As a woman in my middle forties, I have a lot of experience in different areas of life. However, participating in a pageant was something absolutely new and challenging for me. And because it was new and challenging, I decided to do it. I totally didn’t understand what I was putting myself in. The whole thing happened by the accident.
Once, in one of the Naperville stores, I found a few business cards that had information about this pageant. It was at the end of last fall. I sent my info and a few pictures to the directors of the Mrs. Illinois/America Pageant and they replied that I had been selected to represent Naperville. Later, I received a few letters from them with information and instructions.
However, the further I went with my preparation to the pageant, the more I got stressed out about the expenses and many other things that I didn’t have to worry about in my everyday life. First of all, just to enter this competition I had to find $700. (Thanks to my sponsors and family who supported me). They believed in me even more than I believed in myself, and I knew I had to meet their expectations and do my best.
I could write a book about spending weeks choosing a dress, finding out how expensive the gowns were, worrying about the budget, finally ordering one online, waiting for it, getting an absolutely horrible dress, returning it, walking from one store to another trying to find something reasonably priced and still nice and “pageant” looking, etc.
I finally found the dress in one of the stores close to Naperville, but a few days before the pageant I found a few spots on it that I didn’t see before and had to exchange the dress. I also had to tailor the new dress, and while waiting for it to be fixed I purchased a second dress just in case the first dress did not come out looking good.
Another long story that I could tell you is about choosing the shoes, learning about special stage-like hair styles and make-up, taking care of my teeth, getting a customized tan and many other things that drove me absolutely crazy. Long story short – the day after the Pageant I weighed myself and realized that just in a few days before the Pageant and during the day of the Pageant I lost at least six pounds.
And finally I was there. The event happened at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin. The organizers recommended that we get a hotel room the night before to be on time for the registration the next day. However, I paid for the hotel room, stayed there, but was so stressed out that most of the night I couldn’t even go to sleep. That night, I slept only about two or three hours.
Of course, the next day I was really tired, especially in the morning, but by the middle of the day I finally started waking up. This is how I can describe the Pageant day: hurry up and wait.
I didn’t know what I was doing and felt like a baby taking first steps. I didn’t know where to go, what to do and asked a lot of questions. It was exciting but extremely stressful. But the more I learned about the way to move on the stage and about other little pageant secrets, the more I got excited. The show promised to be a fun and an extremely interesting experience for me.
The first part of the competition was not on the stage. It was an interview in a private setting. There were five judges, each with one question. Each contestant had three minutes to answer all the questions. We had been told that the interview was a big part of the overall score.
I was nervous and at the same time excited about this part of the competition – nervous because I didn’t know what they would ask and excited because I had so much to tell about myself. I was willing to answer their questions about my art, my music, my children, my experience writing articles as a community contributor and many other things that were mentioned about me in the program of the event.
The directors convinced us that the interviews would be easy and the judges would not ask any complicated questions such as questions related to politics or the economy. Most of the other contestants said that their interviews went fast and were pretty easy.
When I went in, the very first question that I was asked was a question related to the situation in Ukraine. How was I supposed to answer it in thirty seconds? Why was I asked a political question? I don’t know why. It is a sensitive topic for me and it was a challenge to answer that question, especially because my grandmother and some other relatives live in Ukraine and my parents and my brother live in Russia. I answered it the best way I knew how.
Finally, a little after seven o’clock the show started. All of the contestants looked great. Everyone was extremely beautiful, feminine and gorgeous. The show went well and I had a lot of fun. I felt like a little new star, which probably sounds funny for someone in her forties, but that is how I felt. I had my little moments of fame and they were great. I felt beautiful. I had never done something like that before, I had never been onstage in a beauty competition and finally, at a pretty late age, I did it.
If in the beginning of the day I felt like a baby taking her first steps in the pageant world, by the end of that day I felt already like a toddler. I learned the basics and I did my best! Needless to say, there were a few women there who knew exactly what they were doing. They were professional, experienced and confident. They were stunning both naturally and also because they knew all the pageant secrets – how to apply professional stage make-up, how to walk on the stage, what kind of dress or costume to wear and so on.
They deserved their success and one of them, Nicole (Rash) Cook, won first place. She looked absolutely gorgeous and she deserved it! I got interested in her background and made a little investigation. I found out that Nicole, 29, started her modeling career at age three. She appeared to be a well-known model who has experience working with such popular companies such as Kohl’s, Calvin Klein, JC Penney, Pepsi Lite, Marie Claire, Porsche, Sherry Couture evening wear, Cabana Cachaça Rum, fashion designers such as Margi Kent, Maggie Barry, Tal Sheyn, and Lauren Elaine, and many others. Nicole is also a pageant veteran; she participated in a few pageants, was first runner-up at Miss America 2008 and won Miss America 2012. Now, after winning Mrs. Illinois 2014, Nicole is going to compete for the Mrs. America title, then if she wins, for Mrs. World. That is how far you can go if you start your modeling career at age three!
Participating in the Mrs. Illinois/America Pageant was an unforgettable experience. I didn’t win anything this time, but summoning the bravery to go on the pageant stage for the first time at age 44 was one of the most memorable experiences in my entire life. I probably would have never done something like that in Russia, especially in this age, but in this country I became brave enough to do it. And also, now I have a “pageant bug” in me and who knows, I might decide to come back and try to compete again.