In Tune With Herself
2017 Miss America`s Outstanding Teen Nicole Jia reflects on her pageant experiences and her plans for a selfie-less generation
Orlando, Florida basked in the designation as the center of Teen Power while showcasing our nation’s outstanding teens as they travelled to the City Beautiful in their quest for the crown, scholarships, and title of 2017 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. For a dozen years, Orlando has opened its doors to MAOTeen as it has become a leading source of scholarships for these young women, ages 13-17, pursuing their college education. As the stage at the Orange County Convention Center’s Linda Chapin Theater turned on the spotlights, and the music hit a high octane beat, the energy infused opening production number of the contests set the tempo for the show we have looked forward to annually for a dozen years.
Fifty-one delegates enthusiastically bounded onto the stage highlighted by video introductions. All eyes then turned to the crown with the introduction of the top eleven delegates, Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen Alysa Bainbridge, Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen Kylene Spanbauer, Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen Catherine White, Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen Tiara Pennington, Miss Missouri’s Outstanding Teen Christina Stratton, Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen Heather King, Miss Oklahoma’s Outstanding Teen Nicole Jia, Miss Idaho’s Outstanding Teen Mady Thornquest, Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen Kelsey Hollis, Miss Louisiana’s Outstanding Teen Sarah Katherine McCallum, and Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen Angelica Jones. The final night of competition was under way, and one of these young ladies would soon capture the crown of MAOTeen 2017.
Lifestyle and Fitness, featuring the fifty-one teen delegates in fitness and aerobic wear, kept the energy high as the finalists showcased their personal commitment to a fit and healthy lifestyle along with their personal introductions. Fit and fabulous, this unique journey to the crown continued with all eleven finalists preparing to entertain the crowd through the Talent presentation.
Talent, such an integral part of the competition, presented the versatility and accomplishments of each state representative with performances by: Missouri – Ballet en Pointe, Georgia – Vocal, Texas – Vocal, Louisiana – Vocal, Oklahoma – Piano, North Carolina – Rhythm Tap, Alabama – Vocal, Wisconsin – Dance Twirl, Pennsylvania – Lyrical Dance, Florida – Contemporary Ballet, and Idaho – Contemporary Dance. With two competitions under the crown, it was time to narrow the field to the final five.
Exuding the grace, poise, and elegance of pageantry, the Evening Gown presentation, its compliment of fifty-one state representatives shining onstage, awed the crowd in its innate beauty. This would be the defining moment as the non-finalists exited the stage, leaving the final eleven to await the decision of the judges. Of these eleven, only five would be asked to approach center stage to face the judges in the Final Question.
As the delegates and audience awaited the final decision, 2016 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Allie Nault expressed her deepest appreciation to the organization during her final farewell. The scores had been tabulated and the proclamation announced: 4th Runner-up MAOTeen Louisiana ($2,000.00 scholarship), 3rd runner-up MAOTeen Florida ($5,000.00 scholarship), 2nd Runner-up MAOTeen Georgia ($7,500.00 scholarship), and 1st Runner-up MAOTeen North Carolina ($10,000.00 scholarship), leaving MAOTeen Oklahoma Nicole Jia as the newly crowned 2017 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. She captured the $30,000.00 scholarship in addition to her $500.00 scholarship as winner of MAOTeen Outstanding Instrumental Talent, a grand total of $30,500.00 in college scholarships.
Full of excitement and humility, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Nicole Jia visited with Pageantry magazine to discuss her platform, #BeSelfless, and her goals for the coming year as a representative of our country’s teens.
Pageantry magazine: Going back to August here in Orlando, Florida, what memory still stands out from your epic night?
Nicole Jia: Probably the crowning. That was the most amazing moment of my life. On the video, if you’ve seen it, I actually drop to the ground, because I cannot believe what has just happened. All of these girls put in so much work to go to this pageant. To be on the national stage, and to have been able to represent all of them and win the title that I’ve been working so hard for—that just the most wonderful moment of the entire week.
PM: Tell us a little bit about your original platform, This Little Light of Mine.
NJ: My beginning platform is called This Little Light of Mine, because it talks about kindness and the light that we all have within to shine onto others through compassion and through our actions and how we treat other people. My new campaign that I’m launching is called #BeSelfless, because I read an article that girls on average spend five hours a week trying to make the perfect selfie. That absolutely blew my mind.
This is very important to me because as a freshman, I changed high schools. I was the new girl, and high school can be tough enough as it is, but as a new person, it’s almost ten times harder. On weekends, I would see pictures of these girls posting selfies at parties, or at birthday dinners, that I wasn’t invited to, and that made me feel very, very left out, and isolated. Then, when I saw this article and the statistics, I was mind-blown. I thought “Why can’t we use our time for good? Why can’t we be using those five hours to show on social media all of the selfless things that people are doing for each other?”
With this campaign, it’s really just trying to document authentic moments of being kind to other people and doing things for others, instead of just posting pictures of yourself.
PM: With today’s social media, it does present a challenge of feeling left out.
NJ: You really do. As a new person at a new school, I had just moved to Oklahoma City two years prior, so this is a whole different experience for me. All these kids had been friends since pre-school. They already had their groups. They already knew who their friends were, so as a new person, it was really, really hard to integrate myself into my community. I think with these acts of selflessness that we see on social media amongst the selfie tide, I think it can be a breath of fresh air. People can see all of the wonderful things that teens are doing for other people, instead of just taking pictures of themselves.
PM: Let’s talk about your talent.
NJ: My talent is piano, and I have been playing piano since I was six years old. I absolutely loved my piece, because it was a representation of me. The basis of the song was Rondo Alla Turca, or Turkish March. It’s a pretty well-known song, but I worked with my piano coach, and we added some jazzy sections. We added some embellishment in the beginning. We really made it my own. I loved the fact that it was a classic piece, but with a twist. I really got to perform my heart out on the stage, and I just had a wonderful time playing it.
PM: Excellent. How do you feel about being a representative of America’s teens?
NJ: I am so honored with this amazing opportunity. I know that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of girls across the nation who have competed in locals and in their state pageant, and only a very few get to go to the national stage. To have been able to have won and to represent all of these girls, all of their hard work, that is just the biggest, most humbling opportunity that I have been given.
PM: What originally interested you in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?
NJ: When I was younger in my hometown, my dance helpers would compete in a local pageant that would go on to Miss Oklahoma. Wanting to support them, I went and watched them at the local, and when I got to see them perform all their talents, to be on stage in such beautiful dresses, and then answer their on-stage questions with such eloquence, I was absolutely immediately hooked.
PM: Being a teen, what do you feel is the major challenge facing teens today?
NJ: I do think that peer pressure is one of the biggest challenges that we are facing. A lot of times social media can play into that, as well. What’s important for us to remember is that it’s not about fitting in with the crowd. Every person has their own personality, and I think that’s what makes us all unique and special in different ways. My advice would be, “I know it’s very, very difficult to want to give into peer pressure, to want to do what everybody else is doing. But if you stand strong, if you know your values and believe in who you are as a person, and you ultimately keep your own amongst what everyone else is doing, you’ll be more successful in the end. I think you’ll enjoy the end result better than if you’ve gone along with what everyone else is doing.”
PM: Scholarships are a huge part of the organization. How have you benefited thus far?
NJ: The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization has given me so many scholarships that I’m absolutely grateful for. This year at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, I actually received thirty thousand five hundred dollars. Thirty thousand dollars for winning it, and an additional five hundred dollars for receiving the Outstanding Instrumentalist Award. That’s not including all of the in-kind donations and scholarships.
PM: In addition to scholarships, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen also promotes charitable community service works.
NJ: Yes. I’m so excited to be the Google Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals this year. Throughout my year as a local title holder going into Miss Oklahoma/Miss Oklahoma’s Outstanding Teen, I got to visit several hospitals. I’ve spent time with some kids and I’ve seen all of the wonderful, wonderful things that Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals are doing. I’ve met some champion children, and it’s so amazing to see how these kids have benefited from the hospitals, and how lively, how vibrant, how exciting they are. This organization and the partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is so amazing. To see these kids and what they’ve overcome and how they’re living their lives now, it’s absolutely amazing. I cannot wait for this year ahead.
PM: What was it like for you to attend Miss America in Atlantic City?
NJ: Miss America was awesome, to say the least. Awesome is just the first word that can come into my mind. I got to perform on the Miss America stage. Not many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to do that. To be able to play my piano piece in front of hundreds of people on the first night of prelim’s was absolutely amazing. When you get there, you see the giant crown, and it’s breathtaking. Miss America week was special for me because there were so many things that I got to do with my platform. I actually launched my #BeSelfless campaign on Atlantic City Beach with all the teens that came. We cleaned up a piece of the beach, and we really got to post about what the #BeSelfless campaign is promoting. I also got to go down to Philadelphia for one morning, and I was on Fox 29. They were really, really interested in #BeSelfless, so I got to talk to them about it. With all of the teens help, we collected seventeen boxes of school supplies. We went to a boys and girls club in Atlantic City and donated it all to them. It was just so amazing to get to see these kids, to hang out with them, to sit with them and talk while they ate their afternoon snack. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.
PM: You and your fellow Miss America Outstanding Teens did the Miracle Mile Walk.
NJ: We did. Yes. That was for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. We walked the length of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and at the very end there was a carnival. We all got these wristbands to get in, and all the money that was raised went towards Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. It was a wonderful evening.
PM: Speaking of the world famous boardwalk, I think I saw Miss Nicole cruising down in a car during the parade.
NJ: I did. That parade was absolutely amazing. I’ve always heard about it. I’ve seen pictures. I’ve always wanted to be in it, so to actually be able to experience it for myself was a once in a lifetime opportunity. To be able to hold my Miss America Teen shoe and stick my leg up and wave to everyone who was yelling, “Show us your shoes!”—that was just so much fun.
PM: It is very early in your year of service. What do you hope to accomplish?
NJ: This year I really, really just want to make big strides with my #BeSelfless campaign. On social media these days, you see a lot of people’s pictures of themselves with friends, with family, and that’s wonderful. But I think what we don’t see enough of is people doing good things for other people. Kindness and compassion happens every single day in our lives, but we may just not notice it. What I’m really trying to encourage people to do is find the small things. It can just be something simple, like holding the door open for someone. Somebody mowing their neighbor’s lawn. Somebody helping somebody put groceries in their car. Things like that really make a difference in people’s lives. What I really hope to gain is making social media, a little less selfie, and a little more selfless.
PM: Do you have a proverbial bucket list that you’d like to accomplish throughout the year?
NJ: I just really want to reach as many people as I possibly can. This platform is one I feel that many people can connect with on a personal level, and I think that’s wonderful. As long as people can get the word out, we can really work together to make a difference, to show people that kindness and compassion isn’t hard. It can happen anytime, anywhere.
PM: How has the reaction been within Oklahoma, as well as your high school, to you capturing the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?
NJ: It’s been amazing. All of my friends have been so supportive. When I came back they all hugged me so hard. They said, “Oh my goodness, my friend is Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.” It was a wonderful, wonderful time. I’m so grateful for their support that they’ve given me throughout the year. They’ve come to a lot of my locals, some have come to my state pageant. To be able to say that I have friends who care so deeply, who are so loving, and who are so supportive of my goals and my achievements, that’s just something that not a lot of people can say, but I’m so grateful to have that.
PM: What does the title Miss America’s Outstanding Teen mean to you?
NJ: Miss America’s Outstanding Teen means the world to me because it has been my dream for such a long time. Honestly, it still feels kind of like a dream. With this title and this platform, I feel like I just have the ability to reach so many people through my year of service, and that’s exactly what my goal is.