Mrs. America · Pageantry

Mrs. America; Finals

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.

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Mrs. America · Pageantry

Mrs. America; Day 7 part 2

Friday’s breakfast also included a dignitary gift from each state delegate to David and Jackie Siegel.  It is a customary tradition where each state title holder presents a gift to our hosts that represents our home state.  It was such a cool parade of creativity and learning about each other’s homes.

My gift was based on my state costume of the Detroit Red Wings.  I chose the Red Wings because they had the first female executive in the NHL and they also recently spoke out against racism.  I believe that with great power comes great responsibility, and this power house team has used theirs to make a difference, just as we do with our state titles.  My gift was a Red Wings electric guitar, donated by Mike Ilitch Jr. himself!  Photos coming soon!

The rest of the day was stage rehearsal, which I love, and our spouses got to join us for a big chunk of it! The finals show opened with a parade of state flags, carried by our spouses, followed by each of us introducing ourselves and our husbands.  The rehearsal was so much fun.  I have waited 20 years to be backstage with THE Will Froehlich!IMG_0108

Mrs. America · Pageantry · Road to Recovery

Mrs. America; Day 7 Dignitary Brunch

Friday started out with a very elegant brunch with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.  The Siegels own the Westgate Resort and Casino, along with a big chunk of the United States.  They are real estate moguls, but more importantly they were the parents of a young woman named Victoria who died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication.  This unbelievable loss led them to create Victoria’s Voice, a charity that raises awareness of the prescription drug problem our country is facing and helps fund the stocking of Narcan.  I mention Narcan because I will be talking about it as much as possible to anyone who can listen.  Narcan is an inhalent that blocks the effect of opioids- meaning it can stop an overdose when administered quickly enough.  Mr. Siegel said he was told by a police officer that he would rather leave his gun at home than his Narcan because he saves more lives on a daily basis with the Narcan.

These are the type of people Mrs. America has introduced me to.  Leaders in their fields, in our country and warriors for good.  I was so humbled to meet them that I gave them my most precious possession as a symbol of my promise to fight the good fight along side them.  I gave Mr. and Mrs. Siegel my 18 month sobriety chip.

I decided to remove alcohol from my life after a friend of mine passed away from the same type of accidental overdose that took Victoria from the Siegels.  I felt that to continue drinking after losing her was an insult to her memory.  Alcohol was a negative part of my life and I am very proud of my sobriety.  I told the Mr. and Mrs. Siegel that I am talking about my journey more and more so that I may help other women who are trying to leave harmful addictions behind.  There is inherent shame in addiction, but secrets are what keep us sick.  That shame lingers in recovery, but I believe there is only pride in conquering demons and the more we talk about it, the stronger we become and the more we help others.  I now have 20 months of sobriety and am committed to a clean and sober life.  If anyone reading this relates, please message me.  I didn’t get here alone and part of recovery is helping others.  Please reach out.

Mrs. America

Mrs. America; Traverse City represent!

Thursday date night continued with taking my hubby to see Traverse City native and Voice top 5, Ryan Whyte Maloney, perform in our hotel! What a coincidence he was there that night, and that I happened to run into his mom the day I was leaving for nationals.  My husband had interviewed him and we watched him compete.  It was a real trip to get to meet, and sing, with him.  The kids joined us for the first few songs, and some family time was awesome.  We then sent them to bed and continued our date night.

My husband was first to join him on stage (of course).  Then the most incredible thing happened, Mrs. America, Natalie, decided she was going to try it! She’s not a trained singer, and hadn’t done anything like that before.  She pulled up some song lyrics on her phone and went for it.  I love when people step out of their comfort zones and just go for it.  What a cool chick.

The highlight was when several of us sister queens joined her and Ryan on stage.  We belted out some of my favorite rock songs and shook our tambourines like there was no tomorrow.  True sisterhood! My proud husband looked on with a grin and took a ton of photos.

Mrs. America · Pageantry

Mrs. America; Day 7 Prelims!

Thursday- the best day…ever! The highlight of my week and truly a perfect day, Thursday was the first day with my family in town and encompassed everything great about nationals.

So,

if you don’t know, prelims (or ‘preliminary competition’) is what happens before the part you see televised.  It’s just like the pageant you see, but everyone gets a chance to compete in both swimwear and evening gown.  I love it because it’s all the fun without any of the nerves.  I just show up and run my program.  This was awesome, because my mom, husband, friend/stylist and her fiance, were in attendance watching and waving signs.

The most amazing thing happened.  I came off stage, and the end of evening gown, took off my shoe and saw that it was holding together by a thread.  A literal thread.  I did an entire show by a thread.  I showed Heather, Mrs. South Carolina, and she said her friends had seen a psychic who told them to tell her to check her shoe before competing.  It was the first conversation she and I had had all week, and it just happened to be about my shoe and she had just been given that advice.  From a psychic.  So cool

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Frit and Frat did a great job keeping us pumped and in line. “What time is it?? Showtime!”  It was a perfect show.  So fun.

Coming off the high of performing, we went to the spouse’s dinner.  Mr. Marmel, Mrs. and Mr. America made speeches that all made me cry.  Above all, it was a great date night with my main supporter; my hubby.  The best date night in a long time.  No worries, no weight on our shoulders, just time together and having fun with our new best friends.  It was as the week was, effortless.

Mrs. America · Pageantry

Mrs. America journal; day 6 Interviews

Wednesday!  My favorite part of competing in interview.  It’s a chance to tell the judges who I am, what I believe, what I want to accomplish with the title and how I want to do it.  The stage portion is fun and what people typically associate with pageantry, but interview is where queens are chosen.  Interview is more reflective of the skills needed to be a successful title holder and is primarily what the queen will spend her year doing; talking.

Right before going into interview, I had another experience where what I needed was given to me at that exact moment.  Mrs. America, Natalie, told us a story of a woman who sat down to interview and the interviewer knocked over his coffee all over the table.  She spent her three minute interview cleaning up coffee and reassuring him it was okay.  He said he fell in love with her.  The judges just want to know who you are.

This was the exact lesson I needed before my first interview.  The interviewer was an older gentleman who didn’t let me get a full sentence out before interrupting to chat.  In fact, for the first minute, he did most of the talking.  I was feeling really anxious that I wasn’t getting a chance to tell him about myself and then I remembered Natalie’s story.  I sat back in my chair and thought to myself “okay, we’re cleaning up coffee.  What do you want to talk about, sir?”.  We had a lovely conversation as though we were old friends having lunch.  The only hiccup was his visceral reaction to my “journalist” husband (fake new, yadda yadda).  Luckily for me, my husband is beyond reproach.  In fact, he now does media relations for a church.  A church.  By the end of my first interview, I had insisted on teaching this retired major general to dance because he has a wife who dances and has never learned!

Each interview only got better as I got more relaxed and focused on my mission.  I made sure each of them knew my goal of changing the language of the anti-bullying movement to be behavior focused and not child labeling.  Each interview was personal, included laughter and genuine discourse.

My favorite session was my final session, however.  She looked over my bio for a moment and then looked up and said “tell me about Elly”.  My eyes filled with tears and I told her I would love to talk about my step-daughter, and thanked her for asking.  After sharing what it’s been like having a daughter, gushing about my boys and talking about my mom and grandma, I thanked her again for asking.  She said she could just tell I wanted to talk about her.

I left interview on top of the world.  I knew them and they knew me.  If I was what they had in mind for queen, then it was already done because I had shown them exactly who I am and what I would do with the crown.  It was a truly amazing experience.

Mrs. America · Pageantry

Mrs. America; the Elvis Suite

One of the highlights of my week at Mrs. America was also an experience at the top of my lifetime list.  I took my only video of the week because I needed the moment to last beyond my own memory.  Unfortunately, no photo or video can do justice to what this evening was like.

A theme of the week was that just as I became aware of needing something, it was provided.  This was no exception.  I just happened to bring along another gown (the first I bought for the week), that had been tailored to perfection (by Rachele Cummings) and was perfect for this unscheduled event.  My friend and stylist, Audrey Burk, put my hair up in the most elegant style and I felt like Cinderella going to the ball.

We took the ‘special elevator’ to the very top (the elevator had a couch in it, no joke).  Once we stepped out, we were greeted by gentlemen in tuxes offering champagne.  Everything was carved out of marble and jazz music wafted in from the other room.  We were all dressed to the 9’s and upon entering the grand room, I was so overcome with the beauty of it all that I just stood there soaking in it.  Hoping to absorb it into my consciousness.

There were trays of delicious and beautiful food everywhere.  A tower of desserts.  The musicians’ music filled the space, only to mix with the tangible aroma of the gourmet fair.  I began walking through the space, slack jawed, in absolute awe of every inch of this elegant space.

The is a pool in the courtyard, and it was as stunning as you would imagine a courtyard pool atop a luxury hotel would be.  I wandered into what I think was the fitness room and then to the master suite which had an in-floor hot tub and the most ornate bed I’ve ever seen. Throughout the night I found many bedrooms and each more amazing than the last (although nothing topped the bathrooms- one had a walk through shower).

I came upon a room with two chairs and a giant window.  That was it.  Just a viewing room. I sat and took it in.  Elvis’s personal suite.  The most luxury and man made beauty by which I had ever been surrounded.  I was there a good half hour before I think I even spoke to anyone.  I was overcome.

The night’s highlight was talking with the hotel’s new AGM, Cammie.  The first female in that role in the company, probably in Vegas.  In a male dominated industry, this woman was succeeding and thriving.  I got to spend some time talking with her and after I told her my plans to change the world, she told me I had given her goosebumps.  One of the most powerful women in Las Vegas and she was impressed by me.  That was a trip.

There were some great speeches by our host and our queen, as there were throughout the week.  Mr. Marmel and Natalie are such good speakers, and listening to them is always an empowering and emotional experience.  Following the speeches, my sister queen from Iowa, Jill, joined the band in song.  She is incredibly talented and it was so fun to film her as she did what I can only do in my head.  Another of the Schway queens (the Schways own several state pageants, including mine), Andrea from Minnesota, sang as well.  What a treat that these ladies shared their gifts with us.

This whole week felt like a dream, but this evening was the most surreal.  I feel so honored to be given this experience.