Q&A: Miss Americas and The RockettesW
e both have big smiles, are performers and are all-American glitz. Follow along as we Rockettes participate in a Q&A alongside Miss America contestants who are from the same states as us!
What did you like most about growing up in New York?
Rockette Tara D.: Growing up in New York is a very unique experience. What I loved most was that, being from Queens, I was able to have a suburban lifestyle, but also had the city right at my finger tips. I grew up with a yard, drive-way and a pool (which some people would be shocked to know given that I grew up in one of the boroughs!), but I would also go into the city as a kid for dance competitions and then later with friends in high school and college. I feel like I was exposed to so much culture and experiences at such a young age being from New York. I really had the best of both worlds.
Gabrielle Walter, Miss New York 2017: What I loved growing up and still love today is that New York State is like a microcosm of our country. Every part of New York—the people, the geography, the dominating industry in each area—is unique and different. From urban Manhattan to rural Upstate, the job as Miss New York allows me to frequently visit so many places. I love that each part is special!
What about New York brings you the most pride/joy?
Tara: Being from New York brings me tremendous pride. I feel like as soon as you tell someone you are from New York, they automatically tell you that they love the city, or they can’t wait to visit. It represents history, diversity, excitement and opportunity and I am so proud to call New York home.
Gabrielle: I love that women in New York have been championing women’s rights here for hundreds of years. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the Seneca Falls Convention are all connected with New York State. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in New York!
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in New York?
Tara: There are so many amazing things about New York during the holidays. Of course being a part of the Christmas Spectacular is one of my favorite things, but I also love how the city almost transforms for the holidays. On every corner there are unbelievable decorations that you definitely would never find any where else, and so many extra things to visit and see. But I also love how the energy and the people change, too. The holidays are truly in the air in New York City this time of year, and it is magical!
Gabrielle: Sometimes I wish the holidays were all year round! I love the decorations that go up, the fresh snow that falls (especially Upstate), the holiday music, baking cookies and holiday meals, family and friend time, giving gifts and the Christmas spirit that so many have. It seems around the holiday time that everyone is just a bit more kind and generous.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in New York to achieve their dreams like you did?
Tara: Whether you’re from New York or anywhere else, never give up on something you truly believe in and want to achieve. Anything is possible if you work extremely hard and set your mind to it. Being from New York, however, I would tell young women to utilize all the amazing resources that are right at your finger tips. I would also say to always be kind. It’s a huge city, but at the same time a very small world. Being kind and respectful goes a very long way, and you never know where it may lead you; the opportunities are endless in New York!
Gabrielle: Remember that “no dream is too big and no dreamer is too small.” Everyone has to start somewhere. Often times we have to face a lot of “nos” and keep going before we get the big “yes.” With a lot of hard work, persistence and a little luck, amazing things can happen! Never forget what makes you special.
What did you like most about growing up in Pennsylvania? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Lauren R.: Pennsylvania is filled with history and while growing up I always loved visiting the many historic landmarks throughout the state. My family lives in New Hope, which is about 40 miles from Philadelphia. Being the nation’s first capital, I often visited the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell as well as Independence Hall in Philly. Of course, I always made sure to grab a famous Philly Cheesesteak before heading home to Bucks County! Nothing compares to New York at Christmas; but when you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle there’s no place like home for the holidays! My hometown is about an hour and a half from NYC so I look forward to zipping home for a visit after my shows on Christmas Eve. It is always exciting to drive the winding country roads, under covered bridges and see decorated lawns and houses with their holiday spirit on display.
Katie Schreckengast, Miss Pennsylvania 2017: I’m from Palmyra, which is right next to Hershey, so I always loved living right next to all things chocolate.
What about Pennsylvania brings you the most pride/joy?
Lauren: One of my favorite holiday traditions is visiting Washington’s Crossing Historic Park. On Christmas Day in 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware River and defeated the Hessian forces in Trenton, NJ. It is considered a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Each year on Christmas Day people travel from all over the country to reenact this historic event. Donning Continental military dress uniforms General Washington and his troops cross the river in replica Durham boats. It’s very exciting and makes me very proud that this event is celebrated from year to year in my hometown.
Katie: I love how you can be in the mountains one day and the city the next. There’s always so much to do in Pennsylvania.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in Pennsylvania?
Lauren: As a native of New Hope, I have always enjoyed visiting Peddler’s Village every year with my family. The town is decorated so eloquently with vibrant lights on every tree and really captures the festive, holiday spirit. One of my favorite parts of Peddler’s Village is the gingerbread house contest and display.
Katie: Most of my family lives in Pennsylvania so I love that I get to see everyone together at one time. My family makes the holidays extra special.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in Pennsylvania to achieve their dreams like you did?
Lauren: Becoming a Rockette was always a dream of mine and my dance training played a vital role in making that dream a reality. Pennsylvania has an abundance of opportunities for dance education and it’s important to take advantage of those programs so you can grow as a dancer and performer. From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh there are wonderful and highly respected year-round and summer training programs that young dancers should absolutely check out. As Rockettes, we have to be proficient in ballet, tap and jazz, so the more training you have as a young dancer—the better!
Katie: Just because there isn’t someone out there that looks like you, sounds like you, or has the same talents as you doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you. You are always enough!
What did you like most about growing up in Ohio? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Sarah S.: Growing up in Ohio was much different than New York, especially, my hometown of Portsmouth, OH. Just for starters, Portsmouth has a population of about twenty thousand and New York City has a population of over eight million. In Ohio, I knew someone everywhere I went. Which was one of my favorite things about growing up there. There was never an outing where I didn’t run into someone I knew. You don’t get that in New York. So many people are in their phones or in a hurry. If you do pass someone you know, you may not even see them.
Sarah Clapper, Miss Ohio 2017: I loved growing up in Ohio because of the incredible experiences and opportunities this great state provides. Whether it was taking family vacations to Lake Erie, hiking in Hocking Hills, attending sporting events in Cleveland, cheering on the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe or embracing your inner daredevil at Cedar Point, Ohio truly has it all. Growing up I experienced all four seasons, which is something that I truly appreciate. I got to eat popsicles in the summer, enjoy the crispness of fall and marvel nature’s beauty, snuggle up and drink hot cocoa during winter and experience the beauty of spring. Life is full of experiences and I consider myself fortunate to have experienced life growing up in Ohio.
What about Ohio brings you the most pride/joy?
Sarah S.: Midwest Kindness. No matter where you are in Ohio, you’ll almost always be greeted with a warm hello, a smile and a helping hand. They say Midwesterners are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and Ohio is a prime example of that.
Sarah: I find pride in knowing that our state motto is, “With God All Things are Possible”. This is a motto that I personally live by and have found strength in throughout the course of my life.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in Ohio?
Sarah S.: The holidays in Ohio are centered around spending time with family and friends. My absolute favorite time of the holidays was Christmas Eve. Everyone would gather at my family’s house and enjoy dinner before going to church for a midnight church service. It was a tradition I will always hold close to my heart.
Sarah: One word: Wildlights. Every year around the holidays, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium creates one of the most magical places in Ohio by hanging millions of LED lights throughout the zoo. You’re transported to a winter wonderland complete with hot chocolate, Santa, reindeer, musical light shows and more. It’s one of my absolute favorite places to visit and truly embodies the spirit of the holidays!
What piece of advice would you give to young women in Ohio to achieve their dreams like you did?
Sarah S.: Growing up in a rural state, reaching for your dreams can be intimidating. I would tell any young woman from Ohio, that no matter how big or small your dreams may be, you can achieve them. Sometimes it will be hard, you will be told no, encouragement may not always be in your ear, but you are enough and you can achieve anything you set your mind too.
Sarah: NEVER give up. Follow your dreams no matter how unattainable they may seem at times. Throughout my life I faced challenges and obstacles that forced me to find other ways to accomplish my dreams. When I first began competing in the Miss America Scholarship Program, I competed with a talent of acrobatic dance. However, after three years of competing, my doctors told me that I had to stop dancing because of prior injuries that were returning. I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of competing at Miss America, so at the age of 21 I decided to learn how to play the piano. I never had taken official piano lessons, and I didn’t know how to read music, but I learned how to play by ear and lived out my dream of competing at Miss America. It wasn’t easy, and at times I considered giving up, but stepping on the Miss America stage after 5 years of competing to become Miss Ohio, was one of the greatest feelings of my life. No one ever told me it would be easy, but I knew in the end, it would be worth it.
What did you like most about growing up in West Virginia? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Melinda F.: My favorite thing about growing up in Virginia was the accessibility to various dance opportunities along the East Coast. Northern Virginia is saturated with amazing dance studios, teachers and dancers. It’s easy to get to Maryland, Washington D.C. and even New York. Being able to have such a central homebase allowed me to learn and grow with some of the best teachers and dancers around.
Tamia Hardy, Miss West Virginia 2017: Growing up I always loved that I lived in a calm quiet area, but I didn’t have to travel far at all to get to multiple places. It’s a great central area, surrounded by nice cities in each direction.
What about West Virginia brings you the most pride/joy?
Melinda: Virginians have a great sense of pride regarding the states history. Mount Vernon, Monticello, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Old Town Alexandria, Yorktown, the list of historic sites continues on and on. Virginia is known as the “birthplace of the nation”. Much like Rockettes, the history is one of my favorite parts of being from Virginia.
Tamia: The fact that we are so prideful brings me pride/joy. We’re resilient people. We get knocked down and get right back up. We come back stronger than ever.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in West Virginia?
Melinda: My favorite part of the holidays in Virginia was driving around looking at all the house decorations in our neighborhood. NYC certainly has some awesome Christmas decorations, but seeing every family’s personality through their decorations, was always a treat. Confession: I always loved our house the most!
Tamia: My favorite thing about the holidays is when the fall season arrives. We are known for our mountains and when the leaves change colors it’s one of the most beautiful places around.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in West Virginia to achieve their dreams like you did?
Melinda: My best advice to young women in West Virginia, is to take advantage of your location. Being so central allows you to take in a wealth of knowledge from various people and places surrounding you. West Virginia is an amazing state with so much to offer; take it all in!
Tamia: Ladies try! Many women think that if there aren’t opportunities for them here they have to move to find them. I would say to make those opportunities for yourself. Make a difference and be that change. Being the first Black Miss West Virginia, I had to break down a barrier to succeed. Don’t let anything stop you from reaching your goal!
What did you like most about growing up in Washington? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Natalie R.: Washington State is such a gorgeous place to grow up. I most enjoyed all of the outdoor activities I would do with my family like biking, skiing, camping and hiking. We would always make it a point to take advantage of the gorgeous weather during the summer and get outside!
Nicole Renard, Miss Washington 2017: I loved how many things there are to do outdoors. The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful place with a million places to hike and a diverse landscape as you travel from the east side to the west side of the state.
What about Washington brings you the most pride/joy?
Natalie: I think Washington State is a really special place because of its residents. The city of Seattle is extremely environmental conscious and takes care of the beautiful scenery. Being in Seattle on a summer day is one of my favorite places to be. The bright blue lakes, green hills, snow topped mountains and city skylines are just breathtaking, and I’m proud to be from a place that respects it.
Nicole: The people in my state are incredible. They are generous, willing to give and have some of the biggest hearts I know. They are also motivated and hard working which inspires me to be driven as well.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in Washington?
Natalie: My favorite thing about the holidays in Washington is when it snows! It is a rarity for snow to fall in Seattle, but when the city if covered in a dusting of snow it is just so gorgeous.
Nicole: We have a little Bavarian town called Leavenworth that has the most magical Christmas Tree Lighting Festival every year and it literally feels like you have been popped into a snow globe. Ive never experienced community like I did when I got to be part of the Festival. It was truly something special!
What piece of advice would you give to young women in Washington to achieve their dreams like you did?
Natalie: I would tell the young women to constantly strive for their dreams. Always work hard and attempt any task with 100 percent effort. Dedication to a dream is key, and once you achieve that dream it’s even more important to always remember where you came from.
Nicole: Know your dream, set a goal and write it down. You are much more likely to achieve your dream if you write it down because it holds you accountable and gives you something to strive towards. Nothing is too big or too hard for you but it might take more time and hard work than you think. Never give up and always be open to new experiences.
What did you like most about growing up in Louisiana? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Jacie S.: The thing that I loved about growing up in Louisiana is that there is literally no place like it in the U.S. Louisiana’s history and culture is so rich and authentic. From the French quartet in New Orleans to the boardwalk in Shreveport! There’s so much to see and learn in Louisiana. And I can go on for days about the food!
What about Louisiana brings you the most pride/joy?
Jacie: The thing that brings me the most pride/joy about Louisiana is the people. The southern hospitality is real in Louisiana!
Laryssa Bonaquisit, Miss Louisiana 2017: Similar to our great nation, Louisiana is a melting pot. We have an incredible mixture of culture that shows itself in our music, art, and, of course, FOOD! This provides me with great pride, and I am honored to represent Louisiana this year as Miss Louisiana.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in Louisiana?
Jacie: Louisiana is a festive state, as seen by our numerous festivals throughout the year. And we go ALL OUT. It’s no different for the holidays. We may not always get a white Christmas, but we definitely put on a show with the lights and decorations. One of my favorite things as a child was riding through neighborhoods viewing the lights and yard decorations.
Laryssa: Louisianans never hold back when it comes to celebrating holidays. One holiday tradition that I absolutely love is the beautiful Christmas lights in Natchitoches, LA. Natchitoches is called the “City of Lights” because of the Christmas Festival each year. Whether it is a festival or a holiday, the celebrations in my state are full of the same spirit shared by each Louisianan.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in Louisiana to achieve their dreams like you did?
Jacie: I would tell any young woman from Louisiana to be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams and never let anyone stand in your way. Not even yourself. I always thought Rockettes was too big of a dream for me to achieve. It took me three auditions to get here, but my desire to achieve this goal was bigger than my fear of failing. So, I say go for it!
Laryssa: Every single person has a gift, or what I like to call a “superpower”. I found mine at the age of six when I discovered ventriloquism. The way to fully become the best version of yourself you must: 1. Find your superpower; 2. Practice; 3. Overcome all of the obstacles; 4. Celebrate once you achieve your goals. The road to success is a difficult one full of obstacles, but it’s those difficulties that build you up to become even more than you ever imagined you would.
What did you like most about growing up in Georgia? How is it different than New York?
Rockette Joanna R.: The southern hospitality and friendliness of everyone you meet is infectious. There’s a laid-back culture, but Georgia still has the resources of a big city. My mother shared her love of musicals with my brother and I, we were always excited to see a show at The Fox Theatre. I first visited New York City when I was 15 and I was taken in by the fast pace of the city and its incomparable energy. Moving to New York from Georgia was a big adjustment! As a young dancer I found it to be such an inspiring place to train and loved taking classes.
Alyssa Beasley, Miss Georgia 2017: Growing up in Coastal Georgia, my friends, family and I had the opportunity to go time at the beach whenever we wanted to. I also enjoyed many of the customary southern foods like fried catfish, fried chicken and peaches.
What about Georgia brings you the most pride/joy?
Joanna: Georgia will always feel like home to me. The southern charm of Atlanta is so refreshing whenever I visit. Georgia is very proud of its traditions, and sweet tea of course.
Alyssa: Being a student at University of GA, currently the good ol’ Georgia Bulldogs! Beyond college football, Georgia is a state in which Southern hospitality is common. It is always nice to wave at a stranger and say hello to those around you.
What is your favorite thing about the holidays in Georgia?
Joanna: The winters were mild in Georgia compared to New York, but that didn’t make it feel any less like Christmas. I always enjoyed visiting Stone Mountain Park during the holidays. We would ride the train, toast s’mores, sip on hot chocolate and drive through the winter wonderland of decorated streets covered with lights. It felt so magical and always got me in the holiday spirit.
Alyssa: We have tons of Christmas programs offered by churches and community organizations, but my all time favorite thing is to watch different lights of Christmas trees. In particular, here in the South where it’s too warm for it to snow so they bring in snow machines.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in Georgia to achieve their dreams like you did?
Joanna: I would say to work hard. Being a dancer takes ongoing training and determination to make it in this competitive field. For every “yes” you hear there are many “nos”. Being able to take constructive criticism and grow from it is imperative and will only make you a stronger dancer.
Alyssa: I’d like to give a simple phrase, never give up. No matter the bumps you encounter, there is a plan for you. It may not always be on your timing, but with hard work and dedication, you can strive to achieve anything you set your mind to.
All photos of Miss Americas courtesy of Donald Kravitz | Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions