Journey to the Crown: "One Band, One Sound!"

By Kaitlin Gates on January 24, 2013 from Journey to the Crown via

I have been home from Miss America for almost two weeks now, and that has given me time to reflect upon the entire experience. It was, in many ways, what I imagined and, in many ways, not what I imagined. I was told by many Miss West Virginias prior to my departure that the time in Las Vegas would fly and it absolutely did. I felt link I blinked and I was on the plane home.

The time I spent in Las Vegas was nothing short of wonderful. I was worried the girls would be rude and very cutthroat on the national level, but it was the total opposite. Miss Arkansas teased my hair more than she probably wanted to and Miss Colorado let me borrow the cute black dress you saw during the live telecast. If someone said she needed something or forgot anything, 30 girls jumped to the rescue, offering a solution to help. I truly felt as if I made so many lifelong friends, several of whom will probably be in my wedding! I wasn’t worried about the outcome because any girl there would have made a great Miss America. Each girl was so qualified and deserving, the judges had a difficult task in choosing the winner.  We shared inside jokes, hopes for the future, secret wishes, and so much more. The Class of 2013, in my opinion, is so tight-knit. We all keep in-touch via social media, text messaging, and a private Facebook group. It was such an honor to be among this group of women.

As the week went on, I felt uneasy. I’ve never been so unsure of anything in my life. I tried to forget the fact that this was the biggest pageant I would ever compete in, but it was looming over me. I often wonder why we as contestants get one shot for something so big, but that’s how it goes.  I had many thoughts running through my head, but my biggest fear was letting 10-year-old Kaitlin down. For so many years, this has been what I have dedicated my time and energy to and I was worried I would feel as if I failed if I didn’t make the Top 15. I felt like I did my best in every area of competition and prepared as much as I possibly could have. I have not one regret from the entire week or my preparation and that’s what counts. I left my heart on the stage and was at peace knowing the entire situation was out of my control and there was nothing more I could have done.

My goal was to make the Top 15, and I didn’t do that. Sure, I was upset, but think of how many girls never get the opportunity to be among the Top 15 at Miss America. I felt selfish getting upset when I had an opportunity some can only dream of.  When the final night came, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and I had this strange sense of calm about me. I was more excited than anything to see how God wanted to use me. I viewed the final night as knowing part of His plan for me . I really wanted to make the first cut for West Virginia. We haven’t done so since 2002, so I wanted to put my state back on the map. I felt as if I had a good chance to make the Top 15 because I am consistent. I am not overly strong in one area of competition over another, but pretty good all across the board. I can honestly say I haven’t shed one single tear regarding the pageant results. The announcement of the Top 15 was more a relief for me because I was tired of not knowing path my life would be taking. I made my way to the “Loser’s Lounge” with my head held high knowing I did my best and eager to see what the rest of my time as Miss West Virginia has in store for me. God doesn’t make mistakes and it wasn’t a mistake that I was not a semi-finalist.

As with anything, there are always some things you dislike. Here are a few aspects of the experience I was not fond of:

--- I didn’t care for the cameras constantly following us. Having “Good Morning America” and ABC filming for “20/20” added unnecessary stress.  We had to look around at lunch to make sure a camera didn’t pick up a personal conversation and it was intimidating when they selected some contestants over others to speak with during a rehearsal or event.

--- I was shocked at some of the profanity I heard during the week. At one dinner, we were asked to take a group picture and I overheard one contestant say, “Are you __________ kidding me?” (you can use your imagination there). If you’re complaining about taking a picture at dinner, what do you think your entire year as Miss America would be like? That is not classy and NOT how ANY titleholder in this prestigious organization should act. I was appalled.

--- I also didn’t care for traveling with 52 other girls plus chaperones for 10 days. I know it was for safety purposes and the security team does an awesome job, but by the end of the week it was a lot to wait for elevators, wait for doors to be unlocked, and wait for the roll call of all the contestants. But… they did tell us at orientation, “One band, one sound!” and that’s how we operated. I appreciate their concerns and hard work for our safety. Thanks to Rodney, Chris, Louis and the rest of the security team for keeping us safe all week!

--- I was kind of disappointed as the week went on that I didn’t experience an “ah-ha” moment that I was actually competing at Miss America. I figured I would be way more nervous than usual, but that wasn’t the case.  It felt like any other pageant during the preliminary competition, but I finally got that moment I had been waiting for during the final night. As the 53 contestants stood backstage, we had monitors that showed what viewers at home were seeing. With the cheers of the sold-out theater and the telecast playing, I couldn’t help but become emotional. It was at that point that I realized my childhood dream had come to life and I was competing for the title of Miss America.

My Miss America experience was phenomenal. I am so blessed to have had that opportunity. 13,000 girls compete on a local, state, and national level to make it to those 53 spots on the stage. It wasn’t in my plan to be Miss America and I am fine with that. I am excited to continue my work in the state of West Virginia and move on to bigger things. This pageant does not define me, it is a part of who I am. I like to think of it this way: if that was the most important thing in my life then it will be a slow decline for the next 60 years! I have so much more ahead of me!

I cannot express my thanks enough to my family, friends, sponsors,  and Miss WV Board of Directors for helping me reach the Miss America stage. La Casa Hermosa and owner Robin Fleming provided my gowns for the week, so my sincere thanks goes to her. Also, Cathy Herd of Cathy Herd Consulting helped me prepare in every single way and was so instrumental in my success at Miss America. Thank you so much for all of your time and advice! I also appreciate all of the support I received from home. The sweet cards, facebook post, tweets, and words of encouragement gave me all of the confidence I needed to perform to the best of my ability. Also, thanks to my friends during pageant week for making the experience truly memorable! Last, to my parents. I will never be able to thank you enough, but I wouldn’t have made it to Las Vegas without you. You both have supported my dream since I was 10 and found every way possible to help make it a reality. You were my biggest fans (my dad even made a Twitter to follow what we were doing in Las Vegas!) and I appreciate the sacrifices you made for me.  THANK YOU ALL!

Congratulations to Mallory of New York for being crowned Miss America 2013. If you look at her crowning photos, the girls in the background are genuinely excited she won. She is a breath of fresh air and will be fabulous for the organization. I enjoyed visiting with her during pageant week and can’t wait to see what her journey brings!
(Check out the below photo gallery for photos of Kaitlin's Miss America experience.)

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