Ask a Pageant Queen: What It’s Like to Compete for Miss USA

Heather Elwell

Heather Elwell being crowned Miss Maine. Image: Courtesy of Heather Elwell

It’s not often that we take a personal interest in national beauty pageants, other than to halfheartedly root for our home states (and possibly live-tweet some of the sillier moments in the broadcast). But when we found out an old friend not only competed in the Miss Maine USA pageant last month, but she also won, securing her a spot in the Miss USA competition, we suddenly found ourselves wanting to know more about pageant life. Forget Toddlers & Tiaras; this is real life. Surprisingly, the new Miss Maine USA, Heather Elwell, gamely answered our questions.

From competing to being a feminist and of course, which pageant movie is the best of all time, Miss Maine USA was quite a good sport. We still don’t get the whole swimsuit thing, but hey, to each their own.

theFashionSpot: Why do you compete in pageants in the first place?

Heather Elwell: When I first started competing in pageants, I did it because it looked like fun. I came to find out that it really is fun and an experience that will help you discover who you really are. Each year, I’ve become stronger as a person and I love knowing that some of my best qualities have been unleashed through competing. I’m wicked (as Mainers say) talented at time management and relationship building, I can easily network and make connections, my health is at an all-time high and I’m proud that I can work a runway in five-inch heels!

tFS: What do you say to people who look down on pageants?

HE: I would tell them to come and be a judge at a pageant, or get to know one of the titleholders firsthand. You might only have a few minutes on stage looking like a glamazon, but the real beauty lies underneath. There is something special about a woman who is comfortable, confident and smart. I plan to use my year as Miss Maine USA 2015 to break the mold of what others don’t see, and that is a woman who is genuine and works hard. 

Heather Elwell

Miss Maine Teen USA 2015 Skyler Gaudette and Miss Maine USA 2015 Heather Elwell and their tiaras. Image: Courtesy of Heather Elwell

tFS: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

HE: I’ve never used that term, but I believe that men and women have equal rights. I’ve watched so many women go through pageantry and make such an impact on others’ lives, men and women alike. Pageantry has been used as a megaphone to give women a voice in the public eye.

tFS: When you didn’t win last year, what did you say to yourself to keep motivated? How do you keep going?

HE: As soon as I claimed first runner-up at Miss Maine USA 2014, I told everyone that I would be back and that it was not in God’s timing for me to wear the crown and sash. I took that energy and used it to prepare as if I had never competed in a pageant before, and went through all of the steps to perfect my body, walk and wardrobe. By putting all of my energy in and having faith, I left it on the stage, and I’m now your Miss Maine USA 2015.

tFS: What is the hardest part about being in a pageant?

HE: The hardest part is believing in yourself. It is so easy to work yourself up and start comparing yourself to others. I tell girls this all of the time, this is not a competition between you and the other girls competing; it is you and yourself. I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime with the girls I have competed with, one of whom is currently my roommate in Portland, and the experience is much more rewarding. Once you believe in yourself, anything really is possible!

tFS: What’s the most fun part about being in a pageant?

HE: The best part is growing into the best version of yourself that you can be! I’ve watched not only my body transform, but my mind. You get to watch your hours of hard work at the gym come to fruition when you put on your swimsuit and strut across the stage as if you were in a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I also have no fear of public speaking and am able to cultivate professional and personal relationships through my personal growth in pageantry.

tFS: Does each contestant have platforms that you promote?

HE: Each contestant has an agenda of what she will do with her state title. For me, it has always been about inspiring others through my dedication and passion for music. I have always been musically inclined and volunteer to play my flute at various hospitals and nursing homes. Another charity that I’m looking forward to working more with is STRIVE, designed for students with Aspergers, Autism and PDD.

Heather Elwell

Heather prepares for competition. Image: Courtesy of Heather Elwell

tFS: What happens next? You’ve won, do you start preparing for the Miss USA competition?

HE: It hasn’t been over 72 hours and my preparation for Miss USA has begun! Official dates and location haven’t been announced by the Miss Universe Organization yet, but I want to bring the crown home to my state! I was able, however, to sneak in some pizza, cupcakes and pumpkin bread into my diet before it’s back to my healthy eating plan.

tFS: There has never been a Miss USA or Miss America from Maine. Will you be the first?

HE: There has not, and I would love nothing more than to put Maine on the map at this year’s competition. Mainers are special and there is something about the way in which we live our lives that is different than the rest of the world. I haven’t met someone that hasn’t liked a person from our state. We live simple yet rewarding lives and we appreciate the beauty of this state in every season.

tFS: How do you guys prepare for the question portion? Do you run through every possible question the judges could ever ask?

HE: We have coaches that will create mock interview sessions for us and of course, keeping up with local, national and worldwide news is always a smart idea. For me, I use my day-to-day experiences and relationship-building techniques through my sales job at Down East Magazine as practice. The one thing I tell everyone to do is to be genuine and true to who they are, it’s so easy to pick out someone who has rehearsed their answers.

tFS: Finally: Little Miss Sunshine or Miss Congeniality? Which do you prefer?

HE: I love both, but Miss Congeniality is a classic for me. My favorite part of that movie is how you get to see the outsider’s perspective of what people “think” pageants are about, and then you watch Sandra Bullock experience a journey so many people have been on (minus guns and cops, of course), which is positive and full of love. Pageantry and the Miss USA system embody women who are strong, savvy and seeking to improve their lives as well as others.

Follow Heather on her road to Miss USA:

Twitter: @heatherelwell and @realmissmeusa

Instagram: @heatherelwell and @missmeusa