BEAUTY & FASHION: Ellie and Amy Smith reflect on their journeys through Miss America programs as they move forward after national pageants.
– Henderson’s Ellie Smith left for college this week with some interesting dorm decorations after competing in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, NJ last Sunday. There aren’t likely to be many other bulletin boards sporting sashes and medals like those the BYU freshman and reigning Miss Nevada had in tow from the classic event, ready for thumbtacks.
Awarded one of four talent awards given to non-finalists and a Duke of Edinburgh’s international award for personal development, Smith considers her experience at the 2015 Miss America pageant to be a great success.
Between unpacking her Miss America bags and packing up her BYU bags, Smith and her sister Amy Smith, the current Miss Nevada’s Outstanding Teen , discussed with Inside Henderson their nine-month journey together through the Miss America circuits.
iH: From your first pageant in January to competing in the Miss America pageant, what stands out as the single most unforgettable event?
ELLIE: For the rest of my life I’ll remember performing my talent on the Miss America stage. I sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and I had the most fun costume! I just had so much fun.
So much adrenaline went into that performance. It really proved that all my hard work paid off . . . it was a magical moment on stage. I received a non-finalist talent award for that, which included a $1,000 scholarship.
iH: That costume was unique. Tell us about it.
ELLIE: We just kind of stumbled upon it when we were dress shopping in Arizona. We were looking for a talent outfit and we saw it and decided right away that it was perfect for the song (a rock number). It was designed by Mac Duggal. It had black lace pants and bodice with a big black train. We blinged the entire thing out and it just sparkled on stage. Getting to perform a really powerful song in that costume was definitely a cool experience!
iH: What other experiences were significant?
ELLIE: We were there for two weeks. One day they took us to tour Washington, D.C. We got to go to leadership workshops about women in politics, which were really empowering.
I especially enjoyed visiting the Department of Education. That was really special to me because my anti-bullying campaign, the basis of my platform, was partnered with CCSD.
I was also named an Official Instagram correspondent for the pageant. It allowed me to go out into the audience and take pictures (during the final event) with the judges and people like Kathy Ireland and Chris Harrison.
It was really cool to be able to put up my social media on national TV. Within about 30 minutes I gained about 4,000 followers.
iH: You were among the youngest to ever compete in a Miss America pageant. Do you feel your age was an issue?
ELLIE: I was competing as a 17-year old (during the last week I turned 18) against 24-year old women that had already graduated from med school, and I came home with no regrets.
A lot of people tell me that I should have waited until I was 22 or 23 so I would have had a better chance at winning, but I didn’t know where I would be in my life at that point – hopefully on Broadway and starting my musical theater career. I didn’t want to be doing pageants at 23 or 24.
iH: You and Amy made history in the Miss America organization as the first set of sisters to win local and state titles. How did you feel about sharing this experience with your sister?
ELLIE: Amy and I are best friends. She got to come to the Miss America pageant to perform with the other state Teen winners during one of the preliminary events. [The Teens] also got to participate in the iconic Show Us Your Shoes Parade (an Atlantic City traditional event leading up to the pageant). She was only a couple cars in front of me. She got to dance on the float and it was really cool to have her be part of that with me.
iH: Is this the end of your pageant career?
ELLIE: I’m totally done with pageantry. Miss America is a once in a lifetime experience – you can only compete once. And once you’ve done Miss America there’s not much better left to do in pageantry. | iH
iH: From your first pageant ever in January to your performance on the Miss America stage last week, what stands out as the single most unforgettable event?
AMY: On the road to becoming Miss Nevada’s Outstanding Teen (MNOT), we put on a benefit gala for the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) in March. It raised $1500 for the CMN and we got performers from all over the Las Vegas strip to come and perform.
What made it the most meaningful was that I got to do it with my sister. We got to perform in it and arrange the event together.
But also, one of my Silver State Princesses (girls that my sister and I mentor), Junaisy Vargas, who is a little girl that had cancer and was actually a CMN child, was in the audience watching. It was amazing to see her and her family’s positivity and their reaction all through the experience.
iH: What surprised you the most?
AMY: I entered my first local pageant (in January) and I didn’t think I’d win on my first try, but I won and went to state. Then I won that, and going to nationals was like a dream! I had been there two years ago with my sister – Ellie was MNOT two years ago — so I kind of knew what to expect. What surprised me was that I had so much more fun than I thought I would.
iH: What honors did you bring home from the national competition (held in Orlando, FL in July)?
AMY: I won Miss Congeniality, which was voted on by my friends, so that was very meaningful.
But what really meant a lot to me was that I got the top platform award. In the Miss America organization you have to choose a platform to advocate for, so I started my own organization to get teenagers in our community to go out and volunteer. I was so grateful to get that award because I’m really passionate about young people volunteering.
The dollar amount of the scholarships I won will be determined later, based on my choice of university and performance on college aptitude tests.
I also received a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
iH: The controversy surrounding the MNOT voting irregularities must have been especially difficult, especially for the young contestants.
Editor’s note: Amy’s win at the Miss Nevada’s Outstanding Teen contest became controversial after the Miss Nevada Organization reported that “voting irregularities” had thrown off the contestant’s scores. In light of the subjective nature of the judging process for finalists — the decisions based completely on judges’ preferences rather than any technical scores — the organization decided to award an additional crown and place in the national competition to Hayleyann Hart, who declined to compete in the national competition.
Subsequent silence from the Miss Nevada Organization (MNO) and the contestants fostered a wide spectrum of speculation. Some called the mess the culminating result of mounting discord and instability within the MNO. Very shortly thereafter, the entire MNO was dissolved, as was confirmed by Chelsea Mineur of the Miss America Organization. It is expected that the MNO will be re-established shortly with new leadership.
After the national competition, Rick Smith, Amy’s father, offered that their family hadn’t felt a need to defend themselves at that time because they were confident they had acted throughout with integrity.
“You have to hang your hat,” he commented, “on who you are – your integrity – and move on.”
What did you do personally to manage that situation?
AMY: That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize, that I’m 15 years old having to go through this.
Something that has really protected me from this has been the love of my family. We’ve grown so much closer as a family because of this.
Also, I am a very religious person, and help from praying every night, praying for those who want to bring me down and for anyone who’s going through a hard time, that’s definitely gotten me through everything from winning MNOT all the way to Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. I can confidently say that I’ve never been happier.
iH: How have you felt about sharing this experience with your sister?
AMY: It’s meant so much to me because we’re really close.
She got me involved in pageantry, which has enabled me to find myself and create my own organization to help teens all around Nevada start volunteering. If it wasn’t for my sister, I wouldn’t have had all those benefits.
iH: Do you plan to compete again?
AMY: I think that eventually I’d like to be on the Miss America stage, but it really depends on where I go to college and where my career takes me. It would be a dream to compete at Miss America. You have to be seventeen years old, so I have a couple years before I have to decide whether to do it.
Right now I am doing an internship for a congressman. I’m learning a lot about our government. It’s great to be around a political atmosphere because I might want to go into that when I’m older. I want to be a broadcast journalist and then I want to get a law degree so I can eventually become a White House correspondent. | iH
All photos courtesy the Smith family, unless otherwise noted.