Be different. Be who you are, and not who you think they want you to be.”
Be an Original
To be a winner on the runway and off, you’ve got to know yourself, be yourself, and be your best. Unfortunately, many entrants underrate the importance of such individuality. “Be real,” advises Sam Haskell, a respected national judge. “Be different. Be who you are, and not who you think they want you to be. Try to show the judges the real you,” he emphasizes.
To stand out in a crowd of outstanding contestants a girl must radiate the qualities of a champion. A champion never blends in with the crowd. She stands out in judges’ minds because she projects an unforgettable personal style. “Winners are themselves,” says image specialist David Bartley. “They’re not clones. They don’t attempt to be somebody else. They attempt to be the best version of themselves.”
But for a contestant to successfully radiate winning individuality, she must first “discover” herself. “Be in touch with who you are, what you are, and why you are,” advises Jeff Bell, a veteran pageant director and magazine executive. “Where have you come from? Who are the people you most admire? How have they affected your life? What have you accomplished? What do you want to accomplish? What is ahead for you in life?” The downfall of many women,” he contends, “is that they don’t know themselves. You need to pray or meditate to get in touch with who you are. Get to know yourself. I know it sounds hokey. You hear so many out-going queens say, ‘Be yourself.’ But it’s so true; know yourself and be yourself.”
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko’s success confirms the value of just being who you are. A Tahitian-dancing oncology nurse from Michigan, with a whimsical Hawaiian name, she seemed about as likely to win the crown as a snowball rolling down Hell’s runway. “I was a long-shot. People did not expect me to win. People had encouraged me to change, but my attitude was, ‘I’m not going to change for anyone. I’m just going to be Kaye Lani and if they don’t like who Kaye Lani is-tough petunias!'” she says, chuckling.
As it turned out, Rafko’s uniqueness delighted the judges. She not only was selected Miss America 1988 — she became one of the all-time greats. “The only advice I would give a contestant,” she says confidently, “is just be herself.”
Likewise, Kristin Huffman, Miss Ohio 1989 and fourth runner-up to Miss America, also succeeded by emphasizing her distinct style. “I have a quote that 1 use from the late Sir Laurence Olivier: ‘Don’t be afraid to be outrageous or daring or different. They’ll shoot you down anyway – so let it all out.’ I am different,” she affirms, “and I’m not afraid of that. You’ll always notice somebody who’s different. But it shouldn’t be: ‘I want to be different so they’ll notice me.’ It should be: ‘If I am different, make the most of it.”’
Many contestants turned their uniqueness into an asset.
- Jennifer Wall, Miss Washington 1989, was a hearing-impaired classical pianist who dared to be herself. An inspiring “original,” she made the top ten at Miss America.
- Terri Utley, Miss Arkansas USA 1982, broke the “can’t win” rule for short hair and became the first short-haired Miss USA.
- Despite being both short, 5’3″, and a classical violinist – two supposed “can’t wins” – Gretchen Carlson remained herself and became Miss America 1989.
- Sher Patrick, Miss Ohio 1977, broke tradition by performing an exotic middle-eastern belly dance, delighted the judges with her uniqueness, and was named a runner-up to Miss America.
Each of these women dared to be herself, had the courage to be an original, gracefully broke “can’t win” traditions, and charmed their judges.
Contestants who blatantly copy previous winners miss the essence of the crown: the outstanding individual. “I look for what is real,” says Sam Haskell. “You tend to overlook less than perfect if you see something there that is real.”
In fact, throughout pageant history, the most memorable winners have been those, like Diane Sawyer, Mary Ann Mobley, and Kaye Lani Rafko, who dared to be originals. Never try to earn the crown by squeezing into another woman’s mold. Understand what makes you special and make the most of those qualities.
Knowing yourself, being yourself, and being your best are the keys to competing capably without regrets. “You should just be the way you are,” Cecilia Bolocco, Miss Universe 1987, once stated. “That’s the way I acted at the Miss Universe Pageant. I said, ‘I’m just going to give my best and work as hard as I can, so then I won’t have regrets if I don’t make it because, if I don’t win, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. That means the crown is not for me-and that’s no big deal.'”