I met Courtney Pelot a few years ago while I was living in New York, and she was interning for the company I worked for. We instantly bonded not only because she was also from Wisconsin, but because it's hard not to instantly bond with Courtney. She is so nice, so hardworking, and so cool, you can't help but love her the second you meet her.
About a year ago, I found out something about Courtney that truly shocked me: she competed in pageants. And then she won them. I watched her journey from pageant to pageant until she won Miss Wisconsin and was on her way to compete in Miss America. Before I knew Courtney, I thought pageants were a little silly and outdated; her success and support of the Miss America Organization has totally made me rethink everything though.
Check out my Q&A with Courtney below to find out more about what it's like to be Miss Wisconsin 2016, and why that's such a great thing.
My Midwest Is Showing: What does a day in the life of Miss Wisconsin 2016 look like?
Courtney Pelot: Each day is a very different, which is something that I love about the job! I’m always an early riser so I’m up early to eat my oatmeal and watch the news. Depending on the time and location of my appearance, I do my makeup, curl my hair, and hit the road in the Miss Wis Mobile. (It actually says Miss Wisconsin and has a crown on both sides!) Every appearance is a little bit different. I may be going to a school, fundraiser, tractor pull or local pageant. I may be reading a children’s book, presenting on my platform, emceeing, performing my talent, signing autographs, or riding a canoe. Because each day is so different and I’m always on the go — I keep my crown, sashes, a stash of children’s books and extra clothes, shoes and jewelry in my car. Also, the middle console of my car is packed with snacks! Before bed, I tend to read and watch Netflix.
MMWIS: What are your general duties?
CP: As Miss Wisconsin, I’m the state representative of the Miss Wisconsin Organization and represented the state at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City September. I work closely with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals as that is our national platform. I also promote my personal platform, “Open Books, Open Opportunity: Promoting Literacy in Our Communities” across the state. On a daily basis, I’m making appearances across the state, promoting both of these causes and the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Organization itself. I work with my business manager, Erik, each day to coordinate future appearances and events. I also have made possessing a strong social media presence a focus of mine. I stay active across my Miss Wisconsin accounts for Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook daily to keep everyone up to date on my travels.
MMWIS: How did you get involved in the pageant world?
CP: When I was younger, I was always captivated by the contestants I saw when I watched the Miss America pageant on TV. As I grew older, I was interested in competing in a pageant, but I was absolutely terrified of public speaking. Towards the end of my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realized that all but one of my scholarships were one year scholarships, so I needed a way to help pay for my next three years of college. I knew that the Miss America Organization was scholarship focused so I contacted local directors for pageants I was eligible for in the state. All the local pageants were done for the year, so I signed up for two in 2014 when spots opened a few months later. That first year was a huge learning experience, but even after my first pageant, Miss Madison-Capital City, I knew that becoming a local and then eventually a state titleholder were my biggest goals.
MMWIS: What was it like competing in Miss America?
CP: In short, it was absolutely incredible. After years of watching Miss America on TV, I had to stop myself and say “Courtney, you really are at MISS AMERICA” multiple times during the two weeks I spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was such a crazy thing to wrap my mind around. From the moment we landed in Philadelphia and were whisked away to AC, the entire Miss America Organization made us feel at home, safe and inspired. Our first week was spent making appearances across Atlantic City at different shops and casinos, dressing up for dinners, rehearsing, filming the first 10 minutes of the Miss America show and preparing for prelims. We also had the arrival ceremony that week—one of my favorite moments. Being able to introduce myself as Miss Wisconsin on the boardwalk and sign my name in the state of Wisconsin on our massive US map was an iconic, pinch me moment. The second week kicked off competition. Monday was my private 10-minute interview, Tuesday was on-stage question, Wednesday was swimsuit and evening gown and Thursday was talent. On Saturday we had our huge Show Us Your Shoes Parade, and Sunday night was finals, LIVE on ABC. I think I experienced every emotion under the sun in those two weeks. I’ve never been so excited, tired, inspired, determined, focused and joyous, all at the same time, than I was at Miss America. I became close with the entire Miss America Class of 2017 and made friendships that will last a lifetime. I walked across that Miss America stage in an evening gown, a moment where I truly felt like a Miss America, and performed my heart out during talent. I strutted on stage in a blur of bright lights while waving in a camera to my friends at home watching me on live TV. I am forever grateful that I’m one of just 80 women from Wisconsin who have had this same opportunity.
MMWIS: What has been the best part of being Miss Wisconsin? The worst part?
CP: The best part of being Miss Wisconsin is traveling the state. Every day I meet new people while I learn and discover more about the great state of Wisconsin than I thought possible. (I’ve learned quite a few cranberry facts. Did you know that 60% of the world’s cranberries come from Wisconsin? Go to Warrens’ Cranberry Festival next year!) I also have the ability to inspire so many, something I never imagined I would be able to do at only 22-23 years old. When a little girl’s eyes light up while staring at the sparkly crown and she says she wants to be like me someday when I’m writing her an autograph card, my heart just melts. I say to myself each and every day, this is the best first job I ever could have had! On that same note, there are a lot of days and nights where I spend quite a few hours in the car. I often call my family and close friends to chat during my longer trips and the time flies by!
MMWIS: Biggest misconception about pageants and the girls who participate in them?
CP: I’d have to say the biggest misconception I hear about girls who compete in pageants is that we aren’t intelligent. The girls I’ve met thanks to pageants are some of the most articulate, well-educated women with high scholastic ambitions. I think that this misconception stems from the fact that quite a few people don’t realize that the Miss America Organization is a scholarship program that works to provide young women with the scholarships they need to pursue higher education. This year between Miss Green Bay Area, Miss Wisconsin and Miss America, I’ve received about $16,000 to pay off my student loans. Scholarship is also one of the four points of our crowns. (The other three points represent service, success and style.)
MMWIS: Tell me about your platform, "Open Books, Open Opportunity: Promoting Literacy in Our Communities."
CP: When I created my platform, I wanted to choose something that I had always been passionate about. When I was younger, both of my parents pursued Education degrees, my mom’s in Elementary Education, so I was always inspired to try hard in school and read as much as I could. Once I began helping in her classroom, I learned that not all students had shelves and shelves of books like I did and that not every child had a parent who read to them at night. I created my platform out of a love for reading and belief that everyone should be allowed the ability to succeed due to a focus on literacy. With my platform “Open Books, Open Opportunity: Promoting Literacy in Our Communities” I aim to generate a love of reading in everyone, provide access to books, and support and promote literacy programs of ages, including public library early literacy programs and adult literacy programs. My favorite appearances are when I’m able to visit a school to present on my platform and read a story or two. Beyond these appearances, I’ve been able to connect with Wisconsin literacy organizations including Reach Out and Read, Give-A-Kid-A-Book, Madison Reading Project, and Fox Valley Literacy Council for events.
MMWIS: When your reign as Miss Wisconsin is over, what will you do next?
CP: I’m hoping to move back to Madison for my first job post-Miss Wisconsin. I love how different each of my workdays are as Miss Wisconsin, so I’m hoping to find something that allows for a bit of difference in the day to day routine. I can’t see myself sitting at a desk all day, every day doing the same thing. I’m also hoping to combine my love of working with people in the community and giving back; two things I’ve fallen in love with as Miss Wisconsin.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Wisconsin for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
CP: I would tell them to extend their stay, because they’re going to fall in love with the state! Then, I’d have them start their adventure in Madison with a walk around the Capitol Square and a big plate of cheese curds from The Old Fashioned.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
CP: It may sound cliché, but I just love how kind everyone in the Midwest is. I didn’t appreciate this until I came back from my summer internship in New York.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
CP: Like I mentioned before, people in the Midwest are so friendly and kind. While with my Miss America sisters at our orientation in Washington D.C., I had quite a few girls comment right away how warm and friendly I was. That Midwest personality really does shine through! My Midwest also shows through in my eating habits. By the end of my two weeks at Miss America, I think every contestant knew that the first thing I was set on consuming upon my return to Wisconsin was an order of Culver’s cheese curds.
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