There she is...exhausted, hungry, taped up, padded and probably in debt. But she's smiling anyway. And she means it. Because if she's made it to the Miss America national competition, she's achieved a dream she has been striving toward for years.
No one becomes Miss America without paying her dues. And those dues can include working out at a gym six days a week, dieting for months, volunteering for her chosen platform and several charities, taking classes in dance, music and public speaking, making public appearances, being coached in makeup and hair, searching for sponsors to help offset costs -- and that's all just for the privilege of competing. Before contestants can compete for the Miss America title, each must first win her local and state pageants. And while all this is going on she is usually juggling a work or school schedule.
Do you have what it takes? You asked us for the inside scoop on Miss America, so we tracked down a woman who knows. Samantha Miller currently holds the national title of Miss US of A Elite. At age 25 she is too old to compete for Miss America now, but in 2000, she did win her local Miss America pageant in Virginia and she went on to place at the state level.
Today, she coaches two of the nearly 200 young women vying for the title of Miss Virginia and she's a consultant to others in the beauty pageant world. If you want to know more about what it takes to be Miss America, check out these pointers from Samantha.
Choose a platform based on a serious interest.
Because if you win your local pageant, you will be making two or three public appearances promoting that platform each week. Samantha chose Athletes with Asthma because she is a dancer who suffers from asthma. She worked closely with the American Lung Association among other groups.
Love your gym.
To prepare for the state pageant, Samantha did 45 minutes of cardio and one hour of weight training five days a week. In addition, she danced six days a week.
Find a healthy, sane diet.
In 1997, Samantha woke up in the hospital after collapsing. She had been training hard for her local pageant and had stopped eating. "At one point I had a problem with anorexia because of dancing and pageants," she says. "We were always told the perfect dancer's body is 5'2" and 95 pounds. I was the right height and there was intense pressure to lose the weight."
Remember it's not your weight, alone, that matters.
"The perfect Miss America is supposedly 5'8" and 110 pounds," Samantha says. But judges don't look at weight, they look at proportions and the way you look on stage. There could be three girls with the exact same bodies. The one who wins is the one who is most confident with her body."
Don't hug your father or talk about your boyfriend.
During the intense week-long competition for the state or national Miss America titles, contestants are not allowed to drink, smoke, kiss a boyfriend, hold hands or hug any male at all, "even if it's your dad," says Samantha.
Get along with your chaperone.
Once you win any title, even if it's local, you will always be chaperoned when you are making any Miss America appearance. You cannot drink, smoke, kiss a boyfriend, hold hands with or hug a man while your crown is on.
Learn to walk without moving your hips.
Here's the deal, you are wearing your bathing suit...but you're not allowed to look sexy. Go figure. In the meantime, learn to walk without putting one foot in front of the other -- rather walk with feet side by side so your hips don't sway.
Learn how to do your own hair and makeup.
In many states, makeup artists and hairstylists are not allowed in pageant dressing rooms. Plus, you will need these skills for your many public appearances, some of which may be televised.
Rule of thumb: Big hair. Dark makeup!
On stage, everything that makes you naturally beautiful is "diminished" says Samantha. So the trick is to enhance everything. "I would never dream of wearing the makeup I wear on stage in public because I would look like a clown." Pile on the liner, lashes, foundation, lipstick and rouge. Then hot roll and tease your hair.
Buy the right kind of tape (and falsies).
In the category of enhancing everything -- don' t forget your breasts, too. "You lift them up, push them together and bend over. Someone stands behind you and wraps the tape around your ribs and lower breasts," she says. It's painful to remove the tape, but you will learn which tape is less painful than others. "One girl used electrician's tape, and when she removed it she had to go to the hospital with second-degree burns." Once you're taped, slip on your outfit and insert silicone falsies. "Use silicone because it warms up and looks more real than other kinds."
Don't use Vaseline on your teeth.
"It makes your teeth look yellow," Samantha says.
Have plenty of hemorrhoid cream on hand.
It really does help keep your thighs from jiggling -- for a few seconds. "If you rub it on your skin right before you walk out on stage, it will make the skin appear firmer for those moments when you walk wearing your bathing suit."
Visit your dermatologist before the pageant.
It's good to have emergency acne medication on hand in case you break out at the last minute.
Know your answers. Practice, practice, practice.
There are books you can buy that contain nothing but lists of questions you might get asked on stage. If you can afford it, you might want to meet with a coach for one or two sessions to get pointers on how to think on your feet and impress the judges.
Know the rules.
Miss America cannot be married or divorced. She cannot have ever been pregnant (no abortions, miscarriages or children). She can never have had nude photos taken or -- here's the easy part -- she cannot have done anything "illegal, immoral or dishonest," says Samantha.
Save your money.
It's expensive. Just competing on a local level can cost you thousands. You need a gown, bathing suit, interview suit, an outfit for your talent, shoes for each, panty hose, silicone pads (bra inserts), two sets of hot rollers (usually), music (if you're a dancer, like Samantha), makeup and toiletries. The higher up the Miss America ladder you go, the more potential you have for sponsors and help from the organization -- but, cautions Samantha, you will never make back what you spend, unless you win the national title.
Are you still up for it? It's not all bad news, says Samantha. "I just loved it," she says. "I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything. I learned responsibility, time management and I learned about myself. It is a real growing experience to become comfortable with yourself and who you are," she adds. "When I stopped trying to be what I thought the judges wanted, I did much better. I realized it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about me, what's important is to be me. All women who get to a title come to that same realization."