Pageants can be a very tough, competitive world. If you’ve worked and improved . . . prepared and practiced . . . entered and competed . . . and lost…and lost.
The crown still remains out of grasp. What next? Enter again? Give up?
You do not have to accept losing as inevitable. Many contestants who lost and lost and lost at the state level, found that their solution was simple: Change states.
In fact, state-shopping is a common practice today among girls who can’t seem to break the barrier to their home state’s throne.
“There are two choices,” explains Mary Donnelly-Haskell, a former Miss Mississippi who won her home state’s crown on the first try. “She can stay and say, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong. I can win this pageant.’ Or she can say, ‘Maybe it’s not in the cards here . . . maybe this isn’t the location for me,’ and move to another state.
There’s no denying the fact that it’s worked for several/girls, some who have even gone on to win the [national] crown.” Since a contestant who could only make the top ten in a tough state pageant might win in a less competitive one, changing states can boost an entrant’s chances of victory.
Consider Debra Maffett, the most famous example of the switch-to-win strategy. Maffett, a resident of tiny Cut ‘n Shoot, Texas, couldn’t manage to nab the state title. Realizing that there wasn’t a crown in her future in the Lone Star state, and with her twenty-fifth birthday sneaking up, Debbie decided to change strategies.
Instead of wasting precious time trying for Miss Texas again, she moved to California, worked on improving her appearance, won the Miss Anaheim and Miss California titles, and became Miss America 1983. Debbie’s decision to switch to win paid off in royal rhinestones!
Changing states is permitted in most systems as long as entrants meet residency rules—usually by living, working, or attending classes full-time in the new state for six months before the local contest.
Many such contestants move from tough states in the South, where as many as sixty entrants battle for a state title, to less- competitive states in the West, Northwest, or New England, where as few as eight contestants compete.
States worth considering include:
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
Girls who are residents of one state, but attend college in another, are usually eligible to compete in either state.
- Sylvia Hitchcock, a Floridian, was chosen Miss USA and Miss Universe while a student in Alabama
- Miss America 1990, Debbye Turner, lost Miss Arkansas several times but later won Miss Missouri while attending veterinary school there.
- Rebecca King, of Iowa, won the Miss Colorado title while entering law school there and became Miss America 1974.
If you have a choice of two states, enter the pageant with less competition.
A contestants decision can have major repercussions. I remember one gorgeous young woman who entered a pageant in her very competitive home state for years, always finishing as a runner-up. During her final year of eligibility, she decided to compete in her state one last time. Sadly, she lost (to a girl who had moved there after losing in Mississippi!). Because she decided not to try her luck elsewhere, this superb contestant who was qualified to compete on the national level—never won even a state title. Sometimes, knowing when to try your luck elsewhere can be the most important decision you can make.
Yet changing states is no guarantee. Another girl who finished as first runner-up in her state, moved to Virginia—where she failed to make the top five. “I think the fact that I had been in the state for only a few months prior to winning my local hurt my chances,” she told me anonymously. “There was some bad press. Rumors and bad gossip spread around. I think it caught up with the judges. In a way, I was poisoned.”
Another problem with state-hopping is that when it is done blatantly it can lead to nasty scandals.
One year, a Pennsylvania girl won the Miss New Jersey title after she enrolled at a college there, but never attended classes. She was challenged in court by her runner-up, a bona fide resident of New Jersey. Although the judge allowed the winner to keep the title, her week at the nationals was ruined when tabloids rehashed the scandal and spectators booed her.
While switching states is worth considering for a serious contestant who just can’t seem to win her state title, it must be handled impeccably to avoid unpleasant publicity or court challenges. Find out the exact residency requirements and meet them to the letter.
Also, out of courtesy to the people you will represent if you win, get to know your adopted state. Represent them with sincerity and pride.