Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Miss Arkansas USA 2016

It's been a couple weeks and I've finally managed to catch up on sleep and get back into my normal groove. The weekend of Miss Arkansas USA was amazing and one I will never forget. I have so much to talk about beginning with the months of preparation leading up to pageant weekend. Feelings, emotions, hard work, and training. So much went into the journey and I'm ready to spill the beans of it all.

I decided to enter the Miss Arkansas USA Pageant back in June. I had one last year of eligibility before I aged out and having a more level head on my shoulders and experiences that I had grown so much from, I decided to take the leap of faith and give it one last shot. The pageant is held in my hometown of Bentonville and it was crucial for me to represent and be the hometown girl in my last pageant ever.

At the time of being accepted as a contestant, my life was on a beautiful path. I had just landed two amazing jobs in the field of my chosen career path, I was back home around family and friends, and I had a wonderful person by my side, cheering me on and telling me to pursue my dreams. Things were really looking up and I was literally on cloud 9 every day. I was slowly getting back into the pageant world with a trip to Hot Springs to attend the Miss Arkansas (America) Pageant with a good friend, I was being invited to judge smaller, local pageants, and the season in general was starting to kick off.

The first step on my journey to the crown was getting my headshots done. I had researched several photographers and had come to the decision of using Kristina Thomas Photography down in Greenwood, AR. The experience was one I haven't had before. I had my makeup and hair done by the fabulous Megan Farmer and I was able to change outfits several times. Kristina made me feel so comfortable in front of the camera. I couldn't wait to see the outcome of the gallery and choose my official headshot for Miss Arkansas USA.

Kristina did an outstanding job with my photos and I was so pleased with the outcome. I'd highly recommend her!

The beginning of August is when my life came to a screeching halt. There was a major turn of events and at the time, I was weary on seeing any positive light. My heart had been broken into a million pieces by the one person I thought would be by my side. An abrupt end to a beautiful (or so I thought) relationship with no explanation, no reasons why, and there was nothing I could do about it. I will admit, I was torn, broken, crushed for what seemed like eternity. I had never experienced that sort of pain and had a hard time finding the proper way to handle it. I started to veer off of the positive path I had set for myself for this pageant.

I am so thankful for a positive support system. And I'm not talking about just for the pageant, but for my life in general. Many people helped me through the break up. It was so easy to dwell on the negatives to a point where I was starting to believe there was something wrong with me. My strong backbone of a support team lifted me back up, slowly but surely, and helped me see that I was thinking all wrong. It wasn't me, it was him, and the event was a blessing in disguise. This time was crucial for me to understand the goal I had set for myself and how important it was for me to continue working towards that goal. I wasn't on my own, I had a team of supporters, encouraging me to stand strong and to thrive in my new found independence as a confident woman. I have so much to offer, and they helped me realize that once again. And I was back.

Taken from my Instagram

The wake up call set a fire in me. A fire that fueled the weeks leading up to the pageant. I was determined, I was focused, I was serious about the job I wanted, and no one was going to stop me or get in my way. I was working out several times a day, prepping with my amazing friend Inga for interview, and getting all of my wardrobe in check. My progress was amazing and I could almost feel that crown being placed on my head. I was so proud of how far I came in as little as a month and a half from the turmoil I had once faced. The journey was so beautiful and I am thankful for everyone who helped me in any way to become the person I was that proudly walked that stage.

The above photo is a little show of the progress I made in just the look of my body. The photo on the left was taken in May 2015 and the photo on the right was taken about a month before the pageant in September 2015. The white swimsuit is the competition suit I had decided on for the pageant.

I starting documenting anything that would go towards my journey, but honestly most included some sort of working out picture (hehe). The #TeamTarole took off and the amount of support I was getting was amazing and truly humbling.

During the pageant, we weren't allowed to have anyone backstage to help us with hair and makeup. Because of this, I worked with my beautiful friend Kayla on perfecting the stage makeup and hair look that I wanted to go for. After-all, this was a beauty pageant, and looks are emphasized heavily. "You're a natural beauty, I'm just teaching you how to enhance your beautiful features." she would say. Kayla really helped me feel beautiful and confident, I owe so much to her skills!

Two days before pageant weekend, I decided to double up and take a barre and spin class back to back. I sat in the barre studio before class started and had a sudden peace come over me. I was ready. I was prepared. I knew the weekend ahead would be one I would never forget, win or lose. I had become so strong as an individual during the process of preparing and I was filled with so much gratitude. I knew I could do this. And I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself, which was such a beautiful feeling.

Pageant weekend arrived. I was so excited to get everything started. I went to my friend Kayla's to get ready for registration (which would be first impression to all the staff and contestants). She welcomed me with amazing tea and a wonderful breakfast. Kayla proceeded to get me ready and really made me feel like a winner already. I was so excited to meet the other girls and get the weekend started.

When I arrived at the hotel, I signed in and got my room key. I was excited because I knew the girl I was rooming with (Raegan, who I lived with several years ago). She was representing Razorback Nation. It was very calming to know the person I would be rooming with all weekend was someone I had already known for a long time, someone I could trust, and someone who would make the down time more fun. I checked into my room and lugged all my belongings in (which took FOUR trips!). After everyone was settled, we started to take our registration photos.

First up was the group swimsuit photo. These photos went on the website prior to the pageant so the public could get a look of all the contestants on the same level.

*Disclaimer: All photos come from Laurel Austin Photography*
All of the Miss Arkansas USA 2016 contestants

Next up were our official head shots and evening gown shots for the website.

In our opening number dresses from The Royal We

Gown made by the amazing Tony Bowls

Once registration pictures were over, we had to get ready for a banquet that was held that evening. It was basically an opportunity for all of the contestants, both Miss and Teen to get acquainted and have a good time before competition started.

The dress I wore to the banquet. Charlotte Russe, y'all!

Raegan and I had so much fun preparing for the banquet. It was cold and rainy that night, but we had a blast!

Raegan and me on the bus to the banquet.

When we arrived at the venue, we immediately had to get in line to take photos with the outgoing Teen and Miss Arkansas USA.

Miss Arkansas USA 2015, Leah Blefko and me.

My official banquet photo by Laurel Austin.

We then were seated and finally the dinner began. I swear I was hungry all weekend for some reason, I couldn't get enough food! After dinner we had a few speakers and then it was time to party. There was a dance floor and a DJ. It was so much fun to let loose and dance before the pressure of the competition started.

Miss Razorback Nation and Miss Bentonville.

Loved spending the weekend with Raegan!

Summed up Friday!

After the banquet was over, we were whisked away to Bentonville High School to begin rehearsals for the weekend. This specific rehearsal to to determine the lines and placements for the opening number dance. Our choreographer, Nikki was amazing and a lot of fun to work with.

Front Row :) 

Miss Arkansas USA and Vanbros, Assoc. work closely with Warriors for Ross. A foundation that supports and spreads awareness for children's cancer. Our choreographer is near and dear to the organization with a niece suffering from cancer. This photo was taken in honor of that.

After rehearsal, it was finally time to go back to the hotel and get some much needed sleep. Saturday was going to be a long day.

Saturday was a brand new day, and a long one at that. We had to take all of our competition needs to the school that morning, for we weren't coming back to the hotel before the preliminary competition that night. Rehearsals started early, and went all day into the late afternoon. 

First things first, we received out sashes. I couldn't wait to see mine with my beloved hometown's name on it. 

Rehearsals were long, but fun. We learned the complete opening number sequence as well as our walking formations. I was so excited to get the night started. 

The opening number sequence where we wore our dresses from The Royal We.

One by one we were introduced by our title and name.

Immediately after opening number, we had to get ready for swimsuit competition. This is one of my favorite parts of the pageant, and I was ready to show off all the hard work I had put into preparing for this specific phase. Plus, I'm a personal trainer and I definitely wanted it to show!

Spray tan by Kelly Brown of Body by Kelly!

After swimsuit came evening gown competition. I was excited for this phase, because in the registration evening gown picture, I chose to wear a different gown than the one I was actually competing in. So for many people, this was the first time they were seeing this beautiful gown. 

Gown from the amazing Susan Farmer of Rebekah Lane Formal Wear.

Unfortunately I don't think I got any pictures of the stunning back of the gown. It was all open and revealing of my entire back. Very, very pretty!

After evening gown competition was over, the judges were escorted out and we then moved onto the preliminary night awards. Congeniality, Photogenic, and Spirit of the Pageant awards were given out to the Teen and Miss contestants who were voted. 

One more award was given out. The Mentor Award was given to the Miss contestant voted on by all of the Teen contestants. To my surprise, I was honored with this prestigious award. One of my favorite parts about pageants is the sisterhood. Not only between your peers, but between the Miss and Teen contestants. I was 10 years older than most of the teens competing and to be a part of this crucial time period in their lives means the world to me. To be a Miss in pageantry also means being a positive influence on those younger than you. To be voted for this award brought so many emotions and feelings forward that I teared up on stage. I will never forget that and am truly humbled.

Receiving the Mentor Award.

Teen Spirit of the Pageant Winner: Mountie County, Anna Smithson/Teen Photogenic Winner: Franklin County, Kailey Hula/Teen Congeniality Winner: Fayetteville, Caroline Long.
Miss Mentor Award Winner: Bentonville, Tarole Harris/Miss Spirit of the Pageant Winner: Greater Little Rock, DeIvory Howard/Miss Photogenic Winner: Searcy, Abby Floyd/Miss Congeniality Winner: Jonesboro, Hanna Moss

I was on high that night after winning the Mentor Award. I already felt like a winner. It was great to see my friends and family who had come to support me that night. After competition we were allowed to visit with them in the lobby of the Arend Arts Center.

With my amazing, loving, supportive parents. I seriously would not have been able to do it without these two! "You're going to do great tonight! I know because I'm wearing blue just like you :)" -A text from my dad just hours before competition. 

My beautiful and talented baby sister who surprised me by coming to watch. I'm so thankful to be her older sister and can't wait to see where her path will take her.

After visitation was over, we went back to the dressing rooms to change and go back to the hotel for the night. The next morning would be our interviews with the judges, so we needed to get our beauty sleep!

I seriously can't tell you how excited I still am that I received this award.

Thank you SO much sweet teenies. I love you all.

Sunday was the day I had been waiting for for so many months. Finals day. We had private interviews with the judges that morning, so that meant hair and make up ready when we left from the hotel around 9:45am. We also had to check out of the hotel which meant we had to have everything packed and ready to go. My mother and sister came and helped load everything I wouldn't need for competition and we were on our way to the school for interview.

SnapChat of me getting ready that morning.

Very early to have a full face of makeup on. Tired Tarole.

Since I was contestant number 2, I was a part of the first group to interview. I only had enough time to get dressed and go over my notes one last time before heading into the room to speak with the judges. I felt ready, prepared. I had a peace over me in knowing that I had matured so much over the last several years and interview phase didn't scare me anymore.

We went in groups of 5 and of course, before heading into the room with the judges, we had to take our official interview outfit portraits with Laurel Austin.

I was in love with my outfit. I felt sexy, yet classy and ready to take that interview by storm. It was a different setting than I'm used to with a pageant interview. With every other pageant I have competed in, we go in one at a time and stand in front of a panel of judges. This system was almost like speed dating. Each judge was sitting at their own table around the room. The five of us went in at the same time and started with a specific judge. We had 4 minutes to be interviewed by each judge individually before moving to the next judge. Once we had been to all five judges, the interview phase was over and we all stood in a line for a final look. I had a blast. The judges were all very nice and I had wonderful conversations with each of them. They emphasized heavily on my career path and social cause (which of course was obesity) and also about my Hawaii adventures (which I was ecstatic to talk about). One judge had even done the same thing I had done in regards to buying a one way ticket to Oahu. I had connections with each one and left the room feeling confident and very, very pleased. (Shout out to my amazing friend Inga from New York for drilling me on interview. I couldn't have felt more ready and calm if it wouldn't have been for your guidance.) What used to be my worst phase of competition quickly became a fun, easy, breezy moment and I loved every bit of it.

Interview outfit and shoes from Charlotte Russe!

Miss Benton County, Samantha Malmo and Miss Bentonville. Home town girls!

The super sweet Miss Craighead County, Madallyn Puckett and Miss Bentonville.

I immediately called my good friend Kayla to let her know how well interview went, and it was time to relax until rehearsals for that day. I took all my make up off and re-rolled my hair. We had lunch and waited for the rest of the Miss contestants to finish up interview, then proceeded to rehearsals before finals night.

I will say, I was starting to fade during rehearsals on Sunday but thanks to my good friend Allison, who works for The Better Body System with Yoli, LLC, I was able to stay energized for the rest of the evening after drinking one of their "Passion" packets.

Thank you Allison and Yoli!

Leading into the competition, there were some nerves. The only ones getting to compete for finals were the fortunate ones to get called into the Top 13. I was confident I would get the call, but there's always a chance things could be different. The opening number was the same as preliminary night as well as intros. They introduced the Teens first and went straight into their Top 13, then proceeded to introduce the Miss contestants before going straight into the Top 13. I waiting patiently on the stage while name after name was getting the call...

Intros during finals night.

All the Miss contestants waiting for the Top 13 to be called.

About half way through, I will admit, my nerves started to settle. Finally after six contestants had been called, "Bentonville, Tarole Harris" was announced. Excitement and relief hit me and I realized I had to walk down several stairs to make it to the front. The only thing on my mind was to not trip, I had a competition to win.

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Top 13 from L-R: Jonesboro, Hanna Moss/Fulton County, Destiny Gann/White River, AnnaLisa Meredith/Fayetteville, Adrianna Morehouse/West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger/Greater Little Rock, DeIvory Howard/Bentonville, Tarole Harris/Hot Springs, Stephanie Salvatori/Searcy, Abby Floyd/Sharp County, Skyla Weeks/Saline County, Rylee Schwaller/Northeast Arkansas, Sierra Gorton/Richland Hills, Haley Pontius

It was go time. We didn't have much time in between phases this time since there were only 13 Teens to wait on (during prelim night there were 42!). My sweet little teenie who I connected with on a high level, Monticello, Caroline Adair had made Top 13 for the Teens and I was so excited! We held hands backstage and hoped and prayed it would be the two of us left standing at the end of the night.

First phase was swimsuit. During the finals the directors added a little flair for us to have a little more fun in swimsuit. It is probably the closest I will ever get to being a Victoria Secret model :)

Butterfly wings!

Top 13 in Swimsuit

After swimsuit we had to hurry and get into evening gown. As usual, first went the Teens and then the Miss.

We had to stand in front of a screen with a a huge light on us while we struck a pose. That was our intro to evening gown competition.

Miss Top 13 in Evening Gown

After both swimsuit and evening gown competition for the Top 13 were over, it was time to announce the Top 5 and I would be lying if I didn't say this was the most nerve-wrecking part of the competition. I had given it my all and left everything I had to offer out on the stage. It was in the hands of the judges and I knew, win or lose I was happy with my performance. 

Top 13 in Miss waiting to be called into Top 5

The first name was called and my nerves spiked even more. This was it, the moment I had worked so hard for...

The second name was called... "Bentonville, Tarole Harris". I was thrilled. Overwhelmed. Relieved. I had made it into the Top 5 of Miss Arkansas USA 2016. I had already accomplished so much and it was just getting better and better.

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Top 5 from L-R: Northeast Arkanas, Sierra Gorton/ Bentonville, Tarole Harris/ West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger/ Searcy, Abby Floyd/ Richland Hills, Haley Pontius

Next was on stage question. Each contestant would answer a series of three questions; an ice-breaker question, a question submitted by a contestant, and a question submitted by a judge. This was the last phase of competition before results would be tallied and judges would pick a winner. 

Ice-breaker question: Do you plan to vote in the 2016 Presidential Election? If no, why not. If yes, what do you look for in the candidate you would vote for?

Contestant submitted question: What is your most embarrassing moment?

Judge submitted question: What is your definition of beauty?

One, two, three and I was done. Done with competing. It was not completely in the judges hands. I stood there through the rest of the Top 5 questions and thought nothing but positive thoughts. Win or lose, I was pleased. I was happy. I had come to accomplish a goal and I had done just that. To prove to myself how much I had to offer and how I could show that to not only the judges, the crowd, but mostly to myself. 

Results were in and it was time for crowning...

Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 Top 5 from L-R: Franklin County, Kailey Hula/ White River, Caleigh Coenen/ Cabot, Makenzie Sexton/ Fayetteville, Caroline Long/ Saline County, Alexia Vannucci

And once again, Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Top 5 from L-R: Northeast Arkansas, Sierra Gorton/ Bentonville, Tarole Harris/ West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger/ Searcy, Abby Floyd/ Richland Hills, Haley Pontius

It was time for individual awards. People's Choice and Honorable Mention Awards were given out first. 
  • Teen People's Choice - Farmington, Tabatha Taylor
  • Miss People's Choice - Sharp County, Skyla Weeks
  • Teen Honorable Mentions - R & R, Inc, Riana Robinson/ Northwest Arkansas, Elizabeth Warren
  • Miss Honorable Mentions - Conclave, Teiona Dantzler/ Jefferson County, Rebecca Alexander
Next were the individual competition phase awards..

Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 Overall Swimsuit Winner - Cabot, Makenzie Sexton

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Overall Swimsuit Winner - West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger

Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 Overall Evening Gown Winner - Conway County, Alexandria Paladino

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Overall Evening Gown Winner - Searcy, Abby Floyd

I will admit, I was a little bummed I didn't receive the swimsuit award considering how hard I worked for it. I guess I got spoiled with all the previous swimsuit awards in pageants I was used to receiving. But what happened next completely made up for it and even surpassed the honor or a swimsuit award, in my honest opinion :)

Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 Overall Interview Winner - Fayetteville, Caroline Long

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Overall Interview Winner - Bentonville, Tarole Harris

Interview winner?!?! I knew I had a connection with those judges. I knew I had a more mature, level head on my shoulders. I knew I was ready for that competition (thanks Inga!) I couldn't believe I had won overall interview. I used to always psych myself out with the interview phase and it quickly became my worst enemy but this time around I approached it with a different mindset and it totally paid off. I was thrilled and felt so good about myself. I hadn't even won the crown but I felt on top of the world.

After individual awards were announced, it was time for crowning..

And the nerves were back!

The proceeded to announce Teen first and then Miss by Runner Up.
  • Teen 4th Runner Up - White River, Caleigh Coenen
  • Miss 4th Runner Up - Bentonville, Tarole Harris
  • Teen 3rd Runner Up - Fayetteville, Caroline Long
  • Miss 3rd Runner Up - West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger
  • Teen 2nd Runner Up - Franklin County, Kailey Hula
  • Miss 2nd Runner Up - Northeast Arkansas, Sierra Gorton

After both 2nd Runners Up were announced, the Top 2 of each moved to the center. Teen - Cabot, Makenzie Sexton and Saline County, Alexia Vannucci. Miss - Searcy, Abby Floyd and Richland Hills, Haley Pontius. They were about to announce the winner of both divisions...

And the winners are....

Searcy, Abby Floyd

Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 - Makenzie Sexton

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 - Abby Floyd

What an amazing weekend that I will never forget. It was such a great experience and a great way to end my pageant career. I had such a blast, met some awesome people and got to strut my stuff one last time. I came out with some prestigious awards that I am forever grateful for. I could not have asked for a better weekend (except to have won the whole thing of course :P )

Miss Arkansas Teen USA Top 5 from L-R: 1st Runner Up - Saline County, Alexia Vannucci/ 4th Runner Up - White River, Caleigh Coenen/ Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2016 - Cabot, Makenzie Sexton/ 2nd Runner Up - Franklin County, Kailey Hula/ 3rd Runner Up - Fayetteville, Caroline Long

Miss Arkansas USA 2016 Top 5 from L-R: 4th Runner Up - Bentonville, Tarole Harris/ 3rd Runner Up - West Little Rock, Allison Kusenberger/ Miss Arkansas USA 2016 - Searcy, Abby Floyd/ 1st Runner Up - Richland Hills, Haley Pontius/ 2nd Runner Up - Northeast Arkansas, Sierra Gorton

I could not have gotten as far as I did without the help and support of so many amazing people. From companies, to individuals, my sponsors, friends, and supporters were my backbone along my journey to this pageant and I cannot thank all of you enough.

Official Sponsors of Miss Bentonville USA 2016
For anyone who offered encouraging words, texts, messages, you name it.. Thank you SO much. I am truly humbled by all of the support I received throughout my entire journey as well as the pageant weekend. It was such a blast and I will never forget the memories made. Time to sign off from pageants and start a new chapter in the book of #TeamTarole!

Good Luck to Makenzie Sexton at the Miss Teen USA Pageant and Good Luck to Abby Floyd at the Miss USA Pageant! I know you will represent Arkansas well and I will be tuning in to cheer you on!

Be on the lookout for my photo album on Facebook.. and I will be back to regular blogging very soon :)

Until then,

Miss Bentonville USA 2016
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