Welcome to the first installment of Former Feature Friday! I am over-the-moon excited to bring you insights, words of wisdom, and thoughts from former contestants and titleholders! No one knows the job better than those who have walked the walk and talked the talk – I hope you enjoy it, are inspired by them, and learn as much as I have!
Our first ever Former Feature Friday comes from one of the best state titleholders, performers, and friends you could ever ask for. And her advice was SO fantastic, I couldn’t fit it into one interview – so you will get two! How’s that bang for your buck, huh?!
She’s real, she’s candid, and she’s honest – a big dose of what every contestant needs right about now. And since we are smack dab in the middle of state competition season – and it’s kind of what we do around here – you’ll get all of her advice on preparation and competition in this first post. I was honored to be part of her pageant journey, from start to finish – and was even more honored to be part of her wedding this spring. Today I introduce you to the one and only Diana Reed, Miss Iowa 2007.
You had a great deal of success at Miss America, but let’s start at Miss Iowa. The year you won, you didn’t win a preliminary talent award (you would later at Miss America). What words of wisdom do you have for young women about mentally preparing for state preliminaries?
Miss Iowa 2007 was the only pageant that I competed in (local, state, national) that I didn’t win the talent award. Talent was always my strong suit, and I had won talent the other two years I competed in Miss Iowa. I think many were shocked, and you can imagine how hard that was for me when I didn’t win talent on my final year of competing. This was a defining moment for me during my pageant journey.
Do you let that result make you insecure and throw everything you worked for away, or do you take a deep breath, rise up, and do what you know you are prepared to do?
MYM: I remember that phone call like it was yesterday! You are such a strong person, and I don’t think I had ever heard you more defeated. And having gone through the same thing myself the year before, my heart just broke for you. But UNLIKE me, you rose to the occasion, and I think it even made you push that much harder to really be focused and tuned in that final night.
I feel like I was most in my element the Finals night of Miss Iowa 2007 because I knew I was prepared to take on the role – and if it was meant to be, it would happen.
My advice to other young women would be to prepare like crazy and then just enjoy the moment on stage. You’ve done this a million times and your body and mind know what to do. Don’t get in your OWN way! Have some fun in the process, and everything else will fall into place.
So it was on to Miss America! In what ways did you prepare for competing at Miss America?
I prepared in every way possible! I worked with a personal trainer to stay on track for my physical fitness, practiced my talent every day, worked hard to find the right wardrobe and style for stage and other appearances, spent a lot of time staying up on current events and doing mock interviews, did round-table discussions to open my mind and perspective on controversial topics, and I did all of this while traveling daily for appearances and special events around the state. It was not an easy task, but I tried to focus my time and energy to make my weaknesses stronger and my strengths perfected.
What area of competition was your biggest struggle, and how did you prepare for it.
Swimsuit would have been my biggest struggle, which seems counter-intuitive because I was a very dynamic and healthy athlete during my time in pageants. As the Golden Girl at Iowa and a dance minor, I spent hours each day training and taking classes that kept me physically active. I was by no means overweight or out-of-shape, but I was very muscular in build. Growing up I never saw a problem with my weight, shape or build. I could do 20 pull ups in high school and was known for the impressive height of my grand jeté leaps, so it was odd to me that all of a sudden I was told I needed to lose weight.
MYM: You were (and still are) one of the most fit, energetic, and athletic women I know!
I guess some people view a healthy body in different ways. I personally don’t think the stick thin model on the cover of Vogue who suffers from an eating disorder is healthy, but then again beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I did work hard with a trainer to lose more weight in preparation for Miss America, but it was very difficult because I had to lose muscle, not fat, and I was adamant to do it in a healthy way.
MYM: It is definitely hard for young women to find that balance between confidence in their own skin and the negative opinions of others when they don’t fit into that person’s “ideal” of a pageant body. To feel like you had to be “less fit” in order to “fit in” is, as you said, counter-intuitive to the supposed purpose of the lifestyle and FITNESS competition.
Looking back now, I’m proud that I was one of the most physically-toned ladies onstage in a swimsuit. I needed that muscle to execute my extremely strenuous talent routine, plus my calves looked killer in my heels! I’ll take a talent award over swimsuit award any day 😉 AMEN!
How did you handle the stress of competition?
I often tell people that I have never had more pressure to not drop a baton in my life than I did on the Miss America stage. I knew deep down that the number of drops I had would make it or break it for me.
MYM: I don’t think I breathed your entire routine. And talent was two minutes back then. So that was a long time, lol. And I agree, there is an added pressure for twirlers. I think judges more readily forgive a vocal crack or missed piano note compared to a dropped baton.
I actually did a lot of mental preparation going into Miss America, and I was very focused during my time in Las Vegas. I think that approach helped me deal with the stress. I also have a lot of close family and friends that really helped boost me up when I needed it most. It was very reassuring to see so many supporters in the audience while I was competing for both Miss Iowa and Miss America. Thank you to all those who cheered me on during my journey!!
MYM: Because of you, I can say I’ve been on the Miss America stage! They decided to let one or two of each contestant’s supporters sit onstage, for heaven knows why, and I sat up there one night. It was…weird, lol. But I made it on the stage! Woo hoo! 😉
On June 10, you celebrated the 10 year anniversary of your crowning. How do you think Miss America/Miss Iowa has changed in the last decade?
Miss Iowa 2017 is right around the corner and it’s hard to believe it will be 10 years since I was crowned Miss Iowa! There are a lot of differences from then to now. I competed during one of the years in which Miss America was not held in Atlantic City, but was held in Las Vegas. I was crowned in June and competed in January, which gave me about six months (instead of two or three ) to prepare for the national stage. My year was also unique in that we had to go to California to film a reality TV show. All 52 contestants lived in a mansion together for three weeks as we competed in physical, mental, and style-based challenges for four TV episodes leading up to Miss America. I also believe my year was one of the few years that they did not broadcast the entire top 10 in talent.
MYM: In my memory, there was a year, maybe 2004 or 2005, where the future of Miss America was in question, and they were trying every trick under the sun to bring it back. Game show-style questions, casual wear competitions, and it was top TWO talents only! There was maybe one other year that it was top eight talents, but you can definitely count on one hand the years they did fewer than 10 talents.
They only allowed eight to perform my year, just edging me out of my Miss America goal of performing my talent on the broadcast. However, I believe it was also my year that initiated the change for talent from 2 minutes to 90 seconds due to the backlash of that decision.
MYM: To see Diana’s award-winning performance, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qst9sN9wy_Y
What one piece of advice or information should every aspiring state titleholder know?
Every pageant, audition, or job interview is in the hands of only a select few people. People are not perfect and therefore the outcome could have a million possibilities depending on who is sitting behind that table and how each candidate performs. The person that seems the most qualified and everyone thinks should win, may not. The person who is wearing the most expensive evening gown may fall on her face and get last. Or the small-town girl from Iowa who twirls her “silly sticks” that no one thought would be exciting, wins talent. It’s impossible to predict all the variables.
MYM: People always say, “Different day, different set of judges, different outcome,” – and we collectively roll our eyes. But it’s totally true! I think your words put that same idea into a much more relatable, understandable context.
At the end of the day, you have to do YOU to the best of your ability. Work and prepare HARD! Be compassionate, patient, and willing to listen to others’ suggestions and advice. Absorb information as much as you can, but at the end of the day, sort through all those thoughts, opinions, and recommendations to discover what fits you best. This is your one chance to represent YOU on the pageant stage!
Oh, and have fun and be kind to those you encounter. You never know when a sponsor might offer you a job down the road because they saw you on stage, or when your fellow contestant might become a bridesmaid in your wedding. 🙂
There is so much more to gain from the Miss America Organization than just a crown, and those elements will become just as influential in your life.
Until next time…