Just over a week ago, Miss Arizona Katelyn Niemiec represented the Grand Canyon State on the national stage during the Miss America pageant.
Despite not making the Top 15, she says it was an experience of a lifetime and she bonded with the other state titleholders. She is also looking forward to continuing the rest of her reign as Miss Arizona.
After the telecast, we emailed over five questions to Niemiec to gather her thoughts on the competition, the overall experience and hopefully some fun behind-the-scenes stories.
Below are her responses: They have been pasted below in their entirety. Only minor edits were made for overall clarity.
1) What was it like being on the Miss America stage? What did it feel like being able to represent Arizona? What were you thinking as the Top 15 were announced?
Stepping on to the Miss America stage for the first time was a moment that truly took my breath away.
For years, I watched former Miss Arizonas and Miss Americas grace that same stage. It was such a surreal and out-of-body experience being in the spotlights and knowing that this was the year that it was my name following the Miss Arizona title.
After competing for the job of Miss Arizona six times, the grit and inexplicable tenacity was there to represent our state organization, that taught me so much about being the best woman that I could possibly be. Whether I was rocking an Arizona-themed shirt at rehearsal, sharing new fun facts about our state at each of the preliminary nights, or having my family and friends wearing Arizona gear at all times, Arizona pride was loud in Atlantic City.
Being on the stage for the final night of competition was such a humbling experience knowing that it was not only the last night of being all together with my Miss America sisters, but it was also a night that would be one for the history books, with dreams coming true for many of us contestants and one of our lives was going to change forever. Each time one of my sisters was announced in the Top 15, I was genuinely happy for her, because it was her time to shine and be recognized for all of her hard work. Of course, it was disappointing to not be called into the Top 15, but I was thrilled by my preliminary competition performance and I would not have changed anything leading up to the final night.
The best part was that I knew that I was going to return home to the best job in the world - being Miss Arizona!
2) What were your favorite parts of being in Atlantic City?
Being in the birthplace of the Miss America Pageant makes the experience that much more incredible. From learning about Atlantic City's history, to enjoying the culture and food, to feeling the unrelenting support from the community, we all felt at home during the two weeks that we were there. One of my favorite nights was when the contestants and their families had the chance to have a few hours of fun on Steel Pier, enjoying the classic rides, stealing bites of funnel cake and cotton candy, and sharing our Atlantic City experiences with those who mean so much to us.
3) Which of the 51 other contestants did you bond with most? I bonded the most with the contestants in my group, Sigma, mostly because of rehearsal schedules, transportation and our same hotel accommodations. All of the contestants were split up into three competition groups: Mu, Alpha and Sigma. My roommate was Miss Georgia, and I also really connected with Miss North Carolina, Miss South Carolina, Miss Florida and Miss California.
I knew Miss Mississippi, Miss New Jersey and Miss Arkansas (now Miss America) from competing seven years ago at the Miss America's Outstanding Teen Pageant (the little sister program to Miss America), and I met Miss Alabama at the National Sweetheart Pageant in 2013. All 52 of us truly became so close and bonded during this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is such an amazing feeling to know that I have a friend in every state that I could go visit. And we are already planning our Miss America Class reunion trips!
4) As you return to Arizona, what is the next year like for you? What are you looking forward to and hoping to accomplish?
The next ten months that I have as Miss Arizona will be filled with service, travel and memories that will last a lifetime. Being Miss Arizona is a full-time job, and I know that every single day that I have left will be scheduled with ways to improve Arizona. My platform is Bullying S.T.O.P.S. Here, which includes curriculums that I have created for students, teachers and parents to educate themselves about statistics, stories & my five steps to end bullying.
Because bullying is a form of abuse, I also serve in the areas of child abuse, domestic violence, cyber safety, mental health and suicide as the Vice President of the Winged Hope Family Advocacy Foundation. I will be working with schools, police departments and non-profit organizations to help end bullying and the cyclical nature of violence.
I am also the state's ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, and I will continue my work with Phoenix Children's Hospital and Tucson Medical Center for Children by raising funds and visiting families in the hospitals.
My goals for this year also include acquiring more scholarship donors and in-kind sponsors to help the contestants who are rising up through this program, making Miss Arizona one of the leading state programs in the nation.
5) Any crazy, funny behind-the-scenes stories of the Atlantic City/Miss America pageant experience?
There are almost too many to explain. After spending two weeks with 51 other contestants, pageant staff members, countless volunteers, private security, police officers, television production staff and judges, every second of the day is entertaining and dynamic.
Hurricane Hermine decided to make a guest appearance during our filming of the opening of the live telecast. From being on the beach, to the pier and on a boat, all of us weathered the storm, truly experiencing "the show must go on" mentality of the entertainment industry. My seven seconds on national television to introduce myself and a fun fact about Arizona included being blown around in forceful winds and purple lips from being so cold.
The Show Us Your Shoes Parade is a historic event for the Miss America Pageant, with all contestants wearing elaborate outfits, including shoes, full of state pride. My outfit and shoes, which were decorated with more than one thousand pennies, celebrated Arizona being the Copper State. The car I was riding in during the parade broke down about three-quarters of the way through, leading me to join Miss Arkansas (who later became Miss America) in her car. That car broke down a few minutes after I jumped in, leading the both of us to jump in Miss California's car to finish out the parade. The three of us had the best time crammed together in the car, kicking our feet up to show off our shoes.
At the end of the live show, we had the opportunity to interact with the celebrity judges. I built up the courage to pitch an idea to Mark Cuban himself about having a Shark Tank-style show for non-profit organizations. Sadly, that won't be happening anytime soon because he said it's too hard to be mean to people who are trying to make a difference in the world.