(L-R) Billie Takaki Leuder 2000, Crystal Lee Montrone 2013, Rep. Lauren Cheape Matsumoto 2011, Raeceen Woolford Satele 2009, Ashley Layfield 2007, myself, Allison Chu 2016, Jennifer Hera Pimental 1998, Kanoe Aberegg Naone 1993, Carolyn Sapp Daniels 1991, Malika Dudley Judd 2005, Dr. Ligaya Stice 1989, Debbie Nakanelua Richards 1984, Lani Stone Kaaa 1991, Cathy Foy 1975.
It may come as no surprise that 13 years ago I held the title of Miss Hawaii 2004. As the years go by, the memories become more distant and the highlights are like a dream. As I reflect I am still in awe that that was my life for one year, and that I held the honor, prestige and privilege of wearing the crown. But as you can imagine I find myself explaining what Miss Hawaii is and who I was, because there are so many other pageants, scholarship programs and beauty contests out there. For some reason the general and overall public perception is that they are all the same.
With so many other pageants including Miss Teen Hawaii, Miss Hawaii USA, Ms. Hawaii, Mrs. Hawaii, Miss Hawaii International, Miss Hawaii World, Miss Hawaii Filipina, Miss Chinatown Hawaii and etc, here are some notable details about the Miss Hawaii Scholarship Program. Held on June 10, 2017 at the historic Hawaii Theatre-- the Miss Hawaii Scholarship Program produced its 70th pageant this year. A preliminary to Miss America, this provider of scholarships for women 17-24 years-old began in 1921 as a bathing suit review in Atlantic City. Now, Miss America is the leading advocate for women to receive scholarships for education, with a focus on community service and an opportunity to showcase their talent. Phases of competition include panel interview (focused on one's platform, current events, community and self), swim suit, talent, evening gown and on-stage question. Once you compete at Miss America the competition ends there. Other pageants may go on to Miss USA, Miss World, Miss Globe or Miss International, but these are different systems and some may call them beauty pageants. The other competitions out there are no better, or no less, they are just different and coordinated, produced and directed by different people often not affiliated with Miss America, but everyone knows everyone in the pageant world. To me its kind of like differing football leagues. Most play the same sport, but in a different setting and for different people (NFL, AFL, Arena and etc).
The Miss Hawaii organization is staffed by volunteers, in fact after Miss Hawaii is crowned many of her appearances and bookings are also volunteer-based and most are not paid. The Miss America Organization is a non-profit organization that serves to disperse hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to young women in America each year. Many might recall me waiting tables at Alan Wong's while I was the reigning Miss Hawaii, yes you need to work and make ends meet while wearing the crown too. (I worked at Alan Wong's Restaurant on King Street from 1999-2009).
Truth is it has been a long time since I was involved in the pageant system. Much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same. When I competed the pageant was televised live, I won a Mercedes Benz for one year and my travel was sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines. Some other perks included wardrobe provided by Mamo, Princess Kaiulani, free hosted parking for one year and other benefits. As this might sound amazing and one of the highlights of my life, the years afterward really tested my will, passion and future endeavors. For some reason being a "pageant girl" has a negative connotation at times. I felt people didn't take me seriously or understand that I was college educated, hardworking and community-minded. Instead they were under the impression that I was a prima donna, lazy and high maintenance. This made me work harder and strive to prove them wrong.
I graduated from Hawaii Pacific University in 2007 with a BA in Speech Communication, thanks to the pageant I accomplished this feat with zero student loans. Competing at Miss Hawaii and Miss America provided (a Kapaa High School graduate from a single-parent home) the opportunity to achieve a private university education without any debt. One month after graduating with my degree I was offered a general assignment reporter position at a local news station. Some joked that I should "do the weather" or made comments like "what do you wanna be? You wanna anchor?" -- I wanted to be respected, a journalist, a business woman. The rest is now history as many of you reading this know my accomplishments and my achievements in journalism, education and now entrepreneurship. While competing in pageants does open some doors it can also slightly close them as well. But it truly depends on the individual to strive for success and work hard for what you want in life. Many of the former Miss Hawaii's and Miss America's are doctors, lawyers, educators, lawmakers, and so on.
For the first time since giving up my crown (in 2005), I returned to the pageant as a spectator. I prefer to be backstage with the crew, contestants, production staff, directors and hair & makeup team, so I can assist and spend time with the people I know and love. But this year was a little different as I also ventured out into the audience and watched from a seat in the theatre. It was interesting to say the least, as a group of us former Miss Hawaiis were called on stage and recognized then we all sat down and watched. We are a group of very outgoing, diverse and accomplished women. Even though you may not know who Miss Hawaii is right now (or who she was last year or the year before), perhaps you will have an open mind to learning more about the system, what we stand for and how hard we worked to get to where we are today.
Here are some photos from backstage (with the behind the scenes crew) and onstage with the Miss Hawaiis: Miss Hawaii - A Legacy!