#TheSisterhoodIsReal and it’s on fire

The saying goes, “Some women fear the fire and others simply become it.” A fitting representation of the women who compete within the Miss America Organization and strive to be advocates for change, voices for those without an outlet to share their own messages, and positive trailblazers in their communities, schools, and work.

As you may have heard, recent allegations surrounding comments made via email by the Miss America Organization’s FORMER CEO, Sam Haskell have caused an uproar from previous and current titleholders and volunteers at the local, state, and national level; and rightfully so. Sorry Sam, you messed with the wrong group of women. P.S. He resigned as of Saturday, December 23 // Click here to read more.

To sum up a series of degrading, hateful comments written by Haskell … let’s just say he spewed body-shaming comments upon a past Miss America, referenced a Miss America he wished death upon, and tarnished a number of other business opportunities for both the program as a whole and previous titleholders (this just skims the very surface of what was revealed). Now, to save myself the frustration and disgust in retyping the details, if you’d like to read the entire article written by the Huffington Post, feel free to do so here: “The Miss America Emails: How the Pageant CEO Really Talks About the Winners”

Former Miss America CEO Leonard Horn also urged Haskell to leave the organization, saying, “Resign Sam…..your attitude towards these women, as expressed in your e-mails, is blatantly antagonistic to the core mission of MAO.” -The Huffington Post

As someone who spent seven years of her young adult life competing in this program, a program that prides itself on providing educational and empowerment opportunities for women to succeed, I write this post to support not only my “sisters,” but the state representatives and Miss Americas I look up to. I write to those who have read this news without prior knowledge about this organization and quickly jump to misconceptions regarding the women who compete in the MAO. Lastly, I write to the hundreds of volunteers that are true leaders and fully understand just how impactful involvement in this program can be. In a statement from Forever Miss Americas they said, “as dedicated members of communities, businesses, and families throughout the U.S., we stand firm against bullying and shaming, especially of women, with derogatory terms meant to belittle and demean.” This group of talented, driven, compassionate women who have gone on to have successful careers in politics, music and performance, medicine, and television have taken action and created a petition in an effort to remove Haskell (check) and other board members who knew what was going on behind-the-scenes and didn’t say anything // Sign for change here

“The behavior of Miss America Organization leadership, specifically Sam Haskell, Josh Randle, Tammy Haddad and Lynn Weidner, is deplorable, as well as those who sat by while such derisive comments were passed around and didn’t object. We collectively call for their immediate resignation.” -Forever Miss Americas

“We have a seat at the table not because of a man, but because of a sisterhood founded on the principle of empowering one another. The cruelty, insensitivity, and misogyny demonstrated by Miss America Leadership is disgusting and there is certainly no place for it in an organization focused on supporting and uplifting women.” -Miss Wisconsin 2017

“These women are the only sisters I’ve ever had. They are strong. They are scholars. They are leaders. They are selfless. They are endearing. They are accomplished. They demand respect. And respect is what they deserve. Big changes are happening in our organization, but the #service #scholarship #style #success and #sisterhood will remain our foundation. I am proud to be a titleholder in the Miss America Organization. Together, we will continue to be women of incredible worth.” -Miss Iowa 2017

I have felt nothing but support throughout my many years of competing at the local and state level in Wisconsin and can attest to the fact that many other women across the country feel the same way. Don’t believe me? Go search “#TheSisterhoodIsReal” on Instagram or Twitter. With that being said, I cannot fathom the devastation the countless women who were targeted in these messages are feeling at this time — iconic Miss Americas like Mallory Hagan, Kate Shindle, and Gretchen Carlson. It’s clear that the program is long overdue for some changes and the time for change is now. No one, especially a person in a leadership position should talk poorly about those who comprise their entire organization. Haskell’s choices to denote his character and share such uncensored thoughts are representative of his personality and malicious intent, but are by no means a depiction of past and current titleholders.

Statement from the Miss America Organization Board of Directors:

“The Miss America Organization Board of Directors today voted to suspend Executive Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell. Mr. Haskell, in support of the organization, has agreed to abide by the Board’s decision. The Board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained. In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”

Women within this organization possess a desire to share their talents (dancing, singing, musical capabilities, etc.) and accomplishments, make a positive impact in their communities, gain scholarships to further their education, and most importantly — they aspire to grow as successful members of society. Along that journey, inevitably, strong relationships between contestants and volunteers are fostered. The bond between women within the MAO is a unique one, after all, get twenty plus (or more) women together who share the same “Type A” goal-setting, driven, selfless, compassionate attitude and something magnificent is bound to unfold. This organization has and always will hold a special place in my heart as it’s a quintessential part of my life story and I have no doubt that justice will be served, making the program stronger than ever before.

“The Miss America Organization has gone through it’s fair share of ups and downs. But I know that after spending 7 years competing, and willingly the rest of my life helping other women succeed, that this organization at its heart is not about the leadership. It is not about pitiful and hateful words flung between disrespectful people. This organization is about the thousands of women who commit countless hours toward bettering themselves and their communities. My heart is warmed by the fight, power, and poise of how every MAO woman has responded.” -Jessica Johnson, local titleholder in New York and Wisconsin

Jessica added, that during this challenging time, she goes every sister does not forget that “WE are what makes this organization and WE hold the power to mold it how we see it.”

Let us, humanity as a whole revert to the time old phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And God forbid if you do have harsh words to share, find a tactful, private way to do so or know that karma is bound to catch up with you eventually. Let us come together in a time of despair with utmost love and respect as we advocate for change like so many of us titleholders have done time and time again with our platforms. #TogetherWeAre EMPOWERED


Fifth and Final, That’s a Wrap

Hang on tight, work hard, embrace the moment, and trust in God’s timing.

And in what seems like the blink of an eye my seven year journey within the Miss America Organization is complete.  I am so incredibly honored to have finished as First  Runner-Up to our new Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and have won the Overall Evening Gown Award this year at Miss Wisconsin.  As I reflect on this experience I ask myself, how do I conceptualize seven years?  How does one sum up an elongated opportunity that has changed their life for the better?  Here goes nothing…

I started competing as a senior in high school with a desire to dance; to perform on stage and have fun.  At that time I had no idea the impact the Miss America Organization would have on my life.  At that time, I didn’t fully understand the scholarship opportunities that came with the job of a titleholder or just how desperately I would need those funds to help guide me through college.  At that time, I didn’t know the successes that God had in store for me and the frustrating lessons he would test my determination and compassion with; but as I look back on every experience I now know all those pursuits entailed intended purpose on His behalf.I competed in three local pageants before winning my first title on my fourth attempt as a sophomore in college.  That job, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012 lifted me up in a time of emotional disparity and struggle.  It surrounded me with caring people in the community that motivated me and showed me the correct career path I was intended to follow.  I then was blessed with the titles of Miss Seven Rivers and Miss Madison Capital-City as I continued to set high goals for myself and worked to positively impact the communities I served through my platform and volunteerism.  Over the course of those first few years, this program pushed me out of my comfort zone (well the minimal one that was there) and enabled me to soar to new heights I didn’t know were possible.  I placed as a Top 11 Semi-Finalist those first few years as I navigated myself through college and worked to discover my true and without even knowing in retrospect what was happening before my eyes.The title of Miss Harbor Cities 2016 changed my life in various ways, unique to what I’d experienced in the past.  I was finally at a point where I really grasped what the position of Miss Wisconsin entailed and knew that I possessed the necessary qualities to take on the job and do it justice. Jenny, Danielle, and Abbey, my directors held me accountable for my rehearsals, challenged me through countless interview practices, and allowed me to showcase who “Tianna Vanderhei” was.  After finally placing in the Top 5 and winning Overall Interview at Miss Wisconsin 2016, I knew I couldn’t step away without giving it one final shot.

Winning Miss Badgerland at the Miss Wisconsin Sweeps competition in late April granted me one, fifth and final chance to vie for the job of Miss Wisconsin.  With less time than I ever had to prepare in the past, I focused diligently on exercising, eating healthy, drilling interview questions, and getting wardrobe items finalized around my full-time career as a Multi-Media Journalist (which trust me isn’t easy).  I made a number of school appearances in the less than two months before Miss Wisconsin, held our 3rd Annual CMN Hospitals garage sale (and raised $900 for the kids), and situated my life as if I wasn’t returning to La Crosse.  A great deal of success starts from within, it stems from envisioning your dreams and believing in your own potential.  In fact, on autograph cards to kids I often write, “Believe in the power of your dreams!  You can be anything and do anything you wish!”  Because let’s be honest, sometimes we all need a little extra encouragement.  Before I knew it, finals night arrived and I was an anxious, hot mess.  I took a brief nap before we left the hotel for the auditorium and LOTS of deep breaths.  At that point I told myself it was all in God’s hands and it truly was.  I felt content and was hopeful of making Top 11 for the fifth consecutive year, with an opportunity to compete again in every phase of competition and for my family and friends to watch.

I was called ninth.  My heart still dropped when I heard my name and I rushed to the center of the stage to thank the judges and join the other semi-finalists; hugging each and every one of them as I made my way to the end of the line.  I took each phase of competition as it came on Saturday evening, focusing on strutting my stuff and having fun in swimsuit before transitioning my mindset to talent.  I’ve danced since I was five and will tell you I have NEVER danced the way I performed on finals night.  My turns were spot on (no pun intended), my moves were strong and fluid, and my emotional presentation was projected straight from my heart; I left every ounce of passion I had on that stage.  In fact, I started crying as I bowed on stage and gracefully ran off to the tan stage area gasping for air with a huge smile across my face.  Never, in all my years of dancing have I ever performed the way I did that night and for that I am thankful.Intermission came and passed and evening gown flew by and suddenly they were calling names for the Top 5 Finalists.  My heart was racing, just praying for my name and then I heard it.  My thoughts in that moment?  “Breathe, focus on the on-stage question, your heel is tangled up in your gown…untangle your gown! Smile!”

I was asked what the worst kind of discrimination is, an open ended question.  I talked about how with tensions being so high in our country it’s important to respect others values, morals, and viewpoints.  At a time when there is an intense political divide and we tend to see things as black and white, people need to realize there is grey area; stressing that we need to not discriminate against others views but rather appreciate their perspectives.  I felt at ease about my answer and the conversational aspect of how I responded to it; to not only the judges, but the audience as well.

Then, the awards came.  I’ll be honest as soon as April Haldeman was called as 4th Runner-Up and I heard Erin O’Brien’s name for 3rd Runner-Up I don’t remember much else.  I had to ask someone who was 2nd Runner-Up after the fact because I stood their spaced out praying.  Seven years.  It was a dream of mine for seven years, building consistently with each experience, title, and relationship I made.  It all culminated to that one moment in time, standing on that stage hand in hand with McKenna who just so happened to be my roommate that entire week in Oshkosh.And then, I heard “Miss Badgerland, Tianna Vanderhei.”  Disappointment, sadness, and frustration consumed me as I watched McKenna be crowned Miss Wisconsin 2017 and walk the runway.

I also felt an immense amount of gratitude, accomplishment, and optimism-knowing full heartedly that God has something greater in store for me.

There’s so many people that have positively impacted my journey and quite frankly my life over this elongated experience and I’m beyond lucky to have so many generous, compassionate, and supportive people in my life.Thank you to my roommate, dance drill sergeant, and cheerleader, Liv Mercer.  We did this together!  Thank you for helping me with interview, watching me practice walking patterns while you recorded and were adamant about me doing everything over and over again.  Mentally and emotionally you have been my rock this year; I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.  I’m so blessed to have you and your family in my life.Thank you to Ken and Deb Morrall and Caitlin Machol for pushing me even further out of my comfort zone all while encouraging me to embrace my true self.  You helped me envision myself on tha Miss America stage, encouraging me to see the picture than what was in front of me in Oshkosh; which in turn expanded my level of compete.  Thank you for your selfless devotion to this program.  All three of you (Caitlin not pictured but certainly present in spirit and preparations all the way from LA) have and with no doubt will continue to impact young women’s lives for the better.  Crown or no crown, you are now a part of my life-there’s no getting rid of me!Thank you to Lisa Horman and Amy Ryan, my very first directors when I was honored with the life-changing job of Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest.  We were rookies together and I’d say we did a pretty great job of tackling that year as a team!  Thank you to Abby Ryan, my Miss Seven Rivers director for your devotion to this program long after your days as a contestant concluded.  You make a difference in so many young women’s lives and it is sincerely appreciated.  Ron and Joe, my fabulous Madison Capital-City directors, you two carry a bright light with you that shines into all those you come in contact with.  Thank you for your years of guidance, laughs, and encouragement of not only your titleholders but any women who reach out to you.

Joel and Marilyn, your generosity and drive to help people further their educational aspirations is astonishing.  Thank you for always cheering me on and helping me, I received countless compliments on my new talent costume and felt incredible in it.  Love you both!PROST to my incredible Oktoberfest Royal Family (that includes my 2012 family and all those who have come before us and succeeded us).  I cried twice during the week in Oshkosh, once Saturday afternoon at rehearsal and Saturday evening before I left my hotel for the show when I received a video of my Festmaster, Brad Sturm along with a number of family members and grenadiers saluting me with an Ein Prosit.  You all came into my life at a very difficult time for me and uplifted me mentally and emotionally.  The best part?  Once a part of Oktoberfest, always a part of Oktoberfest.  It’s no surprise the support of the La Crosse community is unmatched, but there’s nothing like the love and encouragement fest provides.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and for devoting yourselves to the community and the people within it.

Courtney Pelot, my forever Miss Wisconsin-if I had to determine the best thing I’ve taken away from this program it’s without a doubt the friendships I’ve made; especially you.  Late nights in my hotel room during Miss Wisconsin week 2016 turned into a wonderful bond between us.  I am extremely proud of you and all you’ve accomplished this year and am ecstatic I was able to see you representing our state in Atlantic City.  Time to just be Court and Tia, AKA Collectivo Coffee dates on State Street, copious amounts of Rosé, and Badger Football game day…bring it on!To my family…

“Family isn’t defined only by last names and genetic ties; it’s defined by commitment and love.  It means showing up when they need you the most. It means having each other’s backs.  It means loving one another in their darkest moments and times of defeat.  It means never giving up on one another.”

I don’t think any of us knew just how deep we were getting into the Miss America Organization when Morgan first started competing in the fall of 2007, but after 10 years I’d say mom, dad, Ridge, and Reece have a firm grasp of this scholarship program and the benefits it reaps.  To my grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, and family friends-you have no idea how much it means to me to have you there.  Thank you for your encouragement over the years, I love you all.

Ridge and Reece, you are without a doubt one of the greatest blessings in my life and in recent years have become two of my best friends.  Your maturity and selfless mentality constantly astonishes me.  Thank you for sitting through thirteen pageants (keep in mind that’s not counting Morgan’s competitions), cheering loudly, and giving the best hugs in moments when I’ve needed that supportive presence more than you know.  I love you both so much.Dad, I know how difficult it was at times to watch local and state pageants because of just how caring you are.  Anyone who knows you knows you wear your heart on your sleeve and that there’s a lot of emotions behind that sarcastic front.  I remember you saying to me one day, “Obviously I want you to do well, you’re my daughter, but I get so close with these young women and learn their stories and want them all to do well.”  I think that statement is a true representation of this experience as a whole and the people we’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way.  From overlooking charges for dresses on your credit card, to heartfelt talks, to anxiously awaiting to hear my name as you sat on the edge of your seat in the audience, you’ve endured a full spectrum of emotions watching me compete.  Thank you for being a constant in my life, for teaching me not to take successes and obstacles too seriously, and for believing in me.  I love you.Morgan, what began with your desire to serve Wisconsin Rapids, fueled a fire within me to get involved with the MAO.  Despite arguing as siblings typically do and stressing that we are more unalike than alike, we found common ground and dreams within this process.  I know you wanted this just as badly, if not more (if that’s actually possible) than I did and it breaks your heart to watch your little sister’s dream dissipate and not be able to do anything about it; but it’s okay.  We’ve both achieved a lot thanks to this program and gained a great deal of scholarship money for school (#winning).  We, together have left an imprint on our communities that we’ve represented, the state, and this program and heck we should be proud of that.  I’ve been singing and dancing by your side since 1993 and I have no plans to stop any time soon!  This may be the end of this chapter, but we have plenty of other ones to look forward to like obtaining your new title, “Mrs.” in August.

Mom, I know we didn’t want it to end this way.  I was really hoping for more long car rides across the state with the best co-pilot a woman could ask for (in the Miss Wisconsin mobile of course), but as fate would have it…God laughed at our plans.  Nothing has tested my mental, physical, and emotional strengths or pushed me out of my comfort zone more than being involved in this program.  You have been ready at the drop of a hat to assist me with whatever I needed: to buy a new outfit for an appearance or a rather pricey gown for competition, to get me a water, pick up coffee, or purchase adhesive bras during Miss Wisconsin week when I ran into wardrobe issues, you name it!  You woke up at the crack of dawn some mornings to accompany me to appearances and never stopped smiling.  Long days filled with excessive trips to Starbucks and Marcel the Shell pep talks that left us laughing so hard we cried have fostered some of my fondest memories.  It may not have been in the greater plans for me to be Miss Wisconsin, however, this program has brought me closer to the people in my life that mean the most and strengthened our mother, daughter relationship immensely.  To my look alike, role model, and best friend –  love you more than I can ever express to you in words or actions and I’m very appreciative of all that you do not only for me, but for our family and others.  Here’s to conjuring up my next goal in life and fearlessly chasing after it together.  XOI am humbled to be named 1st Runner-Up to our poised, accomplished, and determined Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and look forward to seeing what things she achieves during her year of service.  Now McKenna, go win Miss America girl!  After all, it’s happened before!  But in all seriousness, back to my question…how does one conceptualize seven years?  I find ease in my firm belief that everything happens for a reason and timing is everything.  This is by no means a loss, but an exceptional lesson that cultivated over that lengthy time frame.  I find fulfillment in all the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the relationships that will last for many, many years to come.  Thank you to everyone who has believed in me, offered kind words, or affected my journey in some facet, without you none of this would’ve been possible.

Much love,

Just Tianna

Preliminary Competition: [✓]

So how does the competition work, you ask?  

For me, competition began on Wednesday morning when my private ten minute interview with the judges took place.  It felt amazing!  Started off focused on my platform logo and weekly blog posts highlighting aspects of my platform, “Let’s Talk: Skill Sets 4 Success.”  I was able to talk about President Trump and Ivanka being in Wisconsin Tuesday to talk about the workforce and blatant skills gap in our state and country and just how important it is to empower our youth in order to foster college readiness and success in their careers.  I also was able to talk about my struggles with academics in college and finding the right degree that fit with my interests and passions!  I am so at peace with how that chat went and wish (as always) I could’ve had more time to talk with them!Preliminary on stage competition began on Wednesday evening, with all twenty-six women taking the stage to compete in different areas.My group (contestants 14-26) participated in On-Stage Question and Swimsuit.  While the first group (contestants 1-13) competed in Talent and Evening Gown on Wednesday.  The energy and excitement were emanating backstage prior to the show and from the audience as soon as the curtains opened, still gives me chills!  I will admit, as soon as pre-show prayer wrapped up I had to wipe away tears as all of my emotions culminated in that moment.  Before I knew it the music cued up and the show began, leaving me little time to process things but rather embrace the adrenaline and go forth!

Picking my poison from the fish bowl…
The questions included current event topics ranging from healthcare, to Bill Crosby’s trial, to the Russian investigation.  I was asked if transgender individuals should be able to compete within The Miss America Organization.  How did I answer?  I touched on how this program promotes inclusion and opportunities and I believe I someone wants to compete, they should be able to do so.  However, currently it states in the contract a contestant must be female at birth so unless the Miss America Board chooses to change that in the future, it’s out of my indivisible control.
Thanks to The Roxy for an outstanding dinner on Monday and for sponsoring shirts!
I also competed in swimsuit on Wednesday evening, feeling oh so confident and sexy as I strutted across the stage in my blue suit from Everything But Water.  I would like to thank stadium stairs, extra protein and fresh fruit, and kale chips for my abs (ha)!  Remember, 80 percent of how you look when trying to tone up, look good, and most importantly feel good is what you eat!  Congratulations to Erin O’Brien on winning preliminary swimsuit and Gina Milliacca on winning talent Wednesday evening!Thursday, we (the contestants) got to sleep in a little bit, leaving the hotel a little before 9 a.m. to drive to Citgo and take a photo in our “Fueling Good” shirts they sponsored for the day.  If you aren’t aware, Citgo is one of the major sponsors of the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program, providing Miss Wisconsin with gas money to utilize throughout her year of service. 

After the photo, we had dress rehearsal at the auditorium to walk through the entire show in wardrobe for Thursday evening.  Following that, we were able to go to lunch with our parents and give them a tour of the backstage area.Thursday evening I competed in Talent and Evening Gown.  My dance this year is a lyrical piece to a rendition of “Lean On Me” by The Tenors, an acapella group.  I chose this piece to represent my struggles and perseverance over the course of this seven year journey I’ve been on within the Miss America Organization.  I’m extremely stubborn and have had to learn that it’s okay to lean on others when I need that extra support, rather than constantly being the one exuding compassion.  This dance is for all of you: family, friends, and people within this program that have been a part of my experience.I’ll be honest, my dance didn’t feel incredibly perfect, but I nailed my triple at the start of routine and felt as though I radiated more emotion that ever before.  I laid it all out on the floor and that’s all I could have hoped for.  Congratulations to April Haldeman for winning preliminary swimsuit and Catherine Smith for winning talent on Thursday night!Today (Friday) we have our annual Swinging for Scholarships golf outing, a laid back afternoon and then the Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen Pageant later tonight!  Best of luck to all the ladies, especially my girls Savannah, Annie, and Sarah-rock it!

Let the Good Times Roll

Let’s recap Monday and Tuesday of Miss Wisconsin week since I finally was able to connect to WiFi on my laptop.  And have a moment to type out this post for that matter, we stay very busy in Oshkosh this week as contestants!

Monday morning we arrived just after 8 a.m. at The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Recreational Center on campus, spending a few hours there initially.  During that time we worked on opening number, closing number production, evening gown walking patterns, swimsuit walking patterns, and on-stage question (phew)!  We broke for lunch and met with Shriners and veterans from the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.  We ride on the bus all week, aka “The Golden Cadillac” pictured above with “Miss Wisconsin” painted on the windows.While I was sad to not see or be able to connect with Sally Olson whom I had met last year and kept in touch with, I was delighted to meet Jim.  Miss Milwaukee Area, Haley Lynam and I were lucky to have lunch with him and learned that he served in the Korean War as a chef.  He’s traveled to countless places over the years, but loves Wisconsin.After his time in the service, he work as a chef at a hotel near Lambeau Field for 22 years, stirring up meals for visiting NFL teams when they were in town.  One day, he had a gentleman walk in and ask him to make him the best steak he could.  Any guesses as to who it was?  My man, the one and only Vince Lombardi (super jealous).We went back to UW-Oshkosh for rehearsal in the afternoon before getting ready for The Merchant’s dinner at The Waters.  This is a semi-formal dinner at a gorgeous restaurant on the water that allows us a chance to mingle with generous sponsors of the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program and meet the judges in a more informal setting prior to interviews beginning.  The weather has been horrid and humid with storms and showers on and off, but a key quality of any titleholder (especially Miss Wisconsin) is one’s ability to “roll with the punches.” Shout out to The Roxy and the waitstaff for an incredible dinner.  The food was absolutely phenomenal and the cheesecake was so delicious I enjoyed two pieces (thanks April)!Post Merchant’s I hit the gym at the hotel, running a few miles before lifting.  I wasn’t able to fall asleep the best on Sunday night due to excitement so I figured a solid sweat session would help clear my mind and boost my alertness the next day (and it did).Tuesday, my group (group two) didn’t have interview so we departed around 8:15 a.m. for the auditorium to practice walking patterns on the set and talent run throughs.  All twenty-six of us convened in the afternoon for a picnic lunch provided by the Kiwanis Club of Oshkosh followed by a group rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.  Thank you to the Kiwanis Club for keeping us energized and ready to conquer our day, your support is sincerely appreciated!

  • Interview, Wednesday morning
  • Wednesday preliminary competition: On-Stage Question and Lifestyle and Fintess in Swimwear
  • Thursday preliminary competition: Talent and Evening Gown

Embracing the Powers of Sisterhood

The Miss Wisconsin Class of 2017 was encouraged to share a previous titleholder whom they look up to.  Truth be told, I can’t choose just one.

Before I even started competing within the Miss America Organization there were a couple women I looked up to, after I began my involvement directly, that pool grew immensely.  While many women have trailblazed paths before me and exuded many characteristics that I have found admirable, there a handful of indidvuals whose influence has directly touched me.
First off, I remember watching Katie Williams Tomsyck on the Miss Wisconsin Rapids stage and thinking to myself, “I’m going to compete when I can.”  Katie competed for the job of Miss Wisconsin many times and ultimately never achieved that goal, but she undoubtedly left a legacy within the MAO that will continue for years to come.  She carried herself with poise and grace, prepared full-heartedly leading up to state each year, and always presented an upbeat attitude.  She encouraged me (and my sister) to compete in Miss Wisconsin Rapids and continues to empower me in various ways.  Thank you, Katie for your positive impact-whether it be directly or indirectly your dedication to this program is inspiring.My big sister Morgan Vanderhei is another previous titleholder who I admire in more ways than one.  She only ever vied for Miss Wisconsin Rapids and did so a total of four times (might I add) because she wanted to represent our home town greater than anything else.  She worked her butt off and persevered through all the bumps along the way.  I’ve seen few titleholders devote as much time and energy into their communities as I witnessed my sister do during her year of service.  She wore the crown and sash as a badge of honor, with an overpowering desire to help those around her, connect with children, raise awareness about her platform, and support CMN Hospitals.  Morgan, thank you for setting an exemplary example of what it means to be a titleholder and for continuing to support me along my journey.

Raeanna Johnson was one of the first Miss Wisconsins I met after earning my very first title, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest.  She inspired me instantaneously, possessing the courage to share her family’s struggles with her brother and how that affected her.  If you’ve seen her speak, you also have witnessed the captivating presence she presents whenever she has a microphone in her hand.  Rae, thank you for being a positive role model, for being unapologetically yourself and for sharing your knowledge with me over the years.

My first year at Miss Wisconsin I was lucky enough to spend the week with Miss Paula Mae.  We were in the same preliminary group and I happened to be right next to her in placement for opening number (so I got to vibe off of her impeccable dance skills).  I vividly remember the first time I met Paula earlier that year at a local pageant.  She was rows away from me greeting someone and I was immediately drawn to her vivacious personality.  That kind of presence that takes over a room the moment she walks in, grasping peoples’ attention with a genuine smile and exudes utmost compassion that shines from within.  It’s no surprise she went on to become Miss Wisconsin 2013 and if you know her, you’d surely agree with me.  Paula, thank you for being a positive light in so many peoples’ lives and for never being afraid to be yourself, but more importantly HAVE FUN.Although I’ve spotlighted a handful of women, there’s countless others I could go on and on about.  Tracy Wursterbarth, Kimberly Larsen Sawyer, Tara Pizer, Kate Gorman, Stephanie Klett, trust me folks…there’s many women who have been involved in this program who have impacted me in profound ways (but you probably don’t want to read a blog post for thirty or more minutes).  The fact of the matter is, titleholders empower one another and aim to help younger women who are currently or hope to compete some day.

Ladies, thanks for leaving big heels to fill; that’s what this program is all about-sisterhood with a servant’s heart.

Miss Badgerland 2017 Is…

Faintness, joy, and relief rushed through my veins the moment I heard “Tianna Vanderhei” at the Miss Wisconsin Sweeps pageant in April.

I knew after Miss Wisconsin 2016 that “Sweeps” (pending at that time it was held a second year) would be the only local pageant I was eligible to compete in due to the fact that Miss Harbor Cities, my previous title was so late in the pageant season leading up to state.  While some titleholders in the past have given up their titles early to compete for another local for varying circumstances, I’ve always felt in my personal viewpoint that it is in that woman’s contract and duties to serve that community for the full year and see the job through.  In turn, after taking a mental break and concentrating on work for a few months after Miss Wisconsin last June, I began preparations.  I exercised more than I had in the past, pushed myself to eat healthier than ever before, focused on having fun with my friends and spending quality time with my family, and checked items off my personal list I had wanted to accomplish for quite some time (like getting my hunting license).

For months, people kept asking me what I was running for and when I replied they would say, “Well you’ll get a title.  Don’t worry about it.”  Which typically followed with me saying, “Thank you, but you never know.  I have full faith that everything happens for a reason and if it is meant to be it will happen.  But I still need to put in the time and work as I am doing.”  Yes, I’ve had success on a local level within the Miss America Organization, but never for once do I take that for granted.  Nothing in life that’s worth having comes easy and I was taught that from a very, very young age.Before I knew it, it was pageant day.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous because I most certainly was, but I always say that nerves are good.  They mean that you care enough about something to put yourself out there and risk falling.  They mean that you genuinely possess a deep passion for whatever you’re pursuing and that’s worth the short-term nerves.

My private interview with the judges felt good, but not great.  I remember thinking that I conveyed everything I wanted to discuss: my struggles, my accomplishments, my passion for this state, and why I should go on to compete for Miss Wisconsin; however, I didn’t feel as though it was as good as state last year.  Nonetheless, I was content with it and mentally moved on to focus on the production.

As soon as the curtain open and the show began, time flew by as it always does.  I Beyoncéd (I’m making that a verb) my way through Lifestyle and Fitness in swimsuit then made my way back stage to get ready for talent, stretch, and practice my routine in the hallway. My roommate, Liv and I had spent months working on my new talent routine.  A dance to Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”  I chose this piece because it talks about finding yourself and investing in our youth which is precisely what I strive to do with my platform, “Let’s Talk: Skill Sets 4 Success.”  Most importantly, it overviews a journey of facing hardships, overcoming obstacles, and ultimately embracing who you are and that is the journey I’ve taken within the Miss America Organizaiton over the course of the past six and a half years.  

My dance felt amazing, well aside from prepping for my fouetté turns in a divot on stage.  I moved onto on-stage question, answering a question regarding spending in relation to politics, walked across the stage in my evening gown soaking up the moment, and before I knew it crowning had arrived.

First up…”Miss Wood Violet 2017 is Madeline Kumm!”  (*breathe Tia…breathe*)

Next, “Miss Great Lakes 2017 is…Gina Miliacca!”  (*There’s plenty of women on this stage who deserve a chance to go on to Miss Wisconsin, it’s okay if it’s not in His plan for you. Relax, it’s okay.*)

“And the final member of the Miss Wisconsin Class of 2017…Miss Badgerland 2017 is…Tianna Vanderhei!”  (*TEARS*)
The rush of emotions that overcome you when your name is called is enough to make you space out in that moment (and trust me that doesn’t go away no matter how many times you compete).  My head fell into my hands and tears instantly began to fall, trying to catch my breath in what felt like minutes I stepped out of line, walking to the center of stage to meet Courtney.  I threw my arms around her, shaking uncontrollably.  I did it!  All my hard work paid off and God had blessed me with a fifth and final time to share my story, impact people’s lives for the better, and vie for the job of Miss Wisconsin once more.I’ve said it before and I’ll state it again, this isn’t just something I do.  I believe God fuels your soul with purpose. He provides you with guidance, in turn leading you down the correct path you’re meant to follow in life.  For me, that’s connecting with people, volunteering my time, and serving with a gracious heart and I’m ecstatic to do so as your Miss Badgerland 2017.My accomplishments would not be possible without the endless love and support of my family and friends.  Mom, dad, Morgan, Ridge, Reece, Grandma Bonnie, Grandma Carole and Grandpa Jahn, Liv, Denise, Courtney, Haley, Jessica, Lynam, Katie…the list goes on and on.  My prior and current directors, pageant personnel, coworkers, and even community connections-thank YOU all for the laughs, for believing in me, for encouraging me, and lifting me up in moments when I have doubted myself or my capabilities.  The fate of my future lies in my hands and I cannot wait to take the Miss Wisconsin stage in just under a month to see what God has in store for me.

With a grateful heart,

Miss Badgerland 2017

Tickets, Tickets, Get Your Tickets!

Trying to find events to fill up your summer calendar?  Want to watch talented, driven, compassionate women from around the state compete for the chance to serve Wisconsin?

If so, it’s your lucky day!  Tickets for Miss Wisconsin 2017 are now on sale on the Miss Wisconsin website.  Preliminary competition will take place on Wednesday, June 14 and Thursday, June 15-those tickets are only $15 and are available online.


How does preliminary competition work, you ask?  There are 26 total women vying for the job of Miss Wisconsin 2017.  At Miss Wisconsin Prep Day which took place on Saturday, April 22 (SEE: Miss Wisconsin Prep Day post) titleholders chose respective contestant numbers, which split the pool into two groups.  ContestantsThe first 1-13 will have their private, 10 minute interview with the judging panel on Tuesday morning.  They will then compete in preliminary talent and evening gown on Wednesday and swimsuit and onstage question on Thursday.

The second group, contestants 14-26 will have their private interview on Wednesday morning.  Those contestants will compete in swimsuit and onstage question on Wednesday night and talent and evening gown on Thursday night.  Essentially, the two groups alternate in order to provide the audience with a complete production each night.

The Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen pageant will take place on Friday, June 16.  You can purchase those tickets online as well for $20.  At that time, the miss contestants get a little bit of a break, embracing the chance to sit in the audience, relax, and cheer on the teens.

court and kylene
Photo credit: Miss Wisconsin 2016, Courtney Pelot.  Follow her on Instagram @MissAmericaWI

These two lovely ladies are the current Miss Wisconsin (Courtney Pelot) and Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen (Kylene Spanbauer) if you aren’t familiar.  They’ve spent the past ten months or so volunteering throughout the state, sharing their platforms, and making a positive impact on our communities.  So when will a new representative take over the Miss position?  Courtney will crown her successor on Saturday, June 17 at Alberta Kimball Auditorium in Oshkosh.  Tickets for finals are $40 and yet again, are available for purchase online (technology is glorious, isn’t it?).

Come out and support the largest scholarship provider for young women in the country at a local and state level.  Hope to see you there!

Have questions about the show?  Please don’t hesitate to email me!

Miss Wisconsin Prep Day: [✓]

Miss America Prep Day has come and gone and I’m eager for the next two months to pass by (but not too quick).  It was great to be in Oshkosh again and reunite with the Class of 2017, as the excitement only continues to grow for Miss Wisconsin in June.

So what happens at “Prep Day,” you ask?  All titleholders, both Miss and Teen received a schedule in advance slating times when they would perform their talents on stage.  This gives the lighting and sound technicians a chance to test lighting with costumes.  It also provides contestants with an opportunity to mark the stage and get a feel for the environment.  We were also given a taping schedule for production, you’ll just have to wait for the show to see what that entailed!

Sometimes we actually take nice photos that don’t involve puppy Snapchat filters!

Aside from re-connecting, great conversations, dancing, singing, and a lot of energy consuming both Alberta Kimbal High School and the hotel where we spend our time during Miss Wisconsin week in June, all contestants gathered for large meetings with local and state directors to gain insight into the job of Miss Wisconsin and Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen.  At the separate meetings for Misses and Teens, contestant numbers were chosen based on ad sales for the program book.

Let the countdown begin!  Excited to be contestant #15!

I am thrilled to announce I am contestant #15 of the total, 26 women vying for the job of Miss Wisconsin.  I will have my private 10 minute interview with the judges on Wednesday morning followed by competing in preliminary swimsuit and on-stage question on Wednesday evening.  On Thursday night, I’ll perform my talent and compete in evening gown for preliminary completion.  Finals will take place on Saturday, June 17 at Alberta Kimball High School in Oshkosh.

Want to attend?  Purchase tickets here: Miss Wisconsin 2017 Tickets

#Style is always a focus of mine, but it comes bearing a little extra attention when it pertains to choosing my appearance and competition wardrobe.  I absolutely love how chic and comfortable this white midi dress was for both traveling to Oshkosh and making it through a long day.  I only managed to get a little bit of caramel on it, which (thankfully) came off with a Tide-To-Go pen (if you weren’t aware, I’m not the best at keeping white clean).  Shop this look here:

Want to follow along with my preparations and #RoadToMissWisconsin?  Here are my social media sites:


Sisterhood Spotlight: Morgan Vanderhei

It’s been quite some time since I’ve published a new Sisterhood Spotlight, to all of you who have questionnaires in your inbox-please fill those out for me ASAP!  In honor of a new Miss Seven Rivers being crowned later today and my three year anniversary from my crowning, I found it only fitting to feature one individual who made that year and every pageant experience since then so special, my (real) sister.  Morgan and I joke about being very different in many aspects, but always possessing the same passion, drive, and dedication when it comes to the Miss America Organization-one of the main elements in life that has pulled us closer together than ever.  Morgan only ever wanted to represent our hometown of Wisconsin Rapids and she worked towards that goal tirelessly, finally achieving it on her fourth attempt in October of 2013.  Watching her be crowned Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2014 consumed me with joy, relief, excitement, and eagerness with the hopes that we would get the opportunity to compete at Miss Wisconsin alongside one another.  That dream came true this time three years ago when I was honored to take on the job of Miss Seven Rivers.  I vividly remember breaking down during my closing statement in interview as I spoke about what this chance would mean to me and her to both hold titles at the same time.  When my name was called, the first person I saw on her feet, jumping up and down in the audience cheering me on was Morgan.  From day one she’s always cheered me on (even when I’ve annoyed her obnoxiously), she supported me while we prepared for state, and continues to root for”Team Tia” in the present day, after her time as a titleholder has surpassed.  Thank you for serving our hometown with the highest caliber of compassion and desire to make a difference both then and now, you are a continual example of what this program is all about-I love you!

Name: Morgan Vanderhei

Hometown: Wisconsin Rapids

Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with minors in Communication and Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point


Dream job/Current job: Currently I am the Marketing Associate for the Wisconsin Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. I enjoy having the opportunity to be a tourist in my own town and I am constantly amazed by the things I discover about my hometown that I get to share with others. I aspire to become a Marketing Director for a non-profit organization, such as the Children’s Miracle Network.

Favorite color: Redcollage-0011. What inspired you to get involved with the Miss America Organization? In my hometown competing in the Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area Pageant as senior in high school could almost be considered a rite of passage for some. I had attended the pageant many times, knew young women who had/were competing and was excited to finally have the opportunity to compete as well.

2. Tell us about your first MAO pageant. My involvement in the Miss America Organization began back in 2007 when I competed for Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area for the first time as a senior in high school. I was only 17 years old and didn’t really understand what the organization was all about, but I had a great experience and ended up winning the Non-Finalist Talent Award.

3. What is/was your platform and why did you choose it? My personal platform was, “Unplug Yourself: Reconnect with Life.” I chose it because with the constant growth of technology, I believe there is not enough awareness of what can be lost from being constantly plugged in. I encourage people to take the time to unplug and focus on the importance of face to face communication, building relationships and physical activity.

4. What is your favorite phase of competition, why? My favorite phase of competition was interview because it is the only chance you have to truly connect with the judges. Also, I believe that if you can make through a pageant interview that all other interviews will be a piece of cake.

5.  Style, Service, Scholarship, or Success? Service is the point with which I feel most connected. Philanthropy has always had a place in my heart, but I have discovered that the personal impact is exponential. I believe that service is not measured in days and dollars, but in hugs, tears and lasting relationships.

6. What titles have you held and what were some of your biggest accomplishments or most cherished memories during each of them? 

Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2014

  • Making over 70 appearances throughout my year of service. It was truly an honor to represent my hometown and give back to the community that has provided me with so much love and support.

  • From taking my first polar bear jump to hosting a comedy night for a cause, I was able to raise $3,638 for the Children’s Miracle Network during my year of service. The generosity of so many allowed me to earn the Miracle Maker Award at Miss Wisconsin.

  • Having the unique opportunity to be actual “sister queens,” and compete alongside my sister at Miss Wisconsin.

7. What is/was your talent and what do/did you enjoy most about performing it? My talent was a tap dance to “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from the Great Gatsby. I took dance lessons for many years, and jazz and tap were my favorites because of the upbeat nature of the music. What I loved most about performing my talent was having the opportunity to share the joy that dance brings me.

8. Who is your biggest role model within the Miss Wisconsin Organization? Katie (Williams) Tomsyck and my sister Tianna Vanderhei are my biggest role models within in the Miss Wisconsin Organization. Katie is a dear friend and I’ve always admired her dedication to the Miss America Organization and to helping young women grow both personally and professionally. I am so grateful for her always being willing to share her wealth of pageant knowledge with me, as well as encouraging me to not give up on my dreams and compete for the title of Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area once more. Tianna and I consider ourselves to be rather different, but we have always shared our passion for the Miss America Organization. Despite her being my little sister, I look up to her in many ways. I am truly envious of her adventurous spirit and how she fearlessly chases her dreams. I was incredibly proud when she won her first local title, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest and watching her compete at Miss Wisconsin for the first time inspired me to not give up. I’ll never forget how it felt when she won Miss Seven Rivers, giving us the opportunity to be actual sister queens. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without her love and support, I am blessed to have such a remarkable young woman as my sister.

9. Favorite comfort food outside of competition mode? To be honest I find many foods comforting, but I can never seem to pass up a good old Wisconsin fish fry.

10. Who is your favorite Miss America? Why? My favorite Miss America is Mallory Hytes Hagan, Miss America 2013. To me she embodied what it means to be successful within the Miss America Organization and all facets of life by just being herself.

11. How would you describe the feelings you had when you won your first local? What goes through your mind when you are standing on stage and you hear your name called? After countless hours of preparations and continuous trials at vying for the title, my dream came true when I was crowned Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2014.  Having faith in God means also having faith in his timing; I remember waking up the day after pageant seeing the sash and crown on my dresser still in disbelief that it was my time. It was my fourth attempt at the title and my last year of eligibility within the Miss America Organization, so I felt truly blessed to have the opportunity.00112. If someone says, “You’re a beauty queen, what’s the relevancy of a pageant in today’s society,” what would you say to them? I would share with them what I learned after competing for the first time, that the crown is a symbol of a woman of great substance. As the world’s largest provider of scholarship for young women, it empowers young women to achieve their academic goals and live their dreams.

13. What is the most memorable moment you’ve experienced as a contestant/titleholder? From the moment I was crowned I knew that the Children’s Miracle Network would be a driving force behind my year of service. It is the national platform for the Miss America Organization and I was lucky enough to have Hannah Vakoc as my miracle princess. She is one of the most charismatic young ladies I have ever met. Even after everything that she and her family have been through, Hannah always has a smile that simply sparkles. Hearing her story and getting to know her family only grew my passion for the Children’s Miracle Network. I enjoyed every appearance opportunity that I got to share with Hannah throughout my year of service and I cherish our friendship, I will always consider her to be my miracle princess!

14. How has your involvement influenced your life? Throughout my years of competing and my year as Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area I grew immensely, both professionally and personally. I will be forever grateful to the Miss America Organization for helping to shape me into the woman I am today. I believe that it brought out my best characteristics, such as my determination, caring attitude and my desire to make a difference. I am so thankful that God blessed me with the opportunity to serve as Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2014 and honored to be a part of such an incredible sisterhood.

15. What advice would you give to fellow sisters, contestants, and young girls looking to one day compete for a title? Never let anyone dull your sparkle!

16. As a woman who has aged out of competing, reflecting back, how would you sum up your experience using only one word? Remarkable.


The Fifth and Final Go Around

And just like that, my six year journey within the Miss America Organization has flown by.

Six?  Why six you say?  I’ve been competing in the MAO on a local level since I was 17-years-old beginning with Miss Wisconsin Rapids my senior year of high school.  I competed in an open that year as well, Miss Fox River Valley in Appleton and did not win.  So it wasn’t until (technically) my second year of involvement and third pageant (perseverance is everything ladies) that I won the title of Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012.  Since that pivotal moment in my life when I welcomed a motley crew of Oktoberfest friends and family members into my life, I’ve served as Miss Seven Rivers 2014, Miss Madison Capital-City 2015, and am currently the reigning Miss Harbor Cities 2016.  As I sit here and reflect on my experiences I can’t help but feel extremely humbled and blessed beyond measure.

This organization has brought so many things into my life that I never truly knew I needed.  A strong sisterhood of friendships with women who are just as determined, passionate, and dedicated as I am; a support system in the community that lifted me up just as I was hitting a breaking point; the soft skill sets needed to succeed with any dream I set out to achieve; and a larger pageant family that continues to support all of my endeavors whether it’s within the MAO or in life.pageant-bannerAfter finishing as a Top 11 Semi-Finalist consecutively during my first three years competing at Miss Wisconsin, this past June, I had the honor of placing as 4th Runner-Up to Miss Wisconsin 2016, Courtney Pelot.  I also won Overall Interview and obtained the Miracle Maker Award for raising $1,1000 for Children’s Miracle Network (the Miss America Organization’s national platform).  This year, I have one more chance to compete for a local title, with the opportunity to continue to spread my message of, “Let’s Talk: #SkillSets4Success” while impacting the lives of others in that community I’m serving and across the state as of done the past four years.  Not to mention, winning a local title would grant me one, fifth and final time chance to compete on the Miss Wisconsin stage in Oshkosh before I “age out” of the program (within the Miss America Organization regulations, women age out at the age of 24).img_0783I would say that it’s my “dream job” to become Miss Wisconsin, but in reality I think that phrase is extremely cliche and overused…if we’re being honest.  The truth is, it’s the experiences I’ve had within the Miss America Organization, relationships I’ve formed, tribulations I’ve encountered, and support I’ve received through this very program that led me to my dream job of working in broadcast as a reporter and to this day my dream job is still to work as a sideline reporter for ESPN.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denoting the job of Miss Wisconsin at all.  The position is one I am extremely passionate about and wish to obtain very badly.  However, it’s important to see the bigger picture in life and realize that it’s because of the Miss America Organization that I am on the career path I am today.  On a daily basis for the past year, I have the opportunity to go out into the community, foster relationships, experience new things, and impact others’ lives by sharing their stories.  Being a titleholder has helped me fine tune how to uphold a positive self-image, refined my public speaking, boosted my confidence, and helped me gain a newfound level of comfort walking into an environment and/or arriving at an event where I know no one and introducing myself-these are all necessary skill sets of a reporter and carry over to the job of any titleholder; especially Miss Wisconsin.

While all of these experiences that have helped me develop certain skill sets needed to succeed are very important, they’re not the real reason this program has, does, and always will hold a special place in my heart even after my days as a titleholder subside.  Rather, the impact a woman can make with the voice and talents God has provided her with, the people she can help, and the positive messages she can share THAT is why this program is so important.  I’ve had countless people who I’ve consider friends, some I love dearly tell me within the past year that they don’t see the worth in this organization, that I have a full-time job, why continue to compete?  To that, I laugh and although frustration usually follows, I continue to stress to them that I would not be where I am today in my career and I wouldn’t be the determined, community driven, passionate, sometimes stubborn, and slightly feisty 23-year-old I am without the influence of this program and for that I am forever thankful.pageantYOU can help me as I prepare for the fifth and final go around by making a monetary donation to my Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals account.  Each woman planning to compete in a local pageant must raise a minimum of $100, but heck, the sky is the limit and I need your help!  A small contribution will help local kids and their families in a time of stress, financial burden, and sadness to help relieve some of the pain they’re feeling.  An amount is greatly appreciated and all donations are tax deductible.  THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for continuing to support this crazy, beautiful journey I am on—this is for you.

DONATE HERE: http://www.missamericaforkids.org/Donate/TiannaVanderhei