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Caressa's Crowning as Miss America 2010

PM: How was the Las Vegas experience for you?
It was a lot of fun, they really rolled out the red carpet for us. One of the most exciting things that we did was visit the other hotels. We’d walk through the little streets inside each hotel, and we got to witness the excitement that all of the people had as they waited for their state to walk by.

It was awesome to have the energy of the people around us there, as they were cheering us on in the city where dreams come true. It was awesome, and I had an absolutely great time. I told Art (McMaster, MAO President) that they should change the slogan to “Making dreams come true for 53 families” because I know there were 53 families out there having an amazing vacation time.

PM: One of the exciting events that you all got to attend was the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Westgate Resorts. How did all of that come about?
The Siegel family donated money over the summer to the scholarship foundation, and we had the pleasure of going to a dinner event in Orlando during the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition. They are true supporters of the Miss America program and we wanted to show support for the success they’ve had.

PM: It’s a whirlwind experience right away for you. What have you been up to in this first month or so, and have you begun accumulating “Miss America Miles”?
Accumulating the miles is one of the things I do well. I don’t mind flying. My job as Miss Virginia well prepared me for this job as Miss America, the only difference is I would drive myself from one end of the state to the other. The Super Bowl was absolutely the most fun I think I’ve had in a very long time. To be there, the experience, was great, because a lot of people will never have the chance to even bid on a ticket. I didn’t even know it was a bidding system! People have to draw numbers just to even be able to buy a ticket. But I thought the most fun I’ve had was today, getting to go to the children’s hospital, because that’s going to be a huge part of my job—being the national ambassador to the Children’s Miracle Network. It will be important to have some fresh stories to tell on the radio and TV and to people I meet to encourage them to donate money to this worthy cause.

PM: Your’s was not a quick journey to the title. Tell us about your journey to Miss America.
It took me four tries to become Miss Virginia. But I always knew that even as a local titleholder, and because of this organization, I would always have the opportunity to make a difference. That was my main goal—I wanted to be able to make an impact in my world, whether it be a little at a time or a lot. It gave me the drive and energy to continue to compete because it wasn’t necessarily about winning a title. It was about the journey, the experience, community service, and the ability to make a difference in this world, and also to have it make a difference in my life. I had completely embraced the process, and to be able to make it through the process helped me so much with self-growth in job interviews and knowing what does look right or doesn’t look right on my body. I’ve learned all of this through pageantry. When you set your eyes on a local or state title or even Miss America and you don’t get it, it’s disappointing when you don’t get the results that you want, especially when you feel like you’ve given it your all. But it’s a success either way, because you did yourself and your family proud in the process.

PM: Looking back at the evening, everyone was very overcome with emotion—particularly your mother and your father. Has the reality even hit them yet?
It did at Wal-Mart. My mom called me and said that when she got back to Virginia from the Super Bowl, she went shopping for the next snow storm that was coming. She said that as she was walking through the store, someone stopped them and said, “That’s Miss America’s parents!” And someone else said, “That’s the tennis shoe mom,” because if you didn’t notice, she wore white tennis shoes when she walked up to the stage for my crowning in her cute little cocktail dress. I think they’re starting to get it that people even know who they are, so it’s a lot of fun.

PM: We first met, like Miss America 2009 Katie Stam, at the Atlanta Fashion Market. What’s it like to attend one of the industry’s largest events from the fashion side?
That is absolutely awesome to go and see the process from the people going to shop and do their buying, and the designers come and launch their new lines. To see the live fashion shows inside of the showrooms was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. You get to see an entire line from the beginning and what it takes to bring the designs to fruition.

PM: Did you work with anybody in particular while you were at market?
I worked with Sherry Hill on the design of my gown, and she supplied a very wonderful gown for me and I was excited. It’s something I hope to have and wear for a long time. The color was my mother’s idea; she was the one who decided that yellow would be a great color for me. I was really excited that she was able to come up with something in yellow. This year we’ll have the pleasure of Stephen Yearick (Jovani) designing all of my gowns, so maybe he’ll be able to come up with some fabulous creations.

PM: Were there any trainers or special people who worked with you at the state level as you were coming up, telling you what will work for you and help you out?
The Miss Virginia Organization has a wonderful prep team of people who specialize in helping to get us ready. Wendy and Elaine were tremendously instrumental in that process, as well as my State Executive Director [Harlan Gudger] actually. He works at the V.A., and he works with the physical therapy department. He was calling me and giving me exercises and helping me with the physical training aspect of it. And of course there are people who will call in or people that you have mock interviews with and they’ll give you advice. Some things you can take and some you can’t. You have to take what works best for you, leave what doesn’t, and try to shape and mold yourself into the best possible competitor you can be on that level.

PM: Aside from the pageant aspect, you’ve competed in another part of the glamour industry, such as modeling.
When I was younger, my mother and my aunt put me into the Barbizon program. They thought it would be cool for me to do something that would teach life skills, makeup, and etiquette. It’s so much more than just a modeling program, and that’s something a lot of people don’t know. I’m 5’4”, so a career in the modeling industry wasn’t something that I knew was going to happen for me. But it was an opportunity—a six month course—that gave me life skills that are absolutely unparalleled. I had the opportunity as a result of that to go to IMTA in New York, and I competed in the talent portion at that competition and I actually won. That was my first big international competition.

PM: And you not only competed, but did you not also return as a chaperone?
I did. Last year I returned as a chaperone and it was so awesome. You see those girls going through the same things that you went through, thinking that this might be their one big shot to make it big or be on the next TV show. IMTA has been a launch pad for some of the biggest models and entertainers in the world. It’s awesome to be in that arena on the other side, but I think it’s a little more nerve-wracking, because when you’re in a competition you have the ability to control what you do and what’s going on. But when you’re on the outside, rooting for the people you love, it’s nerve-wracking because you want them to do well. I have no idea what it’s like to be a pageant parent, friend or follower, but that absolutely has to be big nerves.

PM: Going back to the Miss America event, there were quite a few twists in the telecast this year. What was going through your mind when your sister delegates were asked to choose the final finalist?
I thought that was one of the most amazing opportunities that we had, because we spent the entire 10 days together and we also had met each other in Orlando. We knew what it takes to be Miss America and we knew what we’d all laid on the line to be where we were. It was only appropriate that we were able to vote someone in—someone who we thought should have the opportunity to continue advancing. I thought it was awesome that they put the power in our hands for a change.

PM: Have you received any advice from your Miss America predecessors?
Absolutely. After the pageant I was overwhelmed by the offerings of love from my Miss America sisters. We’ve already all been keeping up with each other, sending emails and chatting. I’m excited about the relationship that I’m going to have the opportunity to build with these amazing women. It’s surreal that there are only 89 women who have had the pleasure of having this job that I now have. I’m excited about getting to know them—who they are and more than what I just know about them from pageantry and what I’ve seen on tape.

PM: Every year we talk about the travel and the miles, and it really has to be draining. At the end of the year, as it closes, when we look back on your year of service, what do you hope to have accomplished?
I hope to have been the best titleholder I possibly could have been by being the national ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, but also because I want to promote my personal platform of Real Talk: AIDS in America. I want to be a role model for my generation, one who can promote positive choices and healthy choices, and making self-respect a cool thing. I hope that people see in me the attributes of a good role model. My goal is to save lives and if I save one life it will have made the entire 365 days worth it.

PM: Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
From the competitor’s aspect, I would say to all of the young women who are competing in this organization to keep doing it and keep trying, because you are Miss America to someone, whether it’s at the local, state or national level. Always share yourself in that manner, because there’s always a possibility that this dream may come true for you, no matter if it’s your first time or your fourth time. It could happen, you never know. To the supporters of this competition, I would tell them to continue supporting us, because we would not be able to run without the volunteers, the fans and the people who have laid their hearts on the line for the young women who compete in this program. They are the very blood in the veins that make this organization work. We are so thankful to them, and I want to encourage people to get involved and be uplifting to the titleholders.


MAO 2010 Honorable Awards

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