It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the night I was blessed to receive the honor of holding the Miss Hawaii crown. As you can imagine my whole life I had dreamed of being Miss Hawaii one day and had only hoped to walk on the Miss America stage. Since being crowned in 2004 I have had the opportunity to travel the world, speak to thousands, help raise millions and cherish priceless memories that will last a lifetime.
This being my anniversary, I was invited to perform and be recognized on the Miss Hawaii stage at the convention center. In my day the pageant used to be held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and was broadcast live on K5, since then it has since moved to the Hawaii Convention Center, which is a beautiful and central location utilizing a great space.
Contrary to what some might think, I actually don’t like to be the center of attention and I don’t like to be singled out in public. I started to have nightmares about returning to Miss Hawaii about a year ago and developed some anxiety about oversleeping, forgetting something important and most of all being criticized by the audience – because this is a pageant and you are being judged literally on a scale of 1-10 by the crowd and the judges. Even though I wasn’t going to be a part of the competition per se, it’s always interesting to be judged by others as they assess how you look, how much weight you have gained, whether you can still sing/perform…etc. I was looking forward to the reunion but dreading it at the same time.
Much of my heart lies with the Miss Hawaii organization committee, volunteers and production staff. I spent so many years backstage that I felt most comfortable being off the stage and with them during and after the competition days. Even after my “reign” I volunteered as a dresser backstage helping the contestants instead of being out front in the audience hob knobbing with people and whatnot.
With that said, a very special person passed away earlier this year. Thom McGarvey who served as executive director of the program for more than 30 years lost his battle with cancer. Because I don’t have any family here on Oahu, Thom was a great influence in my life while in my 20’s and up. He was a stickler for accuracy, grammar and education. He watched Wake Up 2day every morning and would sometimes email me with his concerns or clarifications when something was broadcast.
During this year’s pageant pre-show Miss Hawaii 1964 Leinaala Teruya Drummond, Miss Hawaii 1989 Dr. Ligaya Stice and myself were recognized for our 50th, 25th and 10th anniversaries. Ligaya emailed me with an idea to do a collaboration performance to honor Thom. She suggested I sing the Wind Beneath My Wings and she would perform a lyrical dance. I was honored and thought the idea was beautiful and would serve as a great memoriam for Thom. My purpose at the pageant changed, it was no longer about me, it was about honoring Thom and his legacy and also showing appreciation for everyone else who works so hard to put the program together. All of the volunteers, stage hands, producers, hair & make-up teams and even the contestants who gathered to really make a difference in the lives of others and our community.
I no longer feared returning to the Miss Hawaii stage. I wanted to be there to show respect and admiration for Thom and his legacy. But still I had a major concern…how do I make it through the song which is somewhat challenging technically. But when you have a lump in your throat and feel that you are about to cry it’s nearly impossible to create sound. My throat tenses up and my vocal chords freeze. But, I decided I had to do everything I could to make it through the song, not only for Thom but for Ligaya who was dancing as I would sing. I opted to post a tablet with the words on the far right side of the stage so when I felt the emotions start to rise I would read the words of the song instead of sing and perform them. I also found that I couldn’t watch Ligaya dance as I sand because it made me choke as well. So I decided to make it through as much of the song as I could and if I started to feel that feeling of too much emotion and too much passion I would simply read the words to the rest of the song and not focus on holding back tears.
Long story short, I made it through and cried heavily after the performance. But it meant so much to be there for Thom and to be recognized with such an amazing and dignified group of women. Each of the former Miss Hawaii’s has accomplished so much and I am so honored to be a part of such a prestigious group.
What made this event even sweeter was the return of my hanai brother Dane Waialeale. Dane escorted me during the evening gown phase the year I won Miss Hawaii and at Miss America as well. He returned to the pageant this year as part of a 2-man team (with his husband Terence) to do the hair and make-up styling for Miss Paradise Kauai, Stephanie Steuri. It was also a wonderful night to see Steuri, another Kauai girl, capture the title of Miss Hawaii. Stephanie is a graduate of Island School and I am graduate of Kapaa High. Go Kauai! What a nice icing on the cake for my 10 year anniversary. I am so grateful! Congrats Steph!