So – Couple things…
First, I’m going to launch a Miss America mini-series of sorts, running Saturday, Sunday and Monday… We’re going to talk about a few “important topics” leading up to the first prelim night for Miss America 2017 – So stay tuned… You won’t want to miss it!
As for TODAY, well – I’m traveling to the National Sweetheart Pageant in Hoopeston, Illinois! WHOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
So – Quick recap for everyone who’s new to the Junkie Nation… The National Sweetheart Pageant (NSP) has been around for 73 years – and has been known to be a pretty incredible “stop” in many a pageant girl’s journey (after all, it’s been happening for 73 years!). Until recently, the 1st Runner Up from each state pageant was invited to attend the NSP, with the chance to get to know other young women from across the country who also finished half a heart-beat away from going to Miss America. If the 1st Runner Up couldn’t attend, the 2nd Runner Up was invited and so on down the line, until someone said, “I’ll go!”
Things are a little different this year… Miss America recently placed a line in their contracts stating that anyone who currently holds a local title, is not allowed to participate in other pageant systems, including the National Sweetheart Pageant. Therefore, the NSP decided to host an “open” pageant this year – Where any young woman who applied could be considered, and if there were multiple ladies from the same state who wanted to attend, a committee decided which young woman would be given the chance.
So – With that in mind, Sweetheart didn’t know exactly how things were going to shape up this year… But the great news is, the NSP has an amazing reputation for impacting young women in a positive way. Including me…
I had just turned 21 a few weeks before I finished my first trip to Miss Kansas – placing as the 2nd Runner Up. Our 1st Runner Up declined the opportunity to attend Sweetheart, which meant I received a phone call from our Executive Director, offering me the chance to attend.
To be honest, I didn’t even know what the National Sweetheart Pageant was… But when he explained the opportunity, I immediately jumped on it! I can’t tell you how excited I was just thinking about the chance to get to know young women from across the nation and see what we had in common!
When I arrived in the land of the Corn-Jerkers (the high school mascot), I was immediately at ease. For several ladies in our class that year, they hadn’t seen anything like Hoopeston – But I had! You see, I grew up in a town called Long Island, Kansas – Population 150. And for me, attending the NSP was like competing in a pageant in my hometown. 🙂
I loved getting to know the other contestants (although, I realized I was a bit younger than most), I thoroughly enjoyed how the entire community seemed to rally around the pageant, and I was BLOWN AWAY by the talent and the caliber of the women who were there.
I can still remember preparing for my interview with the judges… All of us in the competition group were in a room, there were newspapers everywhere, girls were looking at notes, and everyone was pacing back and forth looking at the floor, trying to concentrate. I stood up (mainly so I wouldn’t wrinkle my suit), and realized I should be doing the same thing – But instead, I started smiling and laughing to myself. Why? I was SOOO RELAXED. This was literally like I was competing in a pageant that was being held in my own backyard – And I KNEW how to walk into an interview room in my backyard!
Turns out, being relaxed was an awesome strategy! I won the Interview Award for my prelim group – But I didn’t make the Top 10. And when they were announcing the Top 10, I had a feeling I wasn’t in the mix… So, the other ladies and I went to the backstage and ate cheeseburgers and french fries while the rest of the pageant took place! It was hilarious – And another memory I have emblazoned on my mind.
Although I would’ve loved to have made the Top 10, I walked away from my Sweetheart experience completely happy! I tried to stay in touch with a few ladies through snail mail after NSP was over, but college life means too many addresses, and no cell phones meant losing track of people when you cancelled your land line. In fact, it wasn’t until I sat down to watch the parade of states at Miss America 1996, that I even knew which of my Sweetheart sisters had won their respective state titles!
Other than my interview, one of the clearest memories I have is from the National Sweetheart parade. That’s because… When people saw me in the back of that convertible (in my ruby red slippers, mind you), they actually yelled out, “Hi Miss Kansas!!!!”
Now, for someone who had fallen short – and didn’t win the title of Miss Kansas (and never did) – To hear a random stranger calling me Miss Kansas – believing I was Miss Kansas – was a feeling I will never, ever forget.
I even took my sash and placed it above the doorway inside my room in my apartment at school that year… And every time I walked in and out of that door, I wanted to remember the fact that someone thought of me as Miss Kansas – Because it was the most amazing feeling I’d ever had!
Which is why Sweetheart has been such a special part of so many contestant’s lives for so many years…
Sweetheart believes in the power of positively impacting young women who’ve fallen short of their dream.
Let’s be honest – Nobody’s FIRST choice is to attend NSP. We’d all much rather be walking on the stage at Miss America! But the difficulty and frustration, and even the pain of falling short of a state title, was tempered for those of us who attended Sweetheart. Plus, there was absolutely NO PRESSURE to win NSP – We all knew it didn’t count! In fact, I actually forgot I was even at a pageant until the first night of preliminary competition!
That’s why – despite things which were out of their control – I’m soooooooooo happy the folks in Hoopeston, IL decided to go ahead and host the National Sweetheart Pageant this year. We all know it “won’t be the same” with some ladies who finished as a runner up, and others who didn’t even compete this year – But it doesn’t matter. Because the point of Sweetheart, is still the same.
Make a positive impact on young women who fall short of their goals.
The National Sweetheart Pageant isn’t trying to be Miss America… They know that’s never going to happen. However, they can offer a “Miss America Moment” for many young women who will never have one.
That’s exactly what it was for me – And it’s exactly why I still support it.
So – after 2 decades, I can’t wait to set foot in Hoopeston, IL once again. 🙂 I’m guessing a few things will have changed – But I’m also guessing a few things will be just like I remember them…
And although it may be the 73rd year of the National Sweetheart Pageant – It might also be considered the “First Year of a New Era” for NSP… But as long as the mission to positively impact young women remains, then I wish Sweetheart nothing but the best.
Big Junkie Thanks to EVERYONE involved in the National Sweetheart Pageant – I am thrilled to be coming back – And I expect to give out a whole lot of hugs this weekend!
Oh – and to those of you ladies who are competing at NSP this weekend – BREATHE IT ALL IN!!! I realize the vast majority of you are NOT going to feel like this pageant is taking place in your backyard (lol!) – But it doesn’t mean you won’t remember this weekend for years and years to come. I look forward to hearing your stories, watching you compete, and seeing how Sweetheart impacts your life in the future. 🙂
See you soon, Hoopeston!!!
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Carrie Lakey is kind of obsessed with Miss America…
So are 18,000 of her closest friends.
As an avid fan of the Miss America Organization, Carrie began
publicly predicting pageant winners over 10 years ago.
Now, she’s galvanizing an online movement of fans
known as “Pageant Junkies”.
Learn more about the Junkie Nation
by clicking here.