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10 Tips for First Time Pageant Contestants

Miss Universe 2012 crowning
Olivia Culpo Miss Universe 2012

Being a first-timer for anything could be nerve-wracking, let alone a pageant – where all eyes are on you as soon as you walk on stage. 

The pageant world can be overwhelming but fear not! As a person who has participated in her fair share of beauty pageants, and coached numerous queens, I can help calm some fears. 

Here are my 10 tips you need to know if you are a first-time contestant.

Expect the Unexpected

Pageant contestants on stage

If there is one thing that you should expect from beauty pageants, it is the unexpected!

It doesn’t matter how thoroughly mapped out your pageant process is, not everything will go exactly as planned. What you have planned on paper could look a lot different when played out in real life. 

This is not to say that you should be okay with things running extremely late like shows being delayed for hours on end. That is a big no-no, but you should be flexible enough to deal with small technicalities here and there. 

Not Everyone is a Mean Girl

Mean girls movie

People try to paint pageant contestants in a “mean girl” light but that could not be further from the truth. While there are a couple of girls who do not generally get along with most other contestants, everyone else usually gets a long well.

You have to keep in mind that all the other girls are feeling the same as you. They are nervous and excited and all they are looking for is support from each other.

I met some of my best friends in pageants because I was open to creating new relationships. So, don’t miss the great opportunity to make new friends and be supportive. You never know when the connections you made in pageants can serve you later in life.

Count On Yourself

After preteen age divisions, contestants are generally expected to be self sufficient and take care of themselves at a pageant. If you need help zipping your gown or applying eyelashes, your best resource are fellow contestants. You’ll be amazed at the willingness of other women to help when you’re in need.

Each of us needs help from time-to-time, but that isn’t something you should calculate into your game plan. Contestants should not expect any special treatment from pageant staff. It’s not the responsibility of pageant coordinators or directors to help you practice for the interview competition or give you tips to improve your gown walk.

Be prepared to take care of your personal needs during your competition. Being your own biggest fan and supporter is crucial to maintain a positive mindset during competition.

It is Not as Glamorous as it Looks on T.V.

Pageant contestants on stage crowning

When it comes to the backstage of pageant, you need have to manage your expectations. Not everything is going to be as glamorous as it seems on television. In fact, it rarely is.

Speaking from experience, most dressing rooms are usually cramped with little to no space to store your personal items, put on makeup or do your hair.

Please do not expect your dressing rooms to look like they do at Miss Universe. Because Miss Universe dressing rooms don’t even look like they do on t.v. The public usually seems a small dressing room that was created for t.v. production. Venues do not have the space to house all pageant contestants in glam rooms, so instead they share small not-so-glamourous spaces with other contestants off camera.

It is a Growth Experience

Miss International crowning moment

Going into a pageant, you might feel like you have learned all that you possibly could but… hold that thought!

Regardless of how prepared you enter a pageant, you are going to learn something new from every experience. Every pageant is different, with different judges, different production teams, different contestants et cetera. 

So, be open to learning and accepting positive feedback. Whether you win the crown or not. There’s something valuable you can learn about yourself that will better prepare you for new opportunities. If you are not open to growth, you are going to miss out on a lot more than a crown.

Everyone Starts Somewhere

Going into a pageant as a newbie, may leave feel out of your comfort zone or intimidated. After all, you’re competing against exceptionally talented ladies, many of whom have competed before and may have more experience than you.

But keep in mind, though, that everyone wins on their own time. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Natasha Martinez, Miss California USA 2015. She said, “trust the journey.” Some queens win on their first try while others who win on their tenth. The key is to stay focused on yourself and your personal goals and not let anyone else faze you.

Pageants are Pricey

If you want to be a pageant queen, you better prepare yourself to spend a pretty penny.

From pageant clothes to makeup and hair, pageant costs can run deep. And that is before you even get to the pageant entry fees and most importantly, coaching. I created an entire episode that breaks down exactly what I spent when I competed for Miss USA. Even with help from sponsors, I spent over $20,000! You can check out the budget break down HERE.

This is why, a good practice is to set a budget for yourself and draw boundaries as to when you can save or splurge, and how you can get sponsors. I have several episodes in my pageant prep playlist that will help you to save for your next pageant.

You May Be Clueless Without a Coach

Miss World 2017

There is an ever-growing need for professional pageant coaching due to the high levels of competition nowadays. 

The benefits of having a coach are endless. The greatest benefit is the years of experience that you coach can bring to you. Having a coach is going to give you an extra edge to win that crown, especially if you are a serious contestant.

On the flip-side, not having a coach can hamper your performance because you are essentially just shooting in the dark without really knowing what is expected of you at a pageant.

Thinking about dipping your foot into pageant coaching? You can book a discounted new client appointment with me.  

Embrace the Hard Work

Pageant contestants in evening gown

Pageants are hard work! 

You are going to end up with swollen feet from wearing heels all day. Your face is going to hurt from all that smiling. And you are going to be exhausted. This is totally normal.

Therefore, before heading into a pageant, be sure to take care of your body, both physically and mentally. Before competition I always like to take some time to decompress. I spent time alone at a coffee shop to read and relax, or went on a long walk. Doing this helped to lower my stress leading into competition. Getting rest, eating well, and exercising are also essential to feeling your best at a pageant.

They Make it Look Easy

Miss Universe contestants

Potentially the biggest thing you will learn at your first pageant is how easy the pageant queens that you see on the television make it look easy.

Pageant weekend is one of the most hectic situations you are ever going to experience. The preparation is intense and the work and energy that goes into landing a crown is monumental.

No one takes the crown home by accident. It all comes as a result of discipline and hard work. Dedicated preparation is key to reaching your goal of capturing a title.

So, be ready. And please have fun!

Client Love

Salena Pham

Salena Pham, Miss Northern Utah USA 2021

"Dani completely changed how I interview, in the best way possible. She was clear, concise, and constructive in her feedback and always made sure I understood how to apply what she taught me. Not only is she extremely knowledge, but is also kind and encouraging. I truly cannot thank her enough for her help and guidance."

Kristen Brooks, NAM Miss New York 2019

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Kaitlyn Matherne, NAM Louisiana Teen 2017

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Cheyenne Paige, International United Miss 2017-18

"Dani made me feel so comfortable performing my first High Fashion Runway routine. With her help I had the highest score in my division and won the International title."

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