A Celebration of Excellence

Poise, character, talent, and beauty were on full display at the Miss Teen of America 2016 National Pageant, where Serena Zamarripa was chosen as the newest young woman to wear the crown

The Miss Teen of America 2016 National Pageant was about more than just pageantry. It was about showcasing the very best of our nation’s youth, accenting achievement, building lasting relationships, creating memories, empowering social inclusion, and celebrating excellence.

The Class of 2016 State Titleholders are the epitome of everything the pageant embodies. These young ladies are leaders in their schools and communities, active participants in clubs and service organizations, and agents for positive change. As imagined, bringing such an exceptional group together proved to be a jam-packed weekend of inspiration, impact, and fun.

Upon their arrival at Radisson Blu Mall of America, the State Titleholders were greeted by the reigning Miss Teen of America, Cornelia Hayes, where they enjoyed photo opportunities on the Miss Teen of America Red Carpet. After Orientation and the General Awareness Test, the State Titleholders participated in the MTOA State Introduction Dinner. Denise Wallace-Heitkamp, the very first Miss Teen of America National Titleholder (1984), hosted the dinner with grace and poise and Shannon Jipsen, Miss Teen of Missouri 1983,­­ delivered an impactful keynote address. The dinner also provided the opportunity for each State Titleholder to dress as an achiever from her state and share with the audience a highlight and what impact he or she made. From Ray Charles to gold medalist Shawn Johnson and everything in between, the State Introduction Dinner was a wonderful nod to Miss Teen of America Pageants of the past with a fresh new twist for the present. Rounding out the opening day festivities was the Purple Reign Party, which was named after one of Minnesota’s own hometown achievers, Prince. The Purple Reign Party allowed the State Titleholders to get to know one another, listen to some rocking music, take selfies, and enjoy a spread filled with delicious purple food.

The following morning started off with Personal Interviews, during which State Titleholders had the opportunity to spend time with the six distinguished National Judges. The interview portion is the highest weighted competition category and allows each young lady to present her best self to the judging panel. After the interview portion was entirely complete, members of the Special Olympics Minnesota staff, Mike Kane (VP of Area Programs & Initiatives), Jennifer Hansen (Senior Manager of School & Youth Initiatives), and Nick Cedergren (School & Youth Coordinator), provided an incredible training focused both on what Special Olympics represents and how to engage. Special Olympics Minnesota is the MTOA Special Olympics Founding Partner and has paved the way for what has truly been a great alliance and partnership with Special Olympics Athletes across the nation. As established leaders within their schools and communities, MTOA State Titleholders serve as Inclusion Ambassadors and are focused on ensuring that social inclusion is the norm.

As evening descended, the State Titleholders competed in the final preliminary judged category, Personality Projection & Poise. During this competition, each State Titleholder was given the opportunity to demonstrate confidence, beauty, and poise in an evening gown of her choice. The program was also edified by a National Anthem performance and speech by Maggie Erickson, Special Olympics Minnesota Athlete and the reigning Minnesota Miss Amazing Miss, as well as an interview with the reigning Young Miss of Texas Giselle Ashton. The reigning Miss Teen of America Cornelia Hayes also dazzled the audience with a vocal performance of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.

Immediately following the Personality Projection & Poise Competition, the National Judges were escorted out of the ballroom and the Celebrity Judges were escorted in for the Optional Events Competition. There were seven Optional Events that State Titleholders could participate in: art, creative writing, photogenic formal, photogenic informal, talent, sportswear, and fun fashion. As demonstrated by a completely different set of judges, the Optional Events Competition had no bearing on the judging process for the title of Miss Teen of America 2017. It simply gave the State Titleholders another avenue in which to shine. The Optional Events awards were presented by Maggie Erickson, Special Olympics Minnesota representative, and Doug Killian, 2016 National Sponsor of the Year (Mall of America) representative.

The next day was full of fun, excitement, and wonder inside Mall of America, the MTOA 2016 National Sponsor of the Year. The morning started off with a stop at Nationals Partner Caribou Coffee, where State Titleholders and staff were able to enjoy delicious pastries and coffee beverages. The next stop was to Forever 21, a much desired experience which didn’t disappoint. Forever 21 at Mall of America opened early for the MTOA group and provided an exclusive experience complete with a presentation from store manager Stephanie Renken, a shopping discount, and a tour of the multi-level store. Stylist Brandi DeVries also talked with the group about how to appropriately dress for individual body types. Walking through the beautiful Mall of America rotunda, the State Titleholders made their way to Sky Deck Lanes and Grill to join in a holiday event for HopeKids, an organization that provides joy to children and families with life threatening illnesses. SkyDeck was also the host to MTOA’s own Bowling and Game Inclusion Event. Athletes from Special Olympics Minnesota were greeted by a cheering and high-five receiving line of State Titleholders. Each athlete was paired individually with a State Titleholder and the duo spent the afternoon playing arcade games, bowling, pledging #Respect, exchanging gifts, and enjoying a pizza party. It is safe to say that lasting friendships were made. After an emotional “see you later,” the State Titleholders were whisked to Macy’s to partake in an autograph session with shoppers and then off to Nickelodeon Universe, an indoor amusement park within Mall of America. All of these incredible experiences were provided by the generosity of the Mall of America and their partner stores listed above. Special thanks is also given to FlyOver America, a virtual experience ride inside the Mall of America which hosted MTOA judges and VIP guests.
After an exciting and activity packed week, the day everyone had dreamed of finally arrived, the much anticipated MTOA Finals. Before being released to prepare, the State Titleholders were treated to an etiquette brunch hosted by MTOA Owner and CEO, and Mrs. International 2012, Sarah Bazey. The brunch was the perfect opportunity to share invaluable life skills and be reminded of the excellence that each and every one of them already possessed.

Mirroring the 2016 National Pageant experience, the 2016 National Pageant Finals was about more than just the coronation of Miss Teen of America 2017. It was an opportunity to showcase the very best of the Miss Teen of America Organization.

The show opened with the phenomenal talent of Sam Henningsgaard, Special Olympics Minnesota athlete, who performed the National Anthem. After introductions by each of the State Titleholders and of the National Judging Panel and VIP Guests, co-emcees provided great excitement by informing the audience that due to an un-breakable tie, the National Merit Finalists were now a top 11 instead of top 10. National Merit Finalists included: Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, Kentucky, Montana, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Texas, and Colorado. The Merit Finalists went on to compete in On-Stage Interview and Personality Projection & Poise. In celebration of the partnership with Special Olympics, Special Olympics Minnesota National Champion Athletes escorted the Merit Finalists in the Personality Projection & Poise Competition. The Tuxedo Shop by Macy’s generously donated the tuxedo rental for each of the athlete participants. The competition was led by the reigning Miss Teen of America Cornelia Hayes, who was escorted by Plunge Ambassador Jake Sayer and was accompanied by a live performance of “Just the Way You Are” by Nationals feature performer and singer-songwriter Bjorn Briel. Briel opened the second half of the show with the performance of “Set It Off,” which is a song he wrote and produced. Leading up to the crowning of Miss Teen of America 2017, the National Honor Court (top 5) was announced. The Honor Court included: Utah, New York, Virginia, North Dakota, and Texas. Each of the Honor Court members participated in a final fish-bowl question which was the last scored component of the National Pageant. As the judges were tabulating, special awards were presented to: 2016 Sponsor of the Year, Mall of America; National Category Award Winners; General Awareness: Carrington Curphy (IA), Scholastic Record: Tamera Jones (MS), Service & Achievement: Alexis Schugel (MN), Personal Development: Sierra Smith (OK), Interview: Kasiyah Tatem (DE), Personality Projection & Poise: Mackenzie Preston (NC) and National Spirit Award Winner Kara Eggink (CA). All of the State Titleholders were then showcased one last time during the Parade of Gowns, which was again accompanied by a live rendition of “The Power of the Dream,” performed by Bjorn Briel and Cornelia Hayes. Cornelia Hayes was celebrated through a powerful farewell and public acknowledgement of the incredible job she did serving as Miss Teen of America 2015. Then the culminating moment of the National Pageant had arrived‐the crowning of Miss Teen of America 2017. The Honor Court members were brought to the center of the stage, each very deserving and exceptional, and the results were shared. Fourth Runner-Up was Miss Teen of Utah, Megan Okumura. Third Runner-Up was Miss Teen of North Dakota, Lauryn Hinckley. Second Runner-Up was Miss Teen of Virginia, Kaitlyn Hyun. First Runner-Up was Miss Teen of New York, Leah Xiao. Finally, Miss Teen of America 2017 was awarded to Miss Teen of Texas, Serena Zamarripa!

The crowning of Zamarripa signified an end to an incredible National Pageant experience. However, it also signified a continuation of the reigns of the 2016 State Titleholders, which will confidently be filled with impact. Most importantly, it celebrated the excellence of each one of the participants in the Miss Teen of America 2016 National Pageant and each one of the members of the Miss Teen of America Family.