mother at the end of the runway after I won!
Did you feel added pressure by Christie Lee Woods victory the previous year?
Of course I did! Miss Teen USA 1997 was not only in my home state, the previous winner was a Texan beauty! I felt like all eyes were on me watching my every move. I was very proud of Christy though and loved having her there during the competition.
Who was your roommate during the pageant? What do girls talk about when they are not competing?
My roommate was Miss Georgia Teen USA Cheri Wheeler. We had a great time together! I think we were both 16 so we talked about normal teenage girl things. Boys, school, makeup, NERVES! I think we tried to run interview questions with each other every night but we ended up falling asleep.
I know you won the style award? What was that like? And, how did you prepare for winning the style award?
The style award was given by Pantene Pro-V that year and it was awarded to the girl who had a unique, fresh style with "Pantene Pro-V hair". I recall stressing out because all of the girls were fixing their hair in these elaborate styles. I got frustrated, brushed my hair out straight, and then went on stage! I wore a funky black and white Tadashi mini dress that I absolutely loved. It was an honor to take home any award.
I know I felt shocked when they announced the semifinalists and your name was not there. Were you disappointed? Did you expect to hear your name called?
Yes I was extremely disappointed. Any one that has competed at any level knows the extreme amount of heart and soul that goes into preparation. So many people worked so hard to help me prepare so I felt like I let them down when I didn't make the semifinals. This was back in the day when they had a Top 10 NOT A TOP 15!!! I believe that Larissa Meek (Miss MO Teen USA) and I tied for the 10th spot with another semifinalist. In any pageant I never expected to hear my name, but of course you always hope.
Still, you represented Texas beautifully. Are you still in contact with any of the girls from the class of 1997?
Thank you! Yes I am in touch with many of the girls. This past May a group of us had our ten-year reunion at the Bellagio in Las Vegas organized by Vicki Hughes. (Miss NM Teen USA) Most of us had not seen each other in 10 years so I can't even begin to tell you the fun we had! We had a blast catching up, some are now mothers and wives and all are very successful. We stayed for about 4 days dining, shopping and even a little gambling! ;)
What is your favorite memory of Miss Teen USA?
After the two weeks of intense competition and hours of rehearsal, my favorite memory was standing center stage in the dark on final night, in the seconds counting down to the live telecast. This amazing chill came over me and I remember saying to myself, "I will remember this moment forever¨. Then the lights came up, we starting dancing our hearts out and the energy was contagious. I really got what is was all about then. It wasn't about winning or losing. It was about having fun and living in that very special moment that very few have gotten to experience. I had always wanted to be on that stage and it was surreal when I was there.
What advice would you give to young girls competing at the Teen level?
Don't try too hard to grow up. Embrace your youth and have fun being a TEEN! And when it comes to taking advice in the first place--Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
What advice would you give to girls transitioning from the Teen level to the Miss level?
I went into the Miss level not even a year after Teen. Looking back I might have waited a couple years. I think teens should take a little time to grow into young women and not rush anything. I know I learned so much about myself the first year of college and living on my own for the first time. I know you competed in other states at the Miss level.
What made you compete in California in New York? And why did you not stay and compete in Texas throughout?
I moved to New York City literally weeks after I graduated from college. I got a last minute job working for MTV at beach house in The Hamptons that year so I just decided to take the leap! Shortly after, I got a job working in local news for UPN 9 in the city and it was clear I was not returning to TX anytime soon. Since I no longer worked, lived, or went to school in Texas, I was ineligible to compete there. I wanted to continue competing so I decided to give NY USA a try. A month before I competed in that pageant, I auditioned for The Starlet while visiting Los Angeles. I found out that I booked the show the night before I left to compete in Albany and had to take a red eye to LA the night of finals. After filming the Starlet in LA I decided it was the right timing and a good move for me to stay, so I moved to Santa Monica and signed with Rising Star Talent. I worked for Wolfgang Puck and spent my time taking acting classes and auditioning for hosting positions. Before I knew it, pageant time was here again so I did Miss California USA! I finally moved back to NYC when I got the job with the Rachael Ray Show and did Miss NY USA for my last year of eligibility. I would have loved to continue competing in Texas but my career moved me elsewhere!
What are the main differences in competing in California and New York vs. Texas?
I think Texas women take pageantry the most serious. The same strong competitors came back year after year so you kind of knew what to expect. (And that was knowing every girl was going to bring their A game!) It was not the same in NY or California. A few would return from year to year but I had no idea what to expect!
What are the quality of the productions in California and New York vs. Texas?
Texas obviously was the best in my opinion. It was by far the biggest production, longest competition and the only pageant televised. NY USA was the biggest in numbers but smallest production. Miss California had a few choreographed numbers but not near as many contestants. I loved the glamour of the TX production and the week of events, but it was also nice to get in and get out with Miss NY USA. I didn't have to take any time off and I was back at work Monday morning! But I must say, I think Texas USA really prepares the winners for what to expect at the national level.
Do you feel that California and New York are equally as competitive as Texas? When it comes down to the basic facts, yes absolutely. In the end it really doesn't matter how many girls or how big the production. I think Texas women are the most beautiful in the world, however, there was much more diversity in NY and California.
I know you competed in the Miss division with Ashley Coleman (former Miss Teen USA) and Gloria Almonte who you were first runner-up to in New York and who was first runner-up at Miss Teen USA. What are these girls like?
I competed with Gloria in 2005 and 2007. We were both very focused and the pageant is so quick, but I enjoyed seeing her and competing with her each time. She is a sweetheart. Gloria and I still keep in touch through Myspace. Ashley and I didn't have a chance to get to know each other but from what I could see she was equally as pleasant.
I know you competed with many former teens from 1997 at the Miss level: Ashley Witmer and Brandi Burkhardt. How was that?
I actually didn't know that I would be competing with them at Miss NY USA 2005 so I was excited when I got there and saw them! They are both exceptional women. Brandi and I kept in touch through email and I think she is acting on a soap opera in LA now. Ashely and I competed twice together at Miss NY USA and we were roommates in Las Vegas for our reunion. She still lives in NYC and we actually have a play date with our Chihuahuas Twinkie and Marty coming up!
Are girls generally nice in pageants, or is there a lot of cattiness?
My experiences have been almost ALL positive. Most everyone is genuine, sweet and smart. I have remained friends with many girls from my ten years of competing. There is an occasional bad apple, but no one really notices them because everyone else is so extraordinary.
What is the worst thing you have seen as a competitor?
Luckily I haven't seen anything too horrible. I have seen a few ladies throw temper tantrums like three year olds but other than that not much!
How did it feel coming so close to the New York crown and not making it? I was 100% ready for whatever happened that night. When I was called first runner-up, a strange feeling came over me. It was at that moment I knew a long and exceptional chapter of my life had been closed and I was relieved. I watched Adriana crown Gloria then congratulated her, took my pictures, hugged my mom and everything was ok. On the train ride back to NYC by myself I kept waiting for this huge rush of emotion and for the tears to start flowing but they never came. (My cheeseburger probably helped too haha) Everything seemed like it had worked out just the way it was supposed to and I was calm. The next morning as I took the first step on the sidewalk on my way to work, a rush of excitement came over me in anticipation of what lies ahead. Of course it was my dream to go to Miss USA and I was disappointed. But sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stoke of luck.
I know you have won other awards within pageants like Miss Photogenic? What awards did you win? I am very proud to have been a semi-finalist or finalist in all three states in addition to:
Miss Texas Teen USA 1997-Swimsuit award
Miss Teen USA 1997-Pantene Pro-V "Teen With Style¨
Miss TX USA 1999- Swimsuit award
Miss NY USA 2005-Miss Photogenic and Style award
Miss California USA 2006-Miss Photogenic
In 2002, you competed for Miss Texas. You competed in a mock-press interview like they did at Miss USA in 1999 and 2000. What is it like answering questions and thinking so quickly on your feet? Is it nerve wracking?
Yes it was very nerve wracking but it was fun! I literally said the first thing that came to my mind. I learned a lot about improvisation in my broadcasting classes so I think that helped a little too.
I loved your quick wit in answering the following: Q: What is the most important thing you learned in Elementary school? A: That glue does not taste very good. Had to throw that in.
You competed with former Miss Texas titleholders Kandace Kreuger, Nicole O'Brian, Kasi Kelly, Stephanie Guerrero, Tyler Willis, and Lauren Lanning after having competed with them for a number of years. What are these women like? Did you make any close friends with these titleholders?
All of these women are exceptional. I competed with Kandance for the first time in Miss Williamson Co. USA. She has always been an inspiration to me! Nicole and I were roommates the year she won and she and her family were so sweet to me. I was definitely there to cheer her on at Miss USA! I think every one of these ladies epitomizes beauty and class.
What about in general? Who did you become close to while competing?
Mandy Jeffries! I remember meeting her the first year I competed at Miss TX Teen USA and I looked up to her so much! We became good friends when she was Miss Austin USA and I loved competing with her each year. Mandy would have been an amazing Miss TX USA. I also loved all of "Betty's Beauties¨. We would all get together through out the year and see each other. Betty Warner really made us feel like a family. I also got to know Christie Cole throughout the years and I remember being so excited to crown her! She is a beautiful person inside and out. I miss all of my friends from all of the years and I especially miss competing in TX!
How do you prepare for competition?
Preparation for a pageant was something I was always doing year round. I say this because it wasn¡¦t all for a pageant. It was to become a smarter, more intelligent and successful woman. It all went hand in hand. I was always looking for gowns. Sometimes I would try on a hundred¡Ksometimes only one! Throughout the years I had many make-up and hair lessons. I think every woman should be able to do her own hair and makeup the right way. I had several professionals help me too. I worked with Don Baker for many years and he taught me things that have helped my in every aspect of my life. I worked with many personal trainers as well. Most recently was Justin aka "Builtboy¨. He was amazing and we are still very close friends. What is your favorite and least favorite areas of competition? My favorite was interview (both personal and onstage) because it was my chance to let the judges know what I was really about. I enjoyed swimsuit and evening gown as well! You have a chance to strut your stuff and show off all the hard work you have done. My least favorite thing about competition was definitely wearing heels for a ridiculous amount of hours!
You competed in times when interview was a staple of competition rather than being used only at the end of the competition. Do you think they should bring back the interview competition? Why or why not?
Yes I think they should bring back the interview competition. I think that the winner should be a fabulous mix of beauty and brains! I don"t think it needs to be a heavy-duty interview about politics or religion, but we need to see how the girl reacts under extreme pressure. Personal interview is one thing, but being on a stage with lights, cameras and thousands of eyes on you is another. She should be able to get through a couple of questions with ease and poise.
What are your favorite years of competing (taking into account of competing in Texas, California and New York)?
This is impossible to answer. Each year I grew as a woman and learned something new about myself. My mother and I had such a fun time each year preparing and it only got better!
What were your best results as a Miss?
First runner-up at Miss New York USA 2007!
What is your embarrassing moment in pageantry?
I seem to keep asking this question. LOL I can't remember anything as an adult, but I can tell you my most embarrassing moment for my mother. In a Cinderella Pageant during the onstage interview when I was 6 years old, I lifted my dress above my head and screamed that I had to use the restroom. I am sure my mother was mortified but it was funny!
Tell me about "The Starlet"? What made you participate?
On a trip out to Los Angeles I took a few acting classes with a friend. The instructor suggested that I audition for The Starlet so I did! This was my first real audition in LA. I was called back about 3 or 4 times even after I had returned to NY. So the week before Miss NY USA I was flying back and forth auditioning and I finally got it. Only 10 girls were chosen out of 10,000 applicants. I did it because "why not?" You have to take chances in life. It was a new show and it sounded like a lot of fun.
Were you surprised to be let go so early on?
Not at all. The second I got to the house and met all the girls I realized how they cast the show. This was not a pageant. There were 10 of us and we were all VERY different with varying levels of training and experience. I didn't know what to expect and I tried my best. Acting was not and is not my passion. I enjoy doing it sometimes but I never wanted to be an actress. It was an interesting experience and I was pleased to even make it that far.
Why do you think the winner has not had much media attention?
I am not sure. I just don't think the show gained enough popularity. It was only on for 6 episodes. The girl that won was really talented though and so genuine. Andy, the girl who was cut at the same time as me, is probably the most successful actress of everyone who was on the show. She was on an episode of ER last season and has several running stand up comedy shows in LA!
What made you audition for Rachael Ray?
I actually had to interview for my position at Rachael Ray. I started my career in local news and quickly realized I wanted to work for a national television show. I work in the Audience department at The Rachael Ray Show and I absolutely LOVE my job! Sometimes I have to pinch myself on set because I can't believe I am there! If you are ever in New York and want to see the show let me know!
How fun is Rachael? She looks like she would be fun to work with.
Rachael is astonishing. She has to be one of the hardest working women in the business! I don't know how she does it but she always keeps everyone laughing on set.
Why did you choose to work with a chef rather than working for a different talk show like The View?
In television, you work where you can get a job, THEN network and move your way up or to another show. TV is very hard to get into and I am very fortunate to be working on such a successful show. I also worked for Ellen DeGeneres when she brought her show to NY last year. That woman is hysterical! I would love to work for The View or Regis and Kelly in the future, but Rachael Ray keeps us well fed. Everything she makes on the show gets put out after for the staff to eat! YUM-O!
What would you like to see yourself doing in the future?
Right now I am enjoying working behind the scenes and I am learning a lot. In the future I want to be a producer on a show similar to Rachael Ray. In LA I did a little bit of on-air work as a host and I would love to continue working in front of the camera. Ultimately I aspire to produce and be the star of my own show.
Finally, what advice would you impart on girls competing at the Miss level?
I would have to say to listen to your heart above all else and do what feels right. If you feel like moving on then do it, if not then keep trying! I was lucky enough to enjoy each and every year of competition. Don't get too caught up in what other people are saying about you. Figure out who really matters and listen to those people only. Also, I heard this saying once and it stuck with me "Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes your behind. The race is long, but in the end, it is only with yourself."