I can hardly fathom the past two months of my life. The blessings I have been swarmed with have been overwhelming and deeply humbling. I have been smothered in the love of many people who have put generous and thoughtful time into making the effort to show their support. A simple text message, sweet Facebook message, social media post, card sent, gift given, and kind word shared have all played a tremendous part in helping me stay positive and uplifted.
Watching Cat compete at MAOTeen was one of the best experiences I’ve had. I was there when she competed for her local title, Miss Clayton’s Outstanding Teen, and I have watched her compete in the finals at MNCOTeen, but there was an even brighter spark within her that glistened throughout each time I saw her, on and off the stage. Her smile lit up the stage every time she stepped foot on it. She seemed so content and satisfied within herself after each preliminary night and it truly was inspirational. Obviously, we all know how amazing Cat is!! Finding the words to describe how proud I am of her comes out as jibber jabber because my excitement always gets the best of me! We have one of the best Outstanding Teens representing our state… Not just because she won preliminary evening gown/ onstage question, but because she is a prime example of each and every characteristic it takes. She epitomizes what it means to lead by an example of humility and grace, rather than boastfulness and conceit. Her voice speaks loud and reaches every corner of a place without her even having to raise her tone. I am so proud to call Cat not only an MNCOTeen sister, but MY sister. Love you, Cat!!
My preparations for Miss America were nothing short of amazing. I am incredibly blessed with a state committee who were willing to do any and everything it took to make my experience perfect! If there was ever a moment of panic or a situation that was not going as planned, I never stressed or worried because we always found a solution! There was little time for appearances between MAOT and Miss America because there were so many things on the agenda to get done, but Mrs. Susan was wonderful in scheduling my calendar so that I could make a few appearances, while still getting in my workout times with BG, mock interviews with Mr. McNeil and Mrs. Amanda Roberts, trips to sponsors to get needed wardrobe attire, fittings with Mr. Gregory Ellenburg, shopping and hair salon days with Mrs. Melinda, and practice time in the studio! I’m so thankful that everything came together so smoothly and fitted to what was best!
I was actually a little nervous for my wardrobe showing… Silly right? I was honestly just so excited to finally show my attire and I wanted everyone to love my clothes as much as I did! I presented my onstage question dress, swimsuit, evening gown, talent costume and dance, and my parade outfit. Each time I walked onstage, I saw the room light up with smiles and it made me so happy! The applauds were loud and I was jumping for joy. I was thrilled to see my babies from my dance studio surprised me and performed!! Mrs. Beth had previously asked me what three titleholders I would like to have, and I gave her three of my favorite former titleholders. But, shortly after, I asked if it would be at al possible for my sister and her trio partners to perform because I loved their lyrical dance and I knew they were coming, so I wanted to make them feel special. Of course, Mrs. Beth worked her magic and got the whole gang to come! I stepped from behind the curtain to watch as they kept smiling at me while they were dancing and my heart was so full. We saved the parade outfit for last because it was the “fun piece,” and man, people loved it!! I looked down at my family and my dad had tears in his eyes. I saw my family and a few friends get teary-eyed when I came out in my gown, but for some reason when I saw my dad cry for this one, I started crying, too! Mr. Lane made the show so much fun and energetic, per usual. I mean, when have we ever watched him emcee a show that wasn’t amazing?? NEVER!! I’m so thankful for all that he’s done in helping me prepare for each and every pageant since I was crowned Miss Cabarrus County. Thank you to each and every one of you from my family, friends, Miss NC Org., Misses and Outstanding Teens, former Miss North Carolina’s, supporters, etc., who were in attendance on that special day. Thank you for all of the cards, sweet letters, kind words, and gifts that were given, but the greatest gift of all were your embracing hugs and smiles because they made me feel so ready and fulfilled.
After my wardrobe showing, my mom and I went back to my apartment to get everything ready for Mrs. Beth, Mrs. Melinda, and Mrs. Rhonda Whaley to pack! I have never seen suitcases more strategically and neatly packed than when I opened them after Mrs. Rhonda got ahold of them!! She’s the superwoman of packing! I was lucky to travel home that Saturday evening so that I could spend one last night with my family before heading to New Jersey. We went to church and heard a beautiful message, and when the service was finished, my dad led us to the front to speak to Pastor Rick Ross. He began to explain to him that I was about to leave for Miss America, but he asked my mom to explain further because he had big tears in his eyes and could hardly speak. Pastor Rick said he had seen that on Facebook and he was very proud, so he prayed over my family and I. He prayed that I use this special time to accomplish great things, but to glorify God in all that I do and to be an example of His people and a follower of Him so that I will never be unsure of the right path and have clarity in where He leads me.
When Mrs. Beth dropped me off at the airport in Raleigh to depart for Atlantic City, I had a moment where my heart dropped. I realized that I wouldn’t see her or anyone from NC for nine days! When I arrived to the airport, I was greeted by the Miss America security team and taken to our designated hotels. I quickly grew to love my roommate, Miss Oregon, and we actually made our Monday Night Facebook LIVE together!! The whole first week was tons of fun! On that first Tuesday, we had our Official Welcoming Ceremony on the boardwalk. Introducing myself as Miss North Carolina felt different all of a sudden. It felt more like a dream because I was amongst my fellow state sisters, and it was there that it hit me… I WAS FINALLY AT MISS AMERICA!!!!! We received so many beautiful gifts from the national sponsors, as well as taken to many dinners and private outings that made us all feel so special! And, we still managed to get our workouts in at the hotel after our “family meetings” with our hostesses (who were so incredible)! Rehearsals were great and stress-free because the choreographers were so nice and amazing!! But really, they were AMAZING dancers! I was pretty much obsessed with them. Walking on the stage for the first time after being in the rehearsal room gave me chills like no other. I wasn’t sure how to anticipate my feelings when stepping on the stage, but the “kissing the floor” picture pretty much sums it up! Hurricane Hermine didn’t stop us from having a fun film day, but it most certainly tried.. Rounding out the fun, our last two days were spent playing golf (AKA pretending to know what was going on and taking pictures) and a much needed relaxing spa day!
To make interview day even more interesting, my nephew was born! It was actually really neat because the judges asked me a question about family compromises and I was able mention that he was born that morning and they smiled and said congratulations! Honestly, competition week went by so quickly. I felt extremely satisfied with my interview and walked out feeling so confused as to why it took me years to walk in and out of an interview feeling that good!! The first night of competition was rushed because rehearsals ran a little over, so we basically sprinted to hair and make up, but I was so happy to see Melinda!! Talent night was by far my favorite because it has always been my dream to perform on that stage and I felt my Papa dancing with me the whole time! It was also awesome that I found my family in the audience during opening number, so the whole time I danced, I looked to them, the judges, and Sam Haskell. If you watch the video of my dance, you will see a part where I had just rolled to the ground and stood up reaching to the two NC sections! Onstage question went well and I was content with my answer because it was truly on the spot and in the moment. I felt great in swimsuit and tried showing off my GORGEOUS jewelry from Marie Rudolph, and the song being “Me Too” by Meghan Trainer helped the sass and confidence come out just fine! Walking in my evening gown felt like a dream! I truly could not picture a dress more suited to me! I walked into Mr. Greg’s with a few slight ideas but a very clear “feeling” and he helped that come to life perfectly!!! I had an incredible time spending the evening with my family, friends, and Cat at the Steele Pier. We all had so much fun walking down the boardwalk for the CMNH Miracle Mile Walk and riding rides on the pier. I had been anticipating the “Show Us Your Shoes” parade for years!!!!! I could not wait to put on my outfit and ride in the car with my brother down the boardwalk while my hip was most likely going to cramp… BUT I DIDN’T CARE because I was just so excited!!! We all prayed for no rain, and we got very lucky that it did not down pour on us! However, I most certainly did not think about how those flags on my back would wave if there were gushing winds… GUSHING winds. Nevertheless, I would rather it be wind than it actually “rain on my parade.”
So then came finals… We had a day to sleep in (until 8am), go to brunch, rehearse, go to dinner, and time to calm down before the show. Standing backstage while the camera crew counted down and hearing the crown roar had me tickled! We peeked through the side curtains to watch the introduction video, and when that final transition drumroll came, I don’t know which came first, but my heart and stomach dropped to my toes! I grabbed Miss New York’s hand and we led our group out onstage. Within a split second, I was balling. I’m crying right now just thinking about it!!!! Stepping in front of the audience in Boardwalk Hall and the entire nation on Live TV got the best of me (in a good way) and I was completely and utterly overjoyed. I immediately saw the NC committee section when we took our first steps and I blew them kisses. I high fived Miss Utah as we passed each other center stage and looked in the direction I was going and saw my family and friend’s section with lit up NC signs, waving their checkered flags and I could hardly breathe. When opening number was finished and we headed to our new formation to hear the top 15 called, I glanced at my sash and was in shock. I could not believe that I was Miss North Carolina. It felt surreal. We had so much fun during commercial breaks… For example, after Miss Kentucky was called as America’s Choice, we sang. The first commercial after the judges were announced (I basically died when Cole Swindell walked past us onstage), we sang “1, 2, Step” and Ciara was dying laughing and began to video us!! When my name and title were not called to be in the top 15, I had a second a disappointment, only because I felt like I had let our state down because we all know that North Carolina deserves a spot. However, going into finals, I was completely content with everything I had competed with and how I had done. I knew that if I didn’t make it, the judges just weren’t looking for “me” because I showed them every bit of who I am! I hugged my sisters and we made our way over to the benches and we had a BLAST! I sat beside my best friends as we cheered on our sisters and watched them rock it out!! I’m so proud of each and every one of them for how well they did. And, I’m so proud of our new Miss America, Savvy Shields! She’s an outstanding human being and I’m thrilled to have her represent our Class of 2017! I am so pleased to have been named a non-finalist talent winner out of so many unique and beautiful talents!
As most of you have probably seen, I had to fly home to Charlotte after Miss America to be with my family. Saturday while I was in Atlantic City, my Aunt Cary (who was also my Godmother) went into cardiac arrest. I was not made aware of this until Sunday night at the after party and I immediately panicked, but my Aunt and Uncle asked my parents not to tell me so that it would not affect my performance if I were to re-compete in finals. My cousin Kayla, who is my best friend, was at Miss America during the week. She had to rush to find a flight home and I didn’t even know. My family and I went straight to the hospital Monday night and sat with my family. We went again on Tuesday, and I left for Sanford on Wednesday. I was scheduled to be at the Lee County Fair and making appearances in Sanford until Sunday afternoon. However, after arriving back to the hotel Friday morning after speaking to the 4th and 5th graders at Tramway Elementary, I was making a cup of coffee when I got a call from my mom. The instant I heard her say, “Hey Kenz,” I responded with. “What’s wrong? What happened?” She proceeded to tell me that it wasn’t good and that Mrs. Beth and Mrs. Cheryl were made aware of the situation and they all think I should go home. I opted to make the next appearance at the high school since I would be missing that evening’s events, but Mrs. Cheryl came to my hotel and helped me pack my bags and said I should be with family. I even offered to go back to Sanford if my family thought I would be okay to do so, but she insisted we reschedule the events and that I focus on being with family and not worry with driving two hours back and forth.
And so, by the time I had made it home to the hospital, the doctors gave my Aunt Cary hours. They advised that we say our goodbyes and it turned our world upside down. She passed later that evening, and I was so thankful that my committee and Mrs. Cheryl gave me that time to be home with my family and with my cousins. I figured the funeral service would be Monday, but when we finalized it to be on Tuesday, Mrs. Susan rescheduled my Tandem jump with the Golden Knights at Fort Bragg. I’ve been so fortunate to be home with my family during these past few days, as they have been dark and sad. One thing that has helped me was going to the dance studio. I’ve expressed multiple times that the studio and dancing in general have been my safe place for years. I absolutely love teaching, but it felt so good to get back in the classroom and learn. I hope to get in as many dance classes as I possibly can, both teaching and learning, because I would love to spend this year performing as much as possible. The only way to perform well is to stay well trained. Thank you, Dance Productions, for always being my home away from home, easing my mind, and filling my heart.
I have also been devastated by the events in my beautiful city of Charlotte. I will say that the origin of the occurrences did happen in the townhomes I lived in with my best friends prior to winning Miss North Carolina this summer. God works in mysterious ways. I have been praying for each and every person who lives in Charlotte and the surrounding areas, and have been constantly checking on my friends at UNC Charlotte because the university has been dealing with rumors and safety precautions. I was supposed to walk in the Charlotte Seen Fashion Show this evening (September 23rd), but with all of the safety hazards in Uptown Charlotte, the state committee suits it best that I do not attend. My parents, family, directors, and myself worry because of the threats that have been made and the actions that have been called upon by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as the National Guard. I will continue to pray for the city I call home and hope to see peace, and I ask that you will do the same.
I am excited to return to Raleigh and hit the ground running! I cannot wait to be in Dunn for the Mule Days Parade and attend the Campbell University football game! Please continue to pray for my family, as this year has been devastatingly hard losing our Papa G on April 21st, and our beautiful Aunt Cary one week ago, September 16th. To conclude this blog, I want to mention a few mental notes I have taken over the past two months:
- You sparkle most when you are confidently yourself.
- You are most content and proud of yourself when you know you have given everything YOU have to give.
- Everyone should own at least one bottle of waterproof mascara. And know when to wear it…
- Be thankful of your resources and those who willingly and genuinely have your best interest at heart.
- Dreams really do come true if you have the courage, faith, and patience to pursue them.
- Practice what you preach – Use your safe places.
- Family comes first.
- Life is so precious – Never let a day go by where you don’t tell someone you love them, do what you love, or love what you do.
Until next time! XOXO