On Sunday, June 19 I woke up bright and early with giddiness consuming me like it did on Christmas morning when I was younger-it was time to venture to Oshkosh for Miss Wisconsin week. I remember leaving my full-time position at WXOW News 19 in La Crosse (with “vacation” time for Miss Wisconsin, obviously) the day before with an overwhelmingly odd feeling that I might not be returning to the place that has truly heightened my knowledge and skills for a career that I love. As I finished loading up all of my bags, suitcases, and dresses on Sunday morning, I also remember walking through the door of my first, single bedroom apartment with a rush of emotions thinking I might not be coming back to the beautiful city I’ve called home the past five years and that was a very weird realization. Nonetheless, I was eager, prepared, and open to discovering what God had in store for my future. With clear eyes and a full heart (can’t lose, right?), I made a quick stop at Starbucks before driving to my first destination of the day, Wisconsin Rapids. There I was able to spend some time with my parents and see my siblings for a few hours before getting ready, saying my goodbyes, and being showered with hugs, kisses, and extra love before hitting the literal #RoadToMissWisconsin.
Contestants unloaded their items at the auditorium around 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and then checked into the hotel in Oshkosh. I always love the start of the week because it provides a chance to reconnect with old pageant friends and meet more of the contestants, directors, and/or family members you may not know very well yet. A couple hours after unpacking at the hotel, it was time for the first closed rehearsal at the hotel. Practice was followed by dinner and a relatively early bedtime before a long week of rehearsals, luncheons, and competition.
Monday consisted of rehearsal at UW-Oshkosh’s Rec Center, lunch with the veterans from King (one of my favorite parts of the week), more rehearsal, then a break for dinner and rest period prior to Merchant’s Dinner at The Waters. Merchant’s Dinner is a fancy dinner with guest performances (typically past Miss Wisconsin’s) that allows us to thank some of the sponsors of the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant. The evening is also the very first time all of the contestants officially meet the judges and vice versa.
For interview, I was contestant #11, one of my all time favorite numbers. Why? Well, I graduated from high school in 2011 and I was contestant number 11 when I won my very first title in the MAO (Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest) and when I won my most recent, Miss Harbor Cities 2016. This placement put me on Tuesday morning for my private interview session with the panel of judges. The format of this phase of competition entails the judges sitting at a table, the contestant walking into the room after being introduced, and then the contestant standing in front of them answering questions on a rapid fire basis. I was asked a lot about my personal platform, “Let’s Talk: Skill Sets 4 Success,” why it’s important, what I’ve done with it, and what I plan to do with it in the future. I was also asked questions like, “What do you think about Donald Trump?” and “Should female sports reporters be allowed in the locker room?” which correlated to my dream aspiration of being a sideline reporter one day.
I was able to get a lot of questions in, share my struggles in college, how perseverance got me to where I am now, and just how passionate I am about this organization. I felt amazing when I walked out of that interview, I made them laugh, I touched on some serious topics, and I got a little choked up during my 30 second closing statement as I told them that this program isn’t just something I do-it’s a part of who I am. Wednesday kicked off preliminary competition, with half the contestants doing swimsuit and on-stage question and the other half talent and evening gown. I performed my talent with more grace, emotion, and precision than I ever had done in the past and felt amazing as I walked across stage in my emerald Mac Duggal evening gown from Bridal Elegance. Thursday evening I strutted the stage in my bright yellow swimsuit for preliminary competition and answered an on-stage question regarding my personal platform.
As the final night commenced on Saturday evening, I felt very content, a little emotional, but content. I knew up until that point I had poured every ounce of energy into every phase of competition and there was nothing I would have done differently. Standing on stage, awaiting the Top 11 Semi-Finalists was nerve-wrecking as it typically is. I was called 10th out of the 11 and the whole time I was standing up there telling myself, “It’s okay if you don’t get called, you’ve performed amazing all week,” then part of me was saying, “There’s no way I can’t not make Top 11, I’ve worked my butt off.” It’s an internalized moment most contestants have with themselves, trying to provide comfort and reassurance in a time of uncertainty; and then I heard “Miss Harbor Cities!” (Phew) It was in that moment I shifted my attention to devoting all my sass, passion, and energy into every phase of competition, step by step; hopeful that I would break into the Top 5 for the very first time. It was a night for the memory books and I have some incredible people to thank for that.
Thank you to my family for the undivided support you’ve provided me throughout this experience, especially my parents. I would not be able to balance everything in my life without their support both emotionally and financially-I’m extremely blessed to have the most amazing role models to look up to. It’s because of both of you that I’m the sassy, determined, passionate woman I am today. Thank you to my Miss Harbor Cities directors: Abbey, Jenny, and Danielle for empowering me and pushing me to unleash the potential I’ve always possessed, I wouldn’t have broken into the Top 5 without your guidance. Also, SHOUT OUT to Abbey on playing a key role in me achieving the Overall Interview Award (Miss Harbor Cities 2015, Jessica Johnson won it last year thanks to Abbey’s efforts as well). Thank you to the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program board of directors and volunteers for their countless hours of hard work and dedication behind the scenes to ensure everything went accordingly all week, your efforts are sincerely appreciated. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the 24 other women I had the privilege of spending the week with. I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been competing and I owe that state of mind to all of you.Courtney Pelot, you are an inspiration. Your zest for life, desire to share your platform, and passion for the Miss America Organization are admirable and I know great things are in store for you-not just during your year of service as Miss Wisconsin 2016, but in your lifetime. I am thankful we were able to get so close during the week, I wouldn’t have wanted to laugh and decompress with anyone else! I will be right by your side, cheering you on at Miss America and being a #1 fan as you share your message of literacy throughout the state of Wisconsin, go out there and make a difference gorgeous! And always remember, “You don’t choose the dog, the dog chooses you.” #ILoveCourtanna
Yes, Miss Wisconsin 2016 marked my fourth time vying for the chance to serve the state as Miss Wisconsin. It was my fourth time, but not my final. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with the Miss America Organization, “Miss” contestants can compete beginning at age 17 until they reach 24. Since I will still technically be 24 years of age during Miss America 2018 as I don’t turn 25 (or “age out” in pageant lingo) I am able to compete one more time.
Reflecting back on my journey over the past five years of my involvement and this year in particular overwhelms me with fulfillment and gratitude. I am ecstatic to have placed as 4th Runner-Up to Miss Wisconsin 2016, Courtney Pelot and finally have broke into a Top 5 Finalist position. The first three years I competed, I finished as Top 11 Semi-Finalist and while I was extremely grateful to have made the esteemed Top 11, I was even more thrilled to see progress this year. I remember listening to a Pageant Junkies podcast last summer on Miss Iowa, Taylor Wiebers when she stated that the previous three years she had competed she knew she had what it took to make it to state. In turn, she hadn’t truthfully put as much time, dedication, and energy into preparing for state as she could have. Her final year of eligibility (her fourth time when she won), she channeled everything she had into preparing above and beyond what she had done in the past. Hearing her testimony made me tear up, realizing in that moment, I too possessed more capability than I ever thought I did. Throughout college I balanced multiple part-time jobs and a full credit load which made it difficult to adequately prepare for Miss Wisconsin each year. This year, I did things differently. I focused everything I had into improving my interview, honing in on my talent routine, exercising on a regular basis and eating healthy, and embracing the unique qualities that make me, Tianna.
Obviously the goal was to become Miss Wisconsin, that should be the aspiration for any woman preparing for state. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and you know what? It’s all good. God’s timing is absolutely everything and I strongly feel that the La Crosse, Wisconsin chapter in my book of life isn’t finished quite yet. There’s a number of “bucket list” items I wish to fulfill in the La Crosse area and I see this as Him telling me I need to focus on my career, gain more experience, live life to the fullest in this beautiful Mississippi Valley Region, and continue expanding my platform, “Let’s Talk: Skill Sets 4 Success” that is still relatively new. I always say, “You either win or you don’t win. You never lose.” Walking away as the 4th Runner-Up provided me with a lesson to be learned and a reflective moment in time, but I did not lose anything. Rather, I gained knowledge, self-confidence, inspiration, a deeper sense of self, and a lot of friendships-that everyone is a “win” in my book.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during college and the past year of living on my own and being a full-time working adult is that despite your best attempt to lay out your future, “You make plans and God laughs in your face.” Fate is a funny thing at times, but it always leads you down the path you were meant to follow. I am honored to continue serving the Manitowoc and Two Rivers area as Miss Harbor Cities 2016. I see this as an opportunity to continue sharing my platform, cross items off my bucket list in La Crosse, and advance my career; all while continuing to become the person I am meant to be. Thank you all for your continued love, kind words, and undivided support throughout my MAO journey-stay tuned friends, the best is yet to come.
“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25
Follow the rest of my year of service on Instagram @MissHarborCites, Twitter @HarborCities, and on Facebook by “liking” the Miss Harbor Cities Scholarship Pageant page.