Like most of the country, you’ve probably spent the last several years thinking that pageants are a lot like a “dog show” where psychotic stage mothers spend their entire life savings to dress up their beautiful daughters into glitzy cupcake dresses, spray paint them to look tan, poof their hair up to amazing new heights, cake on so much make up that they look like 40 year old women in a size children’s 6 body and, my personal favorite, give them “flippers” (basically, a set of false teeth) because they either aren’t perfect or they are six years old and their baby teeth have fallen out.  Oh Toddlers and Tiaras….what have you done?

Let me just say that my experience with pageants has been much different than what I’ve seen on TLC.  In my senior year of high school (oh too many years ago!) my mom thought it would be fun if I entered the Miss TEEN pageant in Orange County, California.  There were 5000 applicants and they picked 50 to go on stage.  I made the cut.  I then had to get sponsors, start looking for interview suits, prepare for my speech on stage, submit my grades and all of my community service work.  This pageant was less about being pretty and all about being a young woman of character and substance.  I think this is the part that most people never see.  Sure, there are pageants that are strictly about beauty, and I’m afraid those are the ones we are subjected to week after week on TV.  But organizations like Miss TEEN (Teens Exemplifying Excellence Nationally) and the Miss America Organization really do focus on the “whole package”, giving high marks for grades, talent, interview skills and most importantly, the teen’s chosen community service platform. The awards are generally scholarship funds that help further her education and the opportunities and connections that it creates are truly outstanding.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a judge in the Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen pageant, which is a part of the Miss America Organization.  I had the opportunity to meet and interview beautiful, intelligent and talented young women who have accomplished so much in their short lives.  It was so difficult to choose between them because each had a special community service platform that was near and dear to their hearts, they were all hard workers and were all gorgeous in their own unique ways.  This year’s winner was Samhita Vedula.  When I tell you that her list of awards and accolades is longer than my work resume of 20 years, I’m not lying.  This girl is fantastic!  The daughter of immigrants, Samhita has clearly learned the value of education and her platform “Inspiring Confidence in Education” will surely succeed under her leadership.  I am so excited to see what this young woman does in the coming year.  Congratulations to the Miss America Organization and good luck to Samhita at her next level of competition!