This is an honest story of what it was like to work towards Mrs. America for 12 years and lose. No, it’s not an easy story to write but it’s an important one. The truth is that losing is never easy, but 99% of the contestants have to go through it. But the race is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and the people who train for years to run the Boston Marathon don’t feel like failure if they don’t cross the finish line first. Getting there, running a race you can be proud of and crossing that finish line with your head high is an accomplishment. One that takes a little perspective to appreciate, hence why this entry is two weeks post event.
I have competed in ten pageants (but over two dozen competitions and professional auditions) and have always been a semi-finalist, finalist or top 5. I work very hard to compete well and have done very well in my career. Mrs. America was my first experience in not placing or making finals. It was my first time not hearing my name called. My first time not advancing. My first time not being able to compete in finals. However, it was also my first time feeling totally centered. My first competition week free of worry and nerves (mostly). My first totally, 100% authentic performance. I was me. I competed well and left it all on the stage. For the first time in my life I wouldn’t change anything (the critic in me would change one sentence in one interview question because I didn’t want to mention my Ms. title last year and side stepped the authentic truth, which I regret, but it was a handful of words and I’m not going to get that picky. Starting now). Here is another truth; more than anything I have feared that I would finally get to Mrs. America and not even place. That fear has plagued me for years, and worrying is praying for that you don’t wish to happen. While I understand the power of intention, and mastered my own thoughts during my training, I realize that a near life-long fear runs deep and that one haunted me. I knew the same hater who watched me compete last year, texting my husband nasty things, would see me lose this year and delight in it. That got under my skin. Correction; I let it get under my skin. I let the opinion of sheep affect how I felt about my performance among lionesses. Don’t worry, I let that go. Quickly.
The women next to me on that stage were the highest caliber competitors I had ever met. In any setting. Smart, passionate, stunning and each more active in their platform than the next. Each of these women deserved that title. On stage you can only compare thigh size and modeling skills. While not every contestant was at the same level in those aspects, I urge you not to dismiss them based on the brief snippet you saw on stage. I talked with them. Got to know them. They blew me away time and again. The truth is, there are a lot of women who deserved to be in the top 15. Heck, you could’ve slapped the crown on any of them and had a great queen with an impressive year ahead. Anytime I feel bad about myself for not placing, I remember Mrs. Maryland didn’t place. Jamie is one of the most stunning women I have ever met. I just liked to watch her talk. She is so smart, and everything I hope to be when I grow up, which I now realize I still haven’t done yet.
I saw Mrs. America on tv in 2005 and decided that was who I wanted to me. Not just win the crown, but be that woman. I can list a dozen women off the top of my head that I was shocked didn’t make the top 15. That’s pretty incredible.
So, here’s what it was like to lose at Mrs. America.
Finals day was amazing. I got up and went for a run and cried as I completed my last mile. It embodied all the training I had done to get here. It was completion of a huge chapter of my life. A truly beautiful experience.
The nerves were surging. The adrenaline was coursing through my body. It took all I had, all my training, to get back to the moment. By the time Audrey showed up to do my hair, I was back in the moment. I was more centered than I’d ever been. I felt like I was made of bricks. Solid in every way. I had cut the water weight and felt strong and lean. We did my hair and chatted and I was sure I was ready. Totally in the zone.
It’s important to note that I had already lost at this point. It was done. The decision on semi-finalists was made after prelims on Thursday.
I went and got my make up done and got to visit with two of my favorite humans, Kari and DJ. I was totally at ease and felt incredible. When my make up was done I looked in the mirror and I looked just like Barbie (a look I try to avoid, but I realized I was exactly the woman little Jessica hoped to someday be). It was as though I was looking at myself with eyes from my childhood. Like those old milk commercials where the little girl is looking in the mirror, drinking milk, and sees her older, glamorous self looking back. It was a moment I will never forget.
Rehearsals were great. Everything was just moving along effortlessly. I got to see Nick and Will dressed up before I went it. They looked great. Everything was as it should be.
The show started with costume and it was perfect. I didn’t stumble in my words and all went to plan. Opening number was the parade of flags with our husbands and I got to introduce my husband as “The Will Froehlich”, a surprise that threw him as I hoped it would 🙂 We have a running joke about how I fell for him when he was a senior on our high school tv news show, and how I was a little star struck when we started dating because he was THE Will Froehlich! When we got married, he gave me a key ring that said “Mrs. THE”).
Then came the first cut. Top 15. I knew by the third name I was out. They called number 15, I literally felt myself shrug, and that was it. It was over and I was okay. My competition motto is “If I’m what they’re looking for, I’m unstoppable. If I’m not, there’s nothing I can do”. I wasn’t what they were looking for. I look very different than the reigning Mrs. America, Mrs. World and outgoing Mrs. America. Perhaps, they had an idea in their head of a tall brunette. Perhaps the judge who didn’t like that my husband was a journalist never voted for me. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Different day, different judge, different outcome. It is the nature of the beast. I was truly okay.
Then the house lights came up and I saw my step-daughter crying. The faces of my kids forced me to break the fourth wall, leave my pageant smile behind and begin frantically waving my hands in front of me mouthing “I’m okay. I’m okay.”
I ran back stage and texted my husband to tell them I was okay. Really.
We all put on our evening gowns and waited for the parade of gowns (as we ate whatever food we had tucked in our bags). I didn’t bring any as this was a scenario I was completely unprepared for. I knew I might lose, but it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get to compete. The parade of gowns was, by far, the worst part of the entire experience. We were told to run. Not walk, move it. I had never practiced walking fast in my gown. One does not simply haul it in a fully beaded evening gown. It wrapped around my feet, I had no poise, no elegance. My one time walking across the stage at Mrs. America and it was a hot mess. That felt bad. Not gonna lie, that was pretty awful.
Luckily, immediately after we were shuffled into the basement (not my favorite part, either) where there was chips and soda waiting for us (kinda my favorite part). I wish I could say the rest of the pageant went quickly, but it seemed to go on for hours. They kept shuffling us around and even asked us to pack up our stuff to get out of there as soon as the show ended. The time between losing and leaving was rough. Oh, and fire alarms were going off, that was hilarious. Like the external sound reflected my internal discomfort. The finalists ignored them and pushed forward like true professionals.
I got to be on-stage for crowning, and my friend Mekayla was announced the winner. She is a genuine and kind person with lots of training and experience. She is also Native American, which makes me very happy. I truly hope she brings attention to the Native American community and their treatment in this country. If anyone can, it’s this chick. She is driven and beautiful, in all the ways that matter. No one was surprised or upset she took the title. She was just that good. Perfectly well-suited to the role. I know any of the women would have made a great queen, but Mekayla was flawless the whole way through. Well done, my friend. I’m really proud of you and can’t wait to visit you after Mrs. World.
And that was it. It was over. Twelve years and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of training and preparing. But here’s the kicker…I was okay. The worst thing I thought could ever happen just happened, and I was okay. The world didn’t end. I didn’t feel any differently about my performance or myself, and I got to walk out to my loving family with my head held high. This feeling would soon change, as recovery from loss is a roller coaster, but for that day, for that night, I was nothing but proud of myself and my performance.