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See Jane Soar

I knew it the second I woke up… before I even opened my eyes, I could feel the swollen goo clogging up the back of my throat. My body was achy and although I’m ALWAYS cranky on Friday mornings, this time I couldn’t consider anything except saying ‘nope! Not today!’ and going back to sleep.

I was sick. The annual allergies/sinus infection/where the heck are you, Zyrtec!?! bug had taken over. I pulled my weak booty out of bed long enough to take my littlest buddy to and from Kindergarten Round Up (no way I was missing that!) then crawled back into my sick sheets and wasted away three days. You can only sleep so long, and by Saturday evening I was exploring documentaries on On Demand. I found Jane.

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Photo courtesy the Jane Goodall Institute

All her life, Jane Goodall wanted to learn about and be with animals. At 26-years old, her boss Louis Leakey sent his then secretary to Tanzania to study chimpanzees. She had no formal training or college degree; Leakey wanted a sheer observer with no scientific bias. A woman.. sent to the jungles of Africa.. UNHEARD of. Goodall was even required to  take her mother with her as a chaperone. Within a few short years, Goodall’s work revolutionized what we understood to date about chimpanzees and human connections to them.

Earlier this week, I visited Westbrook Elementary’s Early Childhood Center (note: I’m all healed now and no longer wasting space with my sickness..). After I read to the Pre-K class, one little girl asked, ‘can I be a police officer when I grow up?’

‘You can be anything you want to be,’ I told her.

It’s the same message a young woman from York hopes to take across the state of Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Her name is Alexandria Warneke. She is young. She is smart. She is talented. She is beautiful. And she is determined.

“Growing up, my parents have always instilled into me a sense of independence and self-reliance that forced me to decide for myself where I want to be in life and my goals and aspirations,” Alexandria told me recently. “Although they are always there for me to fall back on for support, I appreciate that they let me decide for myself what I want to do.”

 

 

Alexandria decided early on she wanted to learn about science, but like trailblazer Jane Goodall, she says she encountered a few critics who didn’t think STEM was the right path for her.

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“When I was in elementary and middle school, there were a lot of people who said things like ‘science and math are for boys’,” said Alexandria. “I have been fortunate enough to have female science teachers as strong role models, and I went to many different competitions and camps. I saw that there were mostly boys around me, but that pushed me to do better and I took home a lot of first place medals against them! It’s about time for girls to not only be told they are beautiful, but they are brilliant as well, and they have the power to change the world.”

Alexandria intends to do just that. The York native was crowned Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2018 and Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2018; she’s used both titles to spread her platform ‘Where a Beautiful Brain Can STEM From.’

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“I have volunteered with the Science Expo and got the chance to speak with girls one-on-one about their science fair projects, as well as give a speech to the K-5 students and their parents,” said Alexandria. “I have also volunteered with Girls on the Run and promoted STEM with my signature hydrophobic sand experiment! I also took part in building a scale model of the solar system all across North Platte, to help educate the community and myself, through a STEM class. One of my future goals is to speak to the Nebraska Department of Education and get more involved with the Nebraska Legislature.”

There are those who will say Alexandria did herself a disservice by becoming a ‘pageant girl’. Alexandria, whose grandmother was the 1st Runner Up to Miss Nebraska in 1968, believes otherwise.

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“Miss Nebraska/Miss America is truly full of the best women you can find,” said Alexandria. “We are truly a sisterhood and I love the fact that I am surrounded by young women that inspire each other with grace and maturity. I always emphasize to people it’s a scholarship pageant first, the leading scholarship provider to young women in America, putting a lot more worth into the academic success of America’s women. This also gives me a lot of practice into public speaking and interviewing, which is important to me going through scholarship applications as a senior in high school!”

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Photo courtesy Sherlyn Edwards Photography & Boutique

Alexandria Warneke is a young woman with endless of self-made opportunities. She’s a gifted dancer who loves to perform and compete. She’s an aspiring student with plans to go to law school to be an environmental attorney. She’s a proud daughter, who says her mom is her role model and inspires her every day.

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And she’s a girl who hopes to show little girls everywhere the sky is the limit.. whether you are known simply as Jane, Alexandria, or maybe, Miss Nebraska.

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“We know that we can make a change because we are truly a powerful and insightful generation,” said Alexandria. “I’m beyond blessed with this opportunity because I can make a difference.”

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To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival Alexandria Warneke on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEXANDRIA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Finding Fate

For more information about the Miss Harvest Moon Festival/Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also email miss.alliance.pageant@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell

Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

FACT: You are more likely to have a son play in the Super Bowl than you are to have a daughter compete for Miss America.

This weekend, as people all over the US watch the biggest game of the year, dozens of women from across Nebraska are gathering in North Platte, hoping this is the first step in their journey to Atlantic City and the iconic crown.

Not so long ago, a New York college student was doing her own preparation.. planning, hard work and drive that ultimately catapulted her into the national spotlight and cemented her place in the storied history of the Miss America Program.

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Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

“I will always be incredibly proud to be associated with the Miss America title,” Kira told me recently.  “Only about 90 women can even say that! It has enriched my life more than I can convey, not to mention the personal growth, relationships, and experiences I have had ever since.”

Kira grew up in California and showed early on she was a talented, charismatic leader.  She held two state pageant titles by 16 years old, she was Student Body President of her high school, and a member of the Varsity Cheerleading Squad.  Kira moved to New York after high school to triple major in political science, global studies and geography.  At Hofstra University, Kira maintained a 3.6 GPA, she studied in Barcelona and she held multiple internships in political consultancy in Washington DC.  Somewhere, she found time to compete for the title of Miss New York, winning on her second try in 2014.

“The thing about being Miss New York is that it’s unlike any other state, especially if you’ve spent any time living in the city,” said Kira.  “You are fighting to maintain relevance in a place that has so much other stuff going on, you can easily slip into the shadows. You are also being exposed to high profile events, people and opportunities constantly which is great preparation for Miss America. In New York our pageant culture is very unique. The girl is very much in charge of her own preparation. I chose every piece of my wardrobe, I worked hard to get sponsors that I wanted, and I took the subway to the Bronx and Brooklyn for appearances that I scheduled myself. We have an incredible board and support team, but Miss New York herself leads the charge. It is tough and requires grit but that’s a recipe for one heck of a Miss America contestant.”

Proof: Kira made history in September of 2014, becoming the 3rd straight Miss New York to be crowned Miss America.

“I remember a blur of screaming and lights and turning around to see all of my Miss America sisters smiling and clapping,” said Kira.”

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A dream come true for countless little girls and young women across America, one that was quickly tainted by a small group trying to muddy Kira’s reputation.  They criticized her talent, a song-and-Solo-cup routine mirroring Anna Kendrick’s viral video.  They questioned her character regarding her participation in sorority activities.  Here was a woman who speaks three languages, was an honors student with three majors, an elite golfer, and she just did the impossible by becoming the 3rd consecutive contestant from one state to win that national title.. and she was being virtually assaulted by critics within days of her groundbreaking success.

“People focus on the negatives because 1: It makes them feel better about themselves and 2: The higher you rise, the more people will want to tear you down, because that is just the way many people are,” said Kira.  “I learned that lesson very early on as Miss America.  It taught me who my true friends were and who was really there for me.  I don’t focus on the negative.  If I did, I would still be sitting and responding to the millions of nasty tweets and comments I’ve gotten over the last few years.  Instead, I focus on the positive, the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish, and the goals I continue to aspire to.”

Kira won me over through her reign as Miss America… starting with this:

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…a photo shoot with her cup.  She stood tall in the face of all the haters and OWNED it.  Something about this photo made me smile and think ‘you go, girl!’

‘Miss America isn’t a talent show.  Talent is meant to show you can entertain, you can connect with people.  That is the job of Miss America.’

It was the first of MANY photos of Kira, taking the world by storm.

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Presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards

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Red Carpet at the Billboard Music Awards

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Presenting at the American Music Awards

Kira returned the Miss America brand to the national spotlight, appearing at and/or presenting at numerous awards shows (and often featured in the Best Dressed section after!)  She was the first Miss America in 43 years to visit troops overseas with the USO.

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And Kira shared her spotlight with her biggest.. yet smallest fans, as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

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‘Remember when you are fundraising, there are tiny human beings on the other end who benefit from that.  No matter what challenges we face there are these little people who rely so much on us.’

She also embarked on a personal crusade against domestic violence, a campaign she dubbed ‘Put The Nail In It’.  She partnered with Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, and started a social media revolution.

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Kira painted her left ring fingernail purple, the color of the anti-domestic violence movement, and encouraged her half-million social media followers to do the same and unite together, as one collective voice, that we will support survivors and stop violence.  Music stars, professional athletes, reality TV stars, and countless others across America proudly painted and posted.

“No one can prepare themselves for suddenly being the face of a social media movement!” said Kira.  “But it was my greatest honor to be part of the creation of the ‘Put The Nail In It’ campaign.  It continues to garner huge impressions on social media while spreading awareness for the cause.  I couldn’t be more proud of it!”

By September of 2015, Kira Kazantsev was both sad to pass on her crown to new Miss America Betty Cantrell (click here to read more!) yet ready to begin a new adventure on her own.

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Photo courtesy People

 

“It was really hard for me to let go of a role I loved so much,” Kira told me.  “At the same time, I was ecstatic to take everything I’d learned and venture out into the world as just Kira.”

Kira has since expanded upon the connections she made and experiences she had as Miss America.  She’s hosted multiple events from the red carpet to the the non-profit world, she has performed and spoken at high profile venues across the country, and she’s played in numerous charity golf tournaments including the BMW Pro Am, and the Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods Foundation.  She is now based in Los Angeles, using her extraordinary social media knowledge and experience as the Director of Community Engagement for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the same organization she devoted so much of her life to as Miss America.

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Named one of the Most Beautiful Women In Golf by People Magazine & Golf.com

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Hosting Red Carpet coverage for the American Music Awards

“I’ve definitely taken time to travel and do things for me, but sometimes my schedule these days feels just as busy if not busier than my time as Miss America and I love that!” said Kira.  “I find that I’ve grown accustomed to that pace and If I’m not constantly doing something then I just feel a little off.  I try to balance as much as I can but there’s nothing better than the thrill of accomplishment.”

And through that balance, Kira continues to be a role model for women of all ages and backgrounds.  Through her social media and blog (click here for more!), Kira continues to advocate for health and fitness, chronicling how she faces the same challenges so many working women do regarding fast food and finding time to work out.

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“It is always a struggle,” Kira told me.  “I just remind myself that people battle disease, hunger, homelessness and far bigger problems than I could ever imagine every day, so I think I can find the will to make healthier eating choices and to get myself to the gym.  Now, I’m not always on top of it, but I do my best and that’s all anyone can do.  Life is full of choices and if we make the choice to take care of our bodies then somehow, someway, we find the time and we get it done.  It is all about perspective.”

Kira is sharing that insight with dozens of Nebraska women this weekend at Crowns and Gowns 2017 in North Platte as a featured guest.  She often thinks back on her own pageant journey, both her successes and her regrets.

“A million, but such is life and there is nothing I can do about them now,” said Kira.  “I try and work on this, but instinctually after every appearance, speech, and interaction, I turn it over in my head a million times.  Self doubt is my constant companion.  However, I know that I am being my best possible self and putting my best foot forward, always, and I am proud of everything I have accomplished and continue to pursue.”

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That is the self evaluation, the search within one’s self, that Kira hopes young women learn from her story.  To speak out on what you believe in.  To define this competition anyway you like and share your talents with the world.  To set larger than life goals whether you are a local titleholder, or Miss America.

“Miss America is evolving and the ones who can keep up with those changes and be cutting edge in their definition of titleholders will remain at the forefront,” said Kira.

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And to all of the young women competing for Miss Nebraska this year, dreaming of the day they could follow in Kira Kazantsev’s footsteps, this advocate, speaker, host and former Miss America has a message.

“Please just be YOU!” she said.  “Be genuine, real and off the cuff but always be prepared.  Do your research and work ahead of time and READY for a JOB.  This is more than a pageant, it’s an opportunity that can change your life forever and bring you incredible experiences.  At the same time, if it doesn’t work out, no big deal! We all have a plan and maybe being Miss Blah Blah isn’t part of yours and that’s ok.  Miss America is A dream, not THE dream.  There should be other things in your life that you are aspiring to like internships, colleges, charity work, and larger than life dreams.  You’ve got this, and only YOU can make it happen.”

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Photo courtesy Kristy Belcher Photography

‘As a  titleholder, you have the power to have a positive impact on somebody’s life.  That’s why we do this, it’s not for the crown, it’s for these kids.  It’s not about me, it’s about the title and what it makes people feel.  Hold on to who you are and be confident in the person you want to be.’

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Kira Kazantsev is available for public appearances and events.  For booking information and more about Kira, CLICK HERE to visit her website.  You can also follow Kira on social media: CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook, HERE to follow on Instagram.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook

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PREVIOUS.. Brilliance (2017 Series Preview)

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

With More Complete Coverage..

Journalism 101.  Start every story with your best sound and your best video.  Don’t bury the lead.  With that… this month is my last at KETV, after 15 years as a journalist at the only station I’ve ever known.

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When I was a little girl, I used to sit on the stairs in our split level house in Papillion, with my legs dangling through the steps and a notebook in front of me.  I would just write.  I would write about my day.  I would play the game Life by myself, and use each space as a prompt to write a fictional story.  I’ve kept a journal since I had huge glasses and buck teeth.  In college, long-form essays and papers weren’t hassles, I relished them; I love letting the words just HAPPEN, and the surge of accomplishment when those words come full circle and everything just FITS.

I’ve always been a natural ‘performer’.  I was the ham hogging the attention for our 1st generation camcorder, jumping in front of my Dad with a goofy voice or song whenever he had the thing rolling.  I tried out for show choir every year I could, and joined the speech team my very first year of high school.  Speaking just came easily for me; and I was GOOD at it.  Forensics, theater and choir were my LIFE in high school.

I was never in journalism.  I didn’t carry around a Barbara Walters lunchbox.  I floated around my first year of college not knowing where I belonged or what my future looked like.  My sophomore year at UNL, I took Introduction to Broadcasting with Tom Spann, and was fascinated by a world of history, SHARING history, writing, and reporting.  Somehow the idea of an internship surfaced, and KETV was the station I grew up watching.  My mom bumped into longtime weekend anchor/reporter Pamela Jones at a city meeting, got contact information for the intern program, and I emailed Managing Editor Joe Kasmir the next day.  I showed up for my interview a good half an hour early.. and I will never forget walking through the Newsplex doors, overwhelmed to see the same set and newsroom I had watched on TV for so long.  Julie Cornell and Rob McCartney were just finishing the 6pm broadcast, and Julie looked up and smiled at me.

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How do you sum up 15 years?

My first breaking news live shot at NP Dodge Park… that was God awful.

Covering my first night of tornadoes as an intern, Scott Buer at the wheel of the car, and me in the passenger seat wearing a green skirt suit and heels, trekking around in mud and rain COMPLETELY unprepared, but willing to stay out as long as Scott did.

Talking to a suspect in jail dubbed the ‘Bare Butt Bandit’, and hearing later from my best friend’s now-husband: ‘I said, Please God, let Brandi be doing that story..’

An Iowa shooting late at night with photojournalist Mike Richard, and then lying in the backseat on the way home  with my eyes squeezed shut, battling a nauseous migraine.

Live shots on the field at Memorial Stadium with Rob on one side and Jon on the other.. when a stray football was punted right into the side of my face.  Hearing my Assistant News Director Vonn Jones yelling in my ear ’30 seconds!!’ as I tried to regain my composure.. as did Jon and Rob (from dying laughing…)

Driving 8 hours throughout the night with Justin Riviera to cover an arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder in Boulder, Colorado.  I was overwhelmed by literally HUNDREDS of rabid reporters; he shoved me and said ‘get in there, Petersen!’

Covering an afternoon and evening of tornado threats across western Iowa with photojournalist Dave Hynek.  Laughs because of a nerve-wracking live shot.. laughing that turned to chaos and sheer sadness when we learned less than an hour later about the tragedy at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Camp.  We worked through the night side by side, waiting for the details that would shake our community and the country.

Countless tears when things went wrong.  Crying to my roommate, wondering what I should have done better.  Coming home and sobbing to myself, questioning my decisions as not only a reporter, but a human being.

Westroads.  Derek Ruth.  The Butternut fire. The paralyzed bride.  Clayton Hildreth.  Evan Sharp.  Pediatric brain cancer.  Amber Harris.  Baby Lawrence.  La Paz, Mexico.

JP Carter.  John Matya.  Trisha Meuret.  Tom Elser.  Joe Kasmir.  Cathy Beeler.  Jay Roberts.  Vonn Jones.  Jon Schuetz. Sean McMahon. Justin Riviera.  Renee Ludvik.  Kristyna Engdahl.  Jeremy Maskel.  Adrian Whitsett.  Andy Ozaki.  Natalie Glucklich. Melissa Fry.  ROB, ANDY, DAVE. My coworkers that have become my family.

Through KETV, I met my husband.  I was on air throughout my pregnancies with both of my boys.  We moved; twice.  This is where we grew up; this is home.

At KETV we lost Joe, my mentor who hired me, fueled my passion for journalism, and always, ALWAYS pushed me to be better, while making me feel like I was really something special.  I often wish he had been alive to see me anchor ‘the big show’.

We lost Jeff Frolio, the photographer who told me about jazz, and how special music was for him and his wife.  It was the music at his final service that broke me down.

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Just like my stories… in so many ways, THIS story has come full circle for me.  My sweet ‘baby’ boy Easton will start Kindergarten in a few short weeks.  Guys, I need to be here with my children.  I need to hear about their days, I need to be there for school concerts and carnivals and dinner on our deck.  I need to hear THEIR stories, and I need to be PART of their stories when they look back and share them throughout their lives.  News is a business like no other; it never stops.  Tornadoes don’t drop from the sky from 9-5, Monday through Friday.  Tragedies don’t happen just while we’re on the clock.  There will be another journalist, waiting and ready, to slide into that spot next to Rob to anchor our evening newscast every night, but I am my boys’ ONLY MOTHER.  I am the ONLY MOMMA they will ever have.

God works in mysterious ways; he always has a plan, though we may not understand it as it’s unfolding.  Next month, I will join the Communications team with Westside Community Schools.  I still get to tell stories; GREAT stories about incredible students, teachers making a difference, programs that impact generations of kids.  I get to showcase the GOOD in our world; I get to WRITE.  But every day, I also get to go home to my family.  We can eat dinner together.  We can play at the park, and watch the sunset, wake up the next morning and do it all over again.  I know I’ll be home every Christmas morning, I’ll get to watch fireworks with my kids every 4th of July, I get to stay at the pool with them Sunday mornings instead of putting on my makeup, straightening my hair and heading to the station.  I need to say this: I have SO MUCH RESPECT for working parents, regardless of their shifts.  People all over America work crazy hours, love what they do, and love their lives at home.  I work with many of them here at 7!

For me.. it’s just time.  Still, as I write this, I still feel the tears welling up behind my eyes.  I am so excited for this new opportunity and new chapter in my life, but it truly is so hard to say goodbye.  My fear is that I didn’t matter.  That time will go on and it will be like I was never there. That sounds really narcissistic and egotistical; truly, I’ve tried to make a point in my career to NOT make everything about me, to make our stories about THE PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ISSUES we are sharing.  But to everyone throughout these 15 years who’s made me feel ‘like a big deal’.. to everyone who has watched us, followed us, trusted us.. THANK YOU.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I don’t have words beyond that.. but I hope you understand the deep gratitude from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

WATCH KETV.  You will NEVER find a better journalist than Rob McCartney.  This dude is one of the best human beings I have ever known; he cares, he listens, he is always asking questions and trying to dig a little deeper to share the most complete story possible, and I’d argue NO ONE is trusted as a journalist in our state more than Rob.  He is noble, smart, a leader, compassionate.  He is a good friend.  Bill Randby is HANDS DOWN THE BEST meteorologist you could ever turn to; NO ONE cares more about providing people accurate information than this guy, and truly one of the most genuinely KIND people I have ever met.  Kristyna Engdahl is BRILLIANT.  Her writing is phenomenal, she’s fair, she has a GIFT for public speaking and thinking on her feet, and I WISH everyone at home could meet her and feel her energy in person.. because she makes EVERY DAY better when you’re around her.  Andy Kendeigh is the big brother I never had–always supportive, always caring, just an AMAZING GUY and such a wonderful friend.  And holy crap, is this guy GOOD.  Athletes and coaches LOVE him for a reason–he’s hilarious, hard working, devoted to what he shares every night and throughout every season.  In addition… our future is so very bright.  Alexandra Stone, Chinh Doan, Laurann Robinson, Sean Everson, Matt Serwe, Cem Brinklow, Ashley Nodgaard, Josh Gear, Davonte McKenith, David Earl, Katie Bane, Tanner Kahler, Matt Lothrop, Camila Orti… all of the people you see and many you don’t… they are HUNGRY for good journalism.  They want to tell good stories.  They are willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, personal LIVES, to make KETV the best it can be.  This team IS TRULY THE BEST.  You will not find local news in our state that is better–YOU JUST WON’T.

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I knew this day was coming.  I didn’t think it would be this WEIRD.  That’s the only word that makes sense.  I don’t have enough words, and at the same time, I feel like I’ve said too much.

We’ve got a few weeks left, Omaha–let’s make it awesome.  Westside, I hope to make you proud.  KETV, I hope I’ve made a mark, some kind of difference.

And to my boys.. I love you.  Let’s go hunt some pokemon and have a great morning together.

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Photo courtesy Photography By CB

Fire and Gold

June 4, 2015.

I had the humbling honor of hosting the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, and spent the day at North Platte High School in rehearsals.  During breaks, I tried to upload as many photos to the Miss Omaha Facebook page as I could, typing furiously to tag contestants and draw more viewers to our site.  I almost didn’t notice when a stunning blonde sat next to me and said ‘Hi, how’s it going?’

Her name was Alyssa Howell.

Funny how such a small gesture of kindness, just taking a moment to ask someone how they are doing, can make such a big impact on how you think of a person.  A panel of six judges thought VERY highly of Alyssa.. naming her Miss Nebraska 2015 just 24 hours later.

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Photo courtesy the North Platte Telegraph

“Miss Nebraska week was the most fun I have ever had!” Alyssa told me recently.  “I was surrounded by 12 amazing contestants that not only were great friends to me during the week, but who also supported me throughout my year.”

And so began a reign that represents everything this Miss Nebraska has stood for; friendship, kindness, genuineness.

As a longtime Miss America fan and a journalist who is always subconciously observing, I’ve noticed over the years the reaction of other contestants speaks volumes about the woman crowned.  Minutes after Alyssa was named Miss Nebraska, she was immediately embraced by  her ‘pageant sister’, Miss Omaha Megan Gould.  Just weeks later, Alyssa invited Megan, as well as other Miss Nebraska finalists Brooke Ludemann, LaRissa McKean and Allison Tietjen, to perform at her send-off party for Miss America.  These women, Alyssa’s competition at this time last year, seemed genuinely happy for her and showed up in full force to give her their support; Alyssa was eager to share her spotlight that night to showcase the titleholders who had become her friends.

For me.. it goes back to that day in the cafeteria.. Alyssa Howell is REAL.  She doesn’t pretend to care about people; she just DOES.  She’s taken that incredible quality across the country for the last year, focusing much of her time and energy on children.

“Not having grown up in Nebraska, this year took me to so many new places!” said Alyssa.  “Just being able to reach Nebraskans across the state was such a wonderful experience.  Whether it was a Pumpkin Chuckin’ in a cornfield in northeastern Nebraska, a small town elementary school with a total of 42 students, or a large scale fundraising Gala in downtown Omaha, I was able to reach out to the people of Nebraska on so many levels.  If anything, this year reminded me just how much I love being a part of the Cornhusker State.”

Alyssa visited dozens of schools across Nebraska, and four Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in several states.  THAT has been Alyssa’s passion for years now, connecting with sick children through her Miracle Bags program.

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Alyssa recruiting 2016 Miss Nebraska contestants to put together and deliver bags of goodies, ‘Miracle Bags’ to kids at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story about Alyssa & her Miracle Bags!

“As soon as I won Miss Nebraska, one of my priorities for the year was to impact as many children as I could with my Miracle Bags program,” said Alyssa.  “And with that goal in mind I was able to visit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Omaha, Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, and deliver over 180 Miracle Bags!  Many people ask me how I am able to visit children who are in such dire situations, and not be completely depressed after the fact.  I always tell them that the feeling of seeing a child who is going through the most difficult time in their life light up at the sight of my crown and Miracle Bag is indescribable.  And I will never forget the parents who tell me that this is the first time they have seen their child smile in days.  Children’s Miracle Network will forever be a passion of mine.”

To countless families and children, Alyssa made a profound impact.  She also made a huge mark on the pageant world, when in September, she travelled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska in the 2016 Miss America Pageant.

“I have watched the Miss America Pageant every year on TV since I can remember, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would one day be on that stage!” said Alyssa.  “Even after winning Miss Nebraska, my goal for Miss America was to have a blast, meet some amazing girls, and represent Nebraska well.”

Check, check, CHECK.  And when 7-million Americans tuned in to see who would make the Top 15..

Left photo courtesy Getty Images

..they heard Miss Nebraska, Alyssa Howell.  I screamed and jumped in my living room.. Alysa’s family and friends were EXUBERANT in the crowd in Atlantic City.  With the confidence women dream of and the swagger of Bruno Mars, Alyssa strutted her stuff on that stage in Lifestyle and Fitness.. and sauntered right into the Top 12.

Photos courtesy Getty Images

“Being called into the Top 15 was a complete and total shock,” said Alyssa.  “Standing on that stage with 51 other talented, beautiful, intelligent women, I never thought that I would hear NEBRASKA called! I still get goosebumps when I watch the video.  When I made the Top 12, I was just so excited and honored to move on!  I was surrounded by some of my best friends in the competition and it was such a surreal moment.”

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Photo courtesy Getty Images

That is where Alyssa’s journey ended, sadly, before she could play her INCREDIBLE piano solo for America.  But when I spoke to her just a few weeks later at the Miss Omaha Pageant, Alyssa didn’t have ONE negative thing to say about her experience;  no trash talk on her fellow contestants, no coulda woulda shoulda’s.. simply a completely EXCITED outlook on what she could accomplish next in her home state as Miss Nebraska.  And holy cow.. has that been a lot.  After Miss America, Alyssa was featured in US Weekly and Pageantry magazines.  She was a high profile model in Omaha Fashion Week.  She secured and strengthened partnerships and sponsor connections with Omaha’s world renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Sun Tan City, Kontempo. and nationally known stylist Kirby Keomysay among others.

Alyssa also became a frequent muse for photographers, taking part in numerous photo shoots with Deyo’s Photography in Nebraska and Jenn Cady Photography based in South Carolina.

Alyssa accepted every interview request that came her way, including the nationally recognized Pageant Junkies (CLICK HERE to listen!), Omaha’s KFAB and KETV (CLICK HERE to watch!)the North Platte Telegraph (CLICK HERE to read!), and ME!

“This year was definitely more challenging than I expected,” said Alyssa.  “Seeing all of the work Miss Nebraska does from Facebook and Instagram posts pales in comparison to the actual job.  What people don’t see is the full hair and makeup 4+ days a week, the early mornings, the days when I drive 8+ hours for an appearance, the days that I was sick, the days that I had three appearances and events.  Truly, this is a 24/7 job.  But what I also didn’t expect is how rewarding this whole experience would be! By going through everything this job requires, I have not only learned so many life skills, I have also learned so much about myself.  I know that if I can be Miss Nebraska, I can do anything.  This job has given me a strong sense of confidence about what I am capable of, as well as so many amazing memories and friendships!”

***

June 4, 2016.

I have the humbling honor of writing this blog post, chronicling Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell and her year of service.  Initially, I wanted to title this article Humble and Kind, inspired by the Tim McGraw song that to me, so reflects who this incredible young woman is.  Despite her jaw-dropping beauty, smile and grace, she doesn’t radiate a shred of arrogance.  She is giving, real, and most of all KIND.

Alyssa Howell is fire and gold.  She has a huge heart that she has opened to countless children over the last year and more, with the aura of a woman who can only be called QUEEN.  As this journey ends, she’ll pick up where she left off one year ago.. pursuing her Elementary Education degree at Creighton University, intending to impact even more children through her career, now with a big boost from her life experiences and financial awards from being Miss Nebraska.

“I have won over $20,000 in cash scholarships for school,” said Alyssa.  “This has made all the difference in my future!  I started at Creighton University with a total of $27,000 in student loans over four years.  Graduating to become an elementary school teacher with that debt was going to be difficult to say the least.  This program is first and foremost a scholarship organization, and I cannot say enough about the impact that Miss Nebraska and Miss America makes on young women who are getting a college education.”

As I close out.. I must share a ‘shout out’ to part of  Alyssa’s dream team.. her boyfriend, Grady, and her directors, Kayla and Rachel.

These three are superstars in their own right; people who have been in Alyssa’s corner since the moment that crown was placed on her head.  They have also become near and dear to my heart with their humor, loyalty and dedication to helping Alyssa become the absolute best she could be.  Each of this year’s 36 women I’ve profiled have set out to make the world a better place, supported emotionally and otherwise by their own #TeamAlyssa’s.  To ALL of you, THANK YOU for helping these fires burn so brightly, for allowing these gems to sparkle.  They’re about to embark on one of the craziest, exhausting, yet exhilarating weeks of their lives.. and they’ll need you.

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“To this year’s contestants, whether you win or not, Miss Nebraska week is the most fun you will ever have!” said Alyssa.  “Don’t let the stress get to you, and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Just have fun and enjoy that time that you get with your Miss Nebraska sisters!  To Miss Nebraska 2016, I am so incredibly excited to see everything that this year has in store for you!  Remember to make this year your own, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and find those small moments that make every challenge worth it.  Most importantly, remember that this is a year of service.  Never underestimate what an impact a crown and a sash can make.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

***

CLICK HERE to watch Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Farewell Video

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell

on Facebook and on Instagram.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALYSSA?

2015 * ROAR

2015 * Miracle Worker

2014 * The Kid Whisperer

***

CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska Pageant 2016 Recap: The Year of the Phoenix

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Twirling To The Top

Last night, I had one of those moments where I just stopped, breathed deeply, and thought ‘this is the life!’  My boys, my man and I were all at the pool.. I was listening to them splash and laugh together, while I laid in the glorious sun for a few blissful minutes.

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Then I immediately felt GUILT… why was I just lying there?!? I should have been in the pool WITH them, right?!?  I *hope my guilt was unfounded.. that after a long two months of blog-writing, documentary-producing, news-anchoring, event-emceeing, etc… it was OK for me to sit and relax.

However, there are those among us who never stop.  They use every moment of every day to their full advantage.They rarely take a break for downtime… and in return, every day they are one step closer to the top of whatever peak they are climbing.  They define ‘outstanding’ in their attitudes, goals, and the way they touch people along that journey.

Steffany Lien has spent the last year twirling to the top.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“It has been a busy year, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!’ said Steffany, who  next week, will pass on her title as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Anyone who was there to watch Steffany last year (click here to read more!) will tell you how outstanding this young woman truly is.

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Steffany started her year as Miss Nebraska’s Oustanding Teen with media coverage across Nebraska.  CLICK HERE to read her story in the Lincoln Journal Star!

Let’s start with her talent… which is WORLD CLASS.

“I compete with baton twirling,” said Steffany.

OK, STOP.  Steffany doesn’t just COMPETE with baton twirling

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Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

Steffany is a 6-TIME World Champion baton twirler.  Her talent WOWED the crowd at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen (more on that later..) and leaves audiences EVERYWHERE in awe.  Steffany and her incredible gift have been featured by Omaha’s Metro Magazine, by television news outlets, by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, even as part of the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby.  This spring, she was also selected by the University of Louisville to be the school’s featured twirler, a highly coveted position including a full-ride scholarship.Folks, that’s $25,000+ A YEAR.

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Steffany has fine-tuned and perfected this incredible gift with years of training and performing, and showcasing her art has been a highlight of her year as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“I was invited to perform for the Big Red Tailgate to benefit the Completely Kids Program in Omaha,” said Steffany.  “Not only was I proud to be the headliner at the event that raised $175,000 to combat childhood hunger and provide after school programs, but Tommie Frazier sang ‘Dear Old Nebraska U’ a capella while I twirled!”

“Performing at the Kentucky Derby and the Pegasus Parade was clearly a highlight of my year,” said Steffany.  “When I signed autographs and took pictures with people at a festival the same weekend in Kentucky, the people there couldn’t have been nicer to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen!”

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s performance at Churchill Downs, thanks to the Lincoln Journal Star!

As I’ve written about previously, the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is the ‘little sister’ organziation to Miss Nebraska, all part of the Miss America Organization.  One of the biggest differences between the Teen and Miss program.. these teens are also STUDENTS.  While their Miss counterparts often defer their college entrance or postpone classes during their year of service, Teen titleholders take part in events and service all year IN ADDITION to their time in the classroom.  Steffany is no exception; in fact, she’s set a new standard for what is possible, even expected, out of these exceptional young women.

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“I dance and compete with Madonna ProActive Dance Team, I teach baton twirling at Madonna ProActive, I’m in National Honor Society, and I’ve maintained a weighted 4.28 GPA,” said Steffany, who just graduated this May from Lincoln Southwest High School.  “Most importantly, I had decided early on to leave a legacy of active participation at charitable events, so this year I performed at, appeared for, and worked at an average of two events a week for the year.  This means that I have participated in over 110 events as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  My white sash is now grey, my crown is spotted from raindrops and races, my tennis shoes have logged miles for health runs, and I need new heels!  It has been a very busy schedule, but I have loved every moment because I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life.”

The montage above barely scratches the SURFACE of the photos posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page, showcasing Steffany’s service this year.  She also returned to Peru on a mission trip with orphans, work she has dedicated countless hours to over the years. (Click here to read more!)

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“When I became Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, I expected to be out and about in the community, attending charity events and promoting a variety of organizations,” said Steffany, who has volunteered for the Child Advocacy Center of Lincoln, Kids Against Hunger, March of Dimes of Omaha, Food Bank of Lincoln, People’s City Mission, the Autism Family Network, the Alzheimer’s Association, Pinwheels for Prevention, the LSW Parent’s Advisory Council… the list goes ON AND ON AND ON.  “While this was my main focus throughout the year, the part I had not anticipated was how much these experiences would change me and how I view life.”

THIS is the caliber of young woman we want to represent our state, do we not?  And Steffany did, oh so well, at the 2016 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Florida.

For the second year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen finished in the Top 10 in this national competition, in front of the 2016 Miss America Class and tens of thousands, if not more, online.  Steffany had a clear impact on the audience and the organization, later featured by MAOT on their Facebook page, and drawing wide support from fans across social media.

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s success at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, in an article featured by KETV!

“Miss America’s Outstanding Teen was amazing, and so different from any other experience I’ve ever had,” said Steffany.  “I loved meeting other young women from across the US, and gaining friendships that will last a lifetime.  I was surprised to hear my name in the Top 10, because every girl competing at MAOTeen was well-spoke, talented, and we had all been working hard leading up to the national pageant.  For me, it was just an honor to be standing among them, but it was also satisfying to maek the Top 10 and be able to represent Nebraska at the competition.”

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Steffany came home from Orlando with $3100 in scholarship money, adding to the $1500 she won at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She also caught the attention of designers Tony Bowls and Ashley Lauren, nationally renowed photographer Jenn Cady, as well as Lincoln boutique The Black Swan, leading to several modelling opportunities throughout her year.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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“The big events, the fashion shots with Ashley Lauren and Tony Bowls, and all of those wonderful purple bags from the Black Swan Dress Boutique bring me more pleasure than I’d like to admit,” said Steffany.  “However, I had one recent experience that made me understand the real meaning of being an outstanding teen.  Last week, a mom unpacked her daughter’s backpack at the end of the school year.  In it, she found a paper her daughter had written in school after given an assignment to write about someone that is important to her.  I was surprised this quiet, thoughtful child wrote about me.  I had no idea the impact on her values and her perspective about my attitude and ‘kindness’.  And although I giggled that she wrote I am the ‘world’s most amazing teen’, I am humbled and know that the title of Miss Nebraskas’ Outstanding Teen is one that I hold for life and that I better live up to this little girl’s expectations!”

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One year ago, Steffany Lien looked up and focused on her goals and dreams.  While many of us would get tired, and take a break, she kept climbing.. or in her case, twirling.

When Steffany represented Nebraska on the national stage this year, her program’s new directors, Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards, created her catch phrase: #TwirlingToTheTop.

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Steffany Lien has EARNED blissful moments poolside or otherwise.  She IS the top.. the essence of what it means to be outstanding, and a young woman our state will continue to be so very proud of.

JENN CADY

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Even now, as the clock winds down on her time as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Steffany continues to put others ahead of herself.

“More than anything, I am thrilled for the next girl who will earn the crown, and can’t wait to see all the great qualities she will bring to this organization and how she will represent Nebraska.”

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***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT STEFFANY?

2015 * Vision For The Future

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

***

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Special Feature: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell

My dad told me once, ‘if you love what you do, it never feels like work.  Every day, you go to do something you enjoy, and you just get paid for it!’

I’ve been interviewing and writing about Miss Nebraska contestants for three years now.  Many have said they are competing for a JOB.  You’re about to meet a young woman proving every single day that is EXACTLY what this honor is.

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Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography and the Miss America Organization

Betty Cantrell is Miss America 2016.  To anyone who thinks all beauty queens do is wave their hands and smile.. STEP BACK.

“A normal day for me is getting up super early, putting on a lot of makeup, making sure my hair looks nice, and doing a full day of events,” Betty told me earlier this month.  “Usually a full day is about 12 hours; I’m always ready to crash by the end of the day.”

Betty’s journey to Miss America started in 2013, when she entered a local pageant in her home state, hoping to become Miss Georgia.  Betty finished as 1st or 2nd runner-up three times before winning a local title, and went on to place 2nd runner up at the 2014 Miss Georgia Pageant.  Betty tried again just weeks later, becoming Miss Warner Robins 2015.  Representing her hometown, Betty was crowned Miss Georgia 2015, winning $15,000 in scholarship money and a ticket to compete at Miss America.

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Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography

“I decided to begin competing in pageants for the scholarship opportunities offered by the Miss America Organization and because I love to sing and I really enjoyed competing in talent competitions,” said Betty.  “I just really loved everything this organization stood for: Scholarship, Service, Style and Success. (Those are the four points of the crown, the 4 S’s.)”

Betty had less than three months to prepare for Miss America; she tells me she prepped the same as she did for Miss Georgia (just stressed out a little bit more.)  Immediately, she caught the attention of the Twitterverse that follows Miss America, and everyone following the chatter at home, by winning one of only 3 preliminary talent awards with her powerful vocal performance of ‘Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!’ from Madama Butterfly.

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Photo courtesy The Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian; CLICK HERE to watch Betty’s performance!

“I loved winning preliminary talent at Miss America,” said Betty.  “If I hadn’t won the competition, winning talent would have been enough for me.  I love to perform, so being validated on my talent on a national level was amazing.  I also made SOOO many friends at Miss America and I’m so grateful for those friendships because I know they will last forever.”

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The 2016 Miss America Pageant titleholders surprising Betty with a birthday treat; she celebrated her 21st birthday while she competed at Miss America. (Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization)

FINALS NIGHT.. with approximately 7-million people watching across the country, Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell was crowned Miss America 2016.  She is only the 2nd Georgia representative to win the title, taking home $52,000 in scholarship money.

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Photo courtesy The Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian

“I couldn’t believe that I had just won,” said Betty.  “I was so thankful to the judges for picking me and for seeing through my imperfections.  They saw that I’m the real deal and could be a good role model for young people everywhere.”

Those ‘imperfections’…. during her final moments before she won the title, Betty took on a complicated question on stage regarding ‘Deflategate’, and had a minor trip in her evening gown.

First, let’s take a step back.  How many times have you tripped in the office, at the mall, or anywhere else… we all do it!  Second, all of the Top 7 finalists at this year’s competition were put on the spot about some of the hottest topics and issues we face today.. and they had courage under fire in front of 7-MILLION people!

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Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization

Still, haters gonna hate.. and Betty (like many Miss Americas before her) faced almost immediate criticism that the judges made the wrong choice.  Despite an overwhelming, and sometimes hateful social and mainstream media storm, Betty IMMEDIATELY got to work, ready to make a difference as Miss America 2016.

 Literally, from New York to LA, Betty Cantrell set out to cover the country and impact as many people as possible.  She accepted countless interviews, she visited the New York Stock Exchange, she rubbed elbows with Hollywood celebrities, and always made time for the children that matter to her most, pediatric patients in Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“I always love doing events with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” Betty told me.  “CMNH is the official platform of the organization and I love kids, so anytime I get to work with them is just awesome.”

Then in December, just three months into her reign, Betty did something jaw-dropping..

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..she chopped off all the long, gorgeous hair so many associate with beauty queens.  With Miss America.  Betty did it to donate to pediatric cancer patients who needed it, and with that, inspired countless teens and women after her to follow her lead.

Betty Cantrell has advocated for farmers and 4H.  She’s taken part in the USO tour, singing for men and women around the world serving our country.  She’s performed for school after school after school, dazzling children everywhere with her INCREDIBLE rendition of ‘Let It Go’.

And in a time where people seem to increasingly have a negative connotation of pageants, Betty Cantrell has brought the Miss America brand back into the forefront.  She’s spoken and performed in front of the Georgia legislature.  She’s drawn 65,000 followers on Twitter.  She’s presented and/or performed at some of the country’s biggest events and awards shows, making friends with some of America’s most popular performers.

Red carpet photo courtesy Getty Images

“My favorite appearances so far have been the CMA’s and the ACM awards shows,” said Betty, who was also featured in People Magazine’s Best Dressed list after the events.  “I’m an aspiring country singer, so hanging out with all of the country artists I look up to is always pretty thrilling.”

Every time someone sees Miss America at a respected event, I’d argue that’s one more person who might think ‘hmm, what’s this Miss America thing all about?’ and maybe find out a little more about the thousands of young women competing, earning thousands in scholarships, and making a difference in their communities.  Betty, for example, partnered early on with Team FNV to promote her platform ‘Healthy Children, Strong America.’  Joining her mission.. actresses Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell, NBA star Stephen Curry and singer Nick Jonas.

“I have now partnered with the American Farm Bureau to help spread the word about kids eating healthy, exercising, and learning about where their food comes from!” said Betty.

The one thing NOT mentioned in my interview with Betty… a break.  Because she rarely gets one.  As Nebraska prepares to crown a new titleholder in just weeks, Miss America 2016 is preparing to hand over her crown, and resume life as simply, Betty Cantrell.

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“I am looking forward to having a normal life again!” said Betty.  “My plan is to move to Nashville and work on my country singing career.”  (Click here to follow Betty’s new professional account on Twitter!)

Maybe you’ve watched Miss America your whole life.  Maybe you’ve tried to AVOID Miss America your whole life.. not wanting to feed into a culture that subjects women to swimsuits, high heels and objectification.

If you’re the latter, Betty Cantrell has a message for you.

“This is a fun and philanthropic way to be a role model and earn scholarships to further your education,” said Betty.  (Quick recap: Betty, a Mercer University student, has made more than $67,000 in scholarships competing in the Miss America Organization.)  “Another reason to compete is for the friendships you make that will last a lifetime.  I was skeptical at first, too, but when I really learned what the organization is all about, I was so happy I chose to be involved.”

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To the women hoping to become Miss Nebraska.. dreaming of becoming the woman Betty crowns Miss America in just three short months, a reminder.

“My number one piece of advice to every contestant in every state is just to be yourself,” said Betty.  “Show those judges what makes you special and unique.  Be confidently and unapologetically, you!”

And Miss America 2016 has no apologies.  She’s a farm girl, a Georgia peach, perfectly imperfect, a Mercer Bear, a country star-in-the-making, a daughter, granddaughter, and friend.  She is Baciliky Andris ‘Betty’ Cantrell, a girl given a name meaning’royalty’.. a woman showing her country what being a queen is all about.

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“I want people to remember me as the different Miss America,” said Betty.  “The Miss America who didn’t care what the haters had to say.  The one who chopped off her hair and donated it.  The one who grew up on a farm and became Miss America.  I just want people to remember me as a Miss America that changed the stigma of what Miss America is and should be, forever.”

***

My sincere thanks to Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell for taking the time for our interview, and to  the Miss America Organization’s Chelsea Mineur for facilitating this!

To learn more about Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, click each link to follow

on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram.  You can also CLICK HERE to visit the Miss America Organization Facebook page for a full list of resources and information about Betty and the program.  The 2017 Miss America Pageant takes place September 11 on ABC!

***

CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Sheridan Blanco!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Let’s Dance

First off, a HUGE congratulations to Omaha teen Tharein Potuhera, the 14-year old who is one of only 45 students in America to make it to the finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.  This guy is AWESOME, not only representing our city and his school, St. Wenceslaus, but drawing smiles and thumbs-up nationwide with his signature ‘dab’ on stage.

Learn more about Tharein and his awesome moves here!

When we saw this last night.. my co-anchor Rob knew what Tharein was doing.  So did sports superstar Andy Kendeigh.  Our chief meteorologist Bill Randby even had the moves down.

Really.. Rob and Andy are crazy awesome–just watch!

Thanks to KETV viewer Paloma Power for tweeting that… and reminding me I HAVE NO MOVES.  NONE.  Really.. what happened that in my formative years that led to my body just crumbling in on itself whenever I try to move with grace and style?

I digress.. GREAT JOB, Tharein!!! We are SO very impressed by your intelligence AND personality.. and I personally am once again in awe of anyone with ‘the moves’, teens like Gering’s Sheridan Blanco, who will be showcasing her talent in front of hundreds of people in just a few short weeks.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Sheridan is a sophomore dance team member at Gering High School, and she’s also Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2016.

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From the Miss Alliance/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Oustanding Teen Pageant Facebook Page on November 29,2015: We are so proud to introduce our new titleholder-Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen, Sheridan Blanco!’

Within days, Sheridan was taking part in community events, braving the elements for the Alliance Christmas Parade with her fellow titleholder, Cherokee Purviance, Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen.

Just weeks later, Sheridan and Cherokee were volunteering again, judging a cupcake contest for an Alliance Girl Scouts group.

Winning a local title almost meant Sheridan was eligible to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, which includes fitness, interview, evening gown and talent.

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From the Miss Alliance/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Oustanding Teen Pageant Facebook Page on April 2, 2016: ‘Great day prepping for #MNOTeen!’

 The talent portion is no problem for Sheridan.. in addition to her dance background, she’s also a member of the POMS team, choir and band at Gering High.

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The Bulldogs dance squad not only performs; they also volunteer in the community, an effort going hand-in-hand with Sheridan’s new role as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT.  No doubt they’ll be cheering her on as she heads to North Platte to compete in June, along with her THREE beautiful sisters!

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One nicknamed her ‘Baby Sista’ in a Facebook post.. her friends call her ‘Sher-Bear’.  Sheridan Blanco hopes you get to know her as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. and whenever her name is called, she’s got some GREAT moves to celebrate the moment!

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For more information about the Miss Alliance’s OT/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Melinda Cullan by phone at 308-710-5593, or by email at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little!

NEXT.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!