DISCLAIMER: Omaha’s my town. Ok, Papillion is actually my hometown, but Omaha is my ADOPTIVE town. (I have dual citizenship.)
I’ve been a volunteer with the Miss Omaha organization for a few years now, so I know Miss Omaha and her fellow titleholders Miss Douglas County and Miss River City a little better than I know some of the others. I’ve been following one of these young women ever since she competed as a teenager back in 2011. The first night I saw her compete, I remember this tiny little girl walking on stage, opening her mouth to sing.. and my jaw DROPPING in awe of her voice.
Miss Omaha, Payton Merritt
This young woman is not only on a mission to win the title of Miss Nebraska in June, but to shatter every stereotype about pageants along the way.
“My job isn’t about outer beauty, but compassion and intellect,” said Payton, who recently received nearly a full-ride scholarship to Creighton University. “I want others to see that and understand that not everyone is simply seeking a place in the spotlight, but that we truly want to make a difference.”
As Miss Omaha, Payton is waging war against eating disorders, something she says she has personal experience with.
“It is not always the easiest thing to talk about, and the fact that it isn’t so is the exact reason I am doing it,” said Payton. “It was difficult for me to choose this as my platform because of the shame I had felt for so long, but ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I needed to set a precedent for others suffering. It is my hope to let people know it is okay to talk about and reach out for help, but also to make friends and family members aware of the severity and warning signs.”
I asked Payton, as I did all of the contestants, if Lifestyle and Fitness, aka the swimsuit competition, should remain part of the Miss Nebraska pageant?
“Many illnesses can be prevented from establishing healthy eating habits and exercise routines,” said Payton. “To me, fitness in swimsuit is about working to become the best you can be inside and out and truly loving and embracing yourself and your body as God created it to be.”
Payton with Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Holen at Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day parade
Payton graduated a semester early from Lincoln East High School in December, and travels to Omaha frequently to take part in events. Most recently, she sang the national anthem for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball game versus Kansas State. (Click here to watch.. and listen!)
“I am young and have a lot to learn, and that openness to learning allows me to relate to a broad spectrum of people, tirelessly devote myself to a multitude of causes, and to fully embody the job and mission this title brings,” said Payton.
“My faith tells me that I am exactly where I need to be,” said Payton. “I believe in the power of one person, but more importantly, I believe in the power of one person and an organization as prestigious and respected as the Miss America Organization.”
The Super Bowl may be over.. but the Super Bowl of pageants is about to begin. THIS Payton is ready for Miss Nebraska.
Connect with Miss Omaha, Payton Merritt
The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska. For more information, visit the Miss Nebraska website.