Miss America 2014 preliminary judges weren’t shy in sharing some secrets of their own during press conferences that took place during the week of the competition. Those who demonstrated passion and sincerity, no matter the phase of competition, would receive the highest marks, they promised.
Miss New Hampshire 2013 Samantha Russo is living, singing proof of these guidelines. Her vocal performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the musical Funny Girl filled every space of Boardwalk Hall and left the audience humming to themselves all evening; she walked away with a $2,000 scholarship. Although she considered changing her song for the national competition—after all, it was what she performed at every local and state competition—Samantha decided not to take her level of comfort for granted. “That is the one thing I learned from these last five months: Go with your gut!” she said of her national competition preparation. “Confidence is so important when you’re performing on stage. You might not be the best singer or dancer, but as long as you can sell it and have the best time performing it, that’s what really catches the judges’ attention.”
Lifestyle and fitness is an everyday choice for preliminary scholarship winner Miss Oklahoma 2013 Kelsey Griswold. Possessing qualities preliminary judges deemed necessary for this phase of competition—confidence and proportionality—she was awarded $1,000 for her commitment to overall wellness. Kelsey prepared for nationals by hitting the gym every day and reminding herself that she didn’t necessarily need to be the “skinniest” girl on stage, just the healthiest. “This body is not a natural thing. It takes a lot of work,” she said. “But I didn’t prepare my body as much as my attitude.”
Preparing for a scholarship-worthy onstage question and answer session has many contestants quaking in their heels, but candid practice makes perfect, MAOTeen prelim winners said. Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen 2013 Heather Shen shut out the crowd and limelight while answering her onstage question. “I pretend like I’m talking to my best friends Courtney and Sara,” Heather said, “then it’s just like we’re having a conversation and I (tell judges) just what I would tell them every day.”
The common goal of Miss America and MAOTeen contestants during competition week is to prove themselves worthy of scholarship dollars. “Obviously anything we earn here is helpful, this is a scholarship program after all, and we’re definitely here for one purpose in that sense,” Kelsey said. But the other common thread through prelims is the contestants’ opportunity to give judges an accurate, consistent look their lives to demonstrate their ability to reflect the pillars of the crown and their ability to carry them out each day.
Written by: Erika Rose is fourpoints magazine's staff writer.