Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being Miss USA.
I started attending the Miss Virginia USA and Miss Virginia Teen USA pageants with my mom when I was only 8 years old. I was always so excited to meet the girls competing, watch the show and rush up afterwards to get pictures with the new Queens. It was the highlight of my year!
I remember being backstage before the show one year, and the Executive Director, Kim Nicewonder walked by. Of course, I was in awe of the beauty she exuded from the inside out, and how she took a moment to acknowledge a doe-eyed little brunette girl staring adoringly up at her. I remember it like it was yesterday — she stopped, kneeled down and said “You know, you’re going to be one of those girls one day” as she pointed to all the beautiful contestants. I looked back at her, as if my life depended on it, and replied “You really think so?!” She sweetly answered, “I know so!”
The seed was deeply planted at that very moment, and fast-forward 8 years later to my being crowned Miss Virginia Teen USA. That was a year of growth, challenges, volunteering, lots of laughter, traveling to places I’d only ever dreamed of — it was the start of a beautiful and loving friendship with Kim Nicewonder. She always made me feel like part of her family, and encouraged me every step of the way to Miss Teen USA. That year came and went, I gave up my title, graduated high school, got accepted into Virginia Tech and started focusing on the Miss Virginia USA crown.
Coming back to the stage as a Miss was a whole new ball game. Aside from my collegiate responsibilities, all I thought about was the Miss VA USA title. I wanted to serve my state, promote my platform, make a positive impact on all those I came in contact with, and grace the Miss USA stage. I won the Miss Virginia USA crown in 2007.
Here’s the thing, not many people realize what goes on behind the scenes. Most people have little to no understanding of the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual preparation it really takes to compete, let alone win a coveted crown. And to have a mentor like Kim really changed my life. That year was one of the best experiences of my life, but it was also challenging — filled with many honest and deeply vulnerable conversations with my close inner circle. I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to be the BEST Miss Virginia USA, and luckily I had people like Kim to remind me that I was enough, that I was doing enough, and that regardless of a win, a lose, or draw at Miss USA, she reminded me that I was a phenomenal Miss Virginia USA.
I finished 6th at Miss USA, and went back to Virginia only to experience a terrible school massacre of which my school and classmates were the victims — the largest school massacre in history. As if that weren’t enough, a few days after, my brother was involved in a near fatal car accident that sent him into a coma for several weeks. I was thrown into the terrifying unknown, not knowing if he would ever wake up. I sat in the hospital waiting room and prayed for a complete miracle for my brother, and watched the Miss Universe pageant in that very same room. And you know who was there holding my hand? Kim Nicewonder. She cried with me, prayed with me, brought food to my family, and even did our laundry while we were waiting to see if my brother would survive. She was the first person my brother remembers seeing after he woke from his coma. Yes he made it out! But not before being joined in prayer by my Miss Virginia USA sister Kristel Jenkins-Wittensoldner, and Natalie Rife-Williams, the Miss Virginia USA vocalist. Thankfully, my brother made a full recovery. He is a true miracle from God.
Miss Virginia USA is so much more than a pageant to me, and clearly so much more than a pageant to Kim. Throughout the years, she has been like a second mother, a mentor, a boss, and now one of my dearest friends. Her heart is so pure, and she truly loves running an organization that can change a young woman’s life for the better. That’s exactly what it did for me.
I gave up my Miss title in 2008, where Kim asked me to co-host the final show. I was unsure and nervous, I had never read from a teleprompter in my life, and really had no clue if I could host a show of that magnitude. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. To this day I stand behind my statement: that show was the start of my hosting career. And this year will be my 11th year hosting the Miss Virginia USA and the Miss Virginia Teen USA pageants.
After I gave up my title, I graduated from Virginia Tech and moved to Los Angeles. All the while, Kim supported my dreams and goals. She would never tell you this, but she even paid for my acting and hosting classes when I could barely afford ramen noodles and rent. Before I had talent representation, she helped me book hosting jobs on red carpets so that I would have the opportunity to interview celebrities, and submit my footage to talent agencies. When I auditioned for Deal or No Deal, Kimberly Grigsby-Crocker, my Miss Virginia Teen USA sister, was there to make sure I was camera-ready. She did my hair and make-up, and was the first person I called when I found out I booked the show!
You see, the Miss Virginia USA Organization IS a family. We pride ourselves on that. When pageant weekend rolls around every year, we all band together to create a fabulous show and a wonderful experience for every young lady who graces that stage. Our intention is to provide an honest, safe, fun and fair space where every girl leaves feeling more confident, brave and ready to thrive in the real world.
I have no idea where I would be without Kim Nicewonder and her incredible organization. Who would have thought that this small-town, Wise County girl would be living in Los Angeles, auditioning and booking her dream jobs? Not I. And I know, wholeheartedly, that it is because of the love, support and guidance I received over the years, and continue to receive every single day, from my Miss Virginia USA family. For them, I’m forever grateful. Kim, you are an angel in my life and I love you endlessly.