Leigh Payne was crowned Miss Rhode Island and Alexa Johnsen was crowned Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen at the competition held in Providence on June 13.
“It’s surreal,” Payne said, describing the camaraderie and closeness with the volunteers and other candidates over the three days of rehearsing and interviews. “It’s amazing to have family and loved ones around. The Miss America Organization is one that supplies mentors and support. It’s a common theme, but it’s true. I’m just incredibly grateful.”
Payne, a student at George Washington University, had competed once before, in the Outstanding Teen competition in 2016, and said this experience brought back memories and good feelings of that one.
“I was surprised at how similar if feels all these years later,” she said. “The board is truly a family, and these girls are very supportive.”
Payne, a Barrington native, said she’s learned to appreciate what her new title means, and hopes she can bring people together.
“My appreciation has grown over the years. People have become more individualized, and the Miss America Organization emphasizes community, as people drift further and further away from that. So, it emphasizes social involvement, and a love for your state and community. I love the Ocean State and it will be an honor to represent it nationally.”
Payne said her social impact – supporting small businesses – is something she hopes to become even more involved in across the state.
“I heard the statistics are very dire for the success of small business, and job growth is on track to do better in Rhode Island, but it could be better [than that],” Payne said. “I would love the opportunity to meet with the governor. I would love to meet as many people as possible who are involved with the economy of Rhode Island. I am an economics major and it would be an honor to meet with them.”
Johnsen, a junior at North Kingstown High School, said it took a moment to sink in that she had won.
“I thought they called the wrong name at first,” she said. “It took a second for me to realize they called my name. I walked forward but it felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe it happened.”
In about six weeks, Johnsen will compete for the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s crazy. I started thinking about it when they put the crown on my head, and I said, ‘I have to prepare hard now,'” she said. “When school ends on June 24, hopefully I’ll have more time to prepare.”
Johnsen said maintaining her social media and recruiting other future candidates will be some of the things she’ll be working on soon. She’ll also push her platform of cleaning up the oceans of plastic marine debris – suiting for the Ocean State titleholder.
“I’m going to try to get some legislation passed to reduce the plastic footprint in Rhode Island,” the ambitious teen said.
Johnsen said she plans to take the advice Molly Andrade, Miss Rhode Island 2019 and 2020, gave all the candidates – to relish each second of her year.
“I’m looking forward to the entire experience….because it really will be gone in a flash.”
For more information, visit http://www.missri.org.