Class Complete!: Miss Massachusetts aiming for 3-0

Elizabeth Pierre’s first pageant was the Miss Boston/Miss Cambridge competition in 2020, in which she won the Beantown suburb’s title. After a 17-month wait, she was crowned Miss Massachusetts 2021 on July 17, and is aiming to take the Miss America title this December.

Twenty-three women from across the commonwealth competed in the two-day pageant, which was described as one of the most competitive in recent history.

First runner-up was Kristina Ayanian, Pierre’s “sister queen” and Miss Boston, and the two shared a couple of thoughts while they were waiting for that final announcement.

“We were just saying how proud we are, because we started the journey together,” Pierre said. “So, being on the Miss Massachusetts stage as the last two holding hands was such a full-circle moment.”

Pierre said she plans to spend her year promoting her social impact initiative, We Hear You, which empowers young people.

“It’s about empowering young voices,” she said. “I really want young people to become the leaders that they are, especially in this world right now, where we’re so divided and so polarized.”

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Pierre is the first of her family to be born in the U.S. She said she is excited to visit Haiti one day.

She added that she wants to understand her family and their culture, and feels for the Haitians who are currently experiencing troubled times.

“I think the country is really struggling, and it’s really sad. As the first free black nation, we never really had the opportunity to celebrate that,” she said. “Moving forward, I hope we can find some stability, and be able to be a nation on its own.”

Pierre said she decided to compete in her first local almost a year-and-a-half ago, because she loved the Miss America Organization’s talent phase of competition. A classically-trained dancer, Pierre said she gave it a shot, just “for fun.”

“I ended up with the title and now, after a year of a lifetime, I’m excited to continue,” she said. “I’m so excited to go to Miss America. It’s the 100th year! I’m excited to be able to join the 100th class, represent the commonwealth, and hopefully be the first Miss Massachusetts to take home the crown.”

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Leigh Payne Crowned Miss Rhode Island 2021; Alexa Johnsen new Miss RI Outstanding Teen

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.”

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Carolyn Brady Crowned Miss Maine

Carolyn Brady was crowned Miss Maine 2019 at the competition held at the Freeport Arts Center on June 22.

Brady, a native Philadelphian, and the first black woman to be crowned Miss Maine, was shouting to herself as Miss Maine 2018 Olivia Mayo was crowning her.

“I literally burst into tears, but then I was telling myself ‘You’ve got to get it together, because you only get a crowning moment once,'” she said. “I can’t be a hysterical mess in the middle of the stage.”

Brady, a student at Bowdoin University, previously competed in the Miss Pennsylvania competition, where she was second runner-up in 2017.

She said it was a bullying experience in college that compelled her to compete. She said Maine has really become home for her, and she was filled with that feeling when the final announcement happened.

“I was simply overcome with love and emotion for all of the support this state has shown me over the past four years,” she said.

Brady said she’s not related to Tom Brady, but also has her football loyalties in check.

“I’m not a fan of the Eagles…because I was told I am supposed to say that,” she joked.”I was also taught to say, ‘lobstah.'”

The energetic titleholder said she has many ideas for her year as Miss Maine, including expanding opportunities for volunteers at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and creating an expedited peer-to-peer volunteer positions for other titleholders.

She also hopes to expand the Miss Maine program, adding sponsors, volunteers and candidates for the future.

Jane Lipp, a 16-year-old resident of New Gloucester and a rising junior at Greeley High School in Cumberland, won the title of Miss Maine’s Outstanding Teen at the same competition.

Lipp said she worked really hard and although she has danced and sang all of her life, this is her first step into the pageant world.

“It’s something different. I’m learning,” she said. “I love having the tight-knit community of girls and empowering other women. I’m excited for the ride I’m going to be on in the next year.”

Lipp said she’s very excited to be competing for the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen in slightly more than a month.

“I have heard so many great stories, and I am looking forward to talking with the other state titleholders,” she said, adding that she also hopes to inspire more Mainers her age to get involved in their communities.

“I want to educate other kids in high school to be more civically-minded,” she said, “Specifically to teach them how to have their own drives with other organizations to learn about non-profit organizations and giving back to other people in need.”

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Third Time’s A Charm For New Miss Rhode Island

Molly Andrade won the Miss Congeniality award at the Miss Rhode Island competition on May 5. She also happened to win the title of Miss Rhode Island 2019.

Andrade, 20, had competed the past two years, and was first-runner up in 2017.

A competitive Irish Step dancer, Andrade wowed the crowd (which included Miss CT Bridget Oei, also a world-level Irish stepper) and earned the points from the judges to also capture the dance and overall talent awards.

“I’m incredibly grateful and so excited for this opportunity,” Andrade said, adding that if she doesn’t capture the national title, one of her main goals is to increase participation in the Rhode Island program.

“I want to bring as many women as possible to this organization and increase the amount of scholarships we give out,” she said.

She also has plans to help implement a self-defense course at every high school in Rhode Island. She developed her platform after a friend was assaulted.

“My best friend was sexually assaulted in high school,” Andrade said. “After seeing the lifelong effect it’s had on her, I knew I had to do something. I took a self-defense class in high school. One in eight women Rhode Island will be sexually assaulted. We need to act.”

Andrade said she’s also excited for everything, including appearances and the partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“I’m just excited to have a great year and a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “It’s incredible. I’m excited to see what the next steps are for Miss America.”

Caroline Parente, 17, was crowned Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen at the same pageant. She said she decided to try a pageant for the first time, after seeing the effect it had on her childhood friend, Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen 2018 Macie Johnson.

“I just saw how much the program did for her, and how it was an amazing program, basically through social media, and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.

Parente is from South Kingstown, and goes to South Kingstown High School. She was also enthused about the year ahead.

“This is absolutely incredible. I am so humbled. This opportunity means the world to me, and I can’t wait to get started,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working on my platform and working with Molly, because she’s so intelligent.”

Parente’s platform is The Ripple Effect: Rising To Initiate Prevention and Positive Lifestyles Through Education.

“Basically, I want to educate all youth on how to educate their peers about substance abuse, because youth really do make the difference in this,” she said, adding that she is an intern for a national government coalition for the program.

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CT, MA Make Top 5

Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei and Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras definitively showed that the New England states are indeed pageant states as Oei finished as first runner-up and Taveras placed as 4th runner-up at the Miss America finals competition on Sept. 9.

Oei impressed the national television audience with her high-energy Irish Step Dance that included a moonwalk tribute to the King of Pop, among many impressive movements. Taveras shined while singing a soulful rendition of “Rise Up,” a song that expresses much of the obstacles overcome by the Lawrence, Mass. native.

Both women impressed judges with their stage presence, as well as how they spoke in the competition’s red carpet phase, on-stage question contest, and a new phase, that included questions from the other contestants.

Taveras was asked, by Miss Wisconsin Tianna Vanderhei, about how people can improve face-to-face interactions in a world obsessed with social media.

“Simple put, it’s time to just put them down. Unfortunately, technology has made us dehumanize one another,” Taveras replied. “We start to look at people as Democrats or Republicans, black or white — there’s no grey area anymore and that’s really important in 2018. We’re not just one kind of person. We’re a multi-faceted, complex people, and the women on this stage — we represent that.”

Oei, who had developed a tracheal implant that powers pacemakers using a patient’s own breath, was asked by pageant judge Carnie Wilson what she wishes she had invented.

Oei replied by saying that a friend of hers had a stroke years ago, and she did not recognize the symptoms.

“I would like to invent an app that allows a person, when they see red flags, to go through the symptoms, [so] they know whether they need to get that patient some medical care,” Oei said.

On Friday, Sept. 7, New England Pageant News was able to sit with both Oei and Taveras for a second time during pageant week, and asked both how they were getting ready for the finals, and how it was to perform their talents on the Miss America stage during prelims.

“It was so exciting. So invigorating,” Oei said. “It was very honoring to perform on that Miss America stage and show America what Irish dancing is all about. I’ve had the time of my life since I began and I am just enjoying that stage.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what happened on that stage last night,” Taveras said. “In every phase of competition…I’ve kind of not been really there, which is interesting. I know I’m present, I know I’m there, but afterwards, I just kind of blacked out the entire thing. It’s like an out-of-body experience. When I went back and listened to my song on video, I was like ‘Oh, I really did do a good job.'”

About her chances of making top 15, 10 or 5, Oei said it was very much up in the air.

“Who knows,” she said. “I think that I’m giving it everything I’ve got, ad that’s all I can do. There are some things that you can control, and some things you can’t. I can only worry about Bridget. I’m feeling excited, feeling ready. Can’t wait to get out there and speak my truth.”

Taveras had a similar thought.

“I genuinely have no idea, because everyone had a great interview, and everyone is so accomplished. It’s really going to come down to what the judges are looking for. If you want someone who has a PhD, I’m not your person, because I don’t have a PhD. All I can do is hope that the judges saw something in me – that they saw how genuine and authentic I am, and just listening to my story and where I come from, and the impact that it can have on people.”

Oei’s first runner-up finish means that she did the best she could do, and still gets to go back home, which she was looking forward to.

“There’s so much more to do when I get home,” she said. “I have appearances set up. Schools are in session, so I get to talk to them about my STEM initiative. I really get to make an impact in Connecticut, and that’s what my year is all about, so I’m so excited to do that.”


Conversation With…Miss Maine

In full disclosure, this reporter was one of the panelists at the Miss Maine pageant in June, but I can tell you for sure that Olivia Mayo deserves the experience of being Miss Maine and competing for Miss America. Between nights 2 and 3 of prelims, Olivia said she is relaxed, calm and having an amazing time.

How is it going and how was it performing your talent on the Miss America stage?
Really good. I feel good. I haven’t been nervous at all. I just feel so at peace. I’m just soaking it in. It’s a once in a life time opportunity, and I’m just living in it. I got positive feedback last night, and I’m just kind of rolling with it. It was really cool to see all of my hard work come to life. I’ve been performing since I was three years old, so it was one of those moments where I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is where it brought me.’ Regardless of the outcome, I want to leave here knowing that I did my best, and last night validated that for me.

What did you get out of your interview?
I came out of my interview with happy tears. I was so over the moon with how it went. It seemed as though they were looking to figure out who could be Miss America and who could handle the job. For me, it wasn’t too politically-focused at all. They did throw those political questions in there, but I think it was just to see how you react to them. I think I touched upon all of the points I wanted to touch upon.

How do you feel about your fellow contestants?
I love them. All of them. We were talking at breakfast and saying ‘What are we going to do without each other?’ Our class has been through so much together, it has made us so much stronger. We’re sticking together and supporting each other. Everyone is here for the title of Miss America, but it doesn’t feel like a competition at all.
I look at all of them and I see a different Miss America in every one of them — any girl could do the job — which makes me even more at peace. I think that’s why I’m having such an easy time competing, because I look around and think any of these girls could be Miss America and I know the crown would be in good hands.

Do you imagine yourself winning that crown?
I do…especially because Maine has never produced a Miss America. I think that eventually, it will. If Maine did make it to the top 15, and we were seen on national television, it would get more girls to compete. So, I’m keeping those girls in mind when I compete.

What are your words for Maine?
Every time I hear “Olivia Mayo, Maine” I am so elated. It’s just been an honor to represent Maine, especially with my social impact initiative relating to domestic violence. It’s a huge issue in Maine, and I think I can make a huge impact, especially if they do see me on ABC, talking about openly. I think it’s a perfect role for me to play for the state of Maine.

Who was your favorite judge at the Miss Maine competition?
You were, but you were also the most intimidating. You didn’t make as much eye contact and you’d squint a lot and cross your arms.

Miss Massachusetts Nabs Two Big Awards

Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras took home a STEM award worth $5,000 in scholarships and the preliminary award for on-stage question and private interview, worth another $1,000, in the Friday night competition at Boardwalk Hall.

“I”ve almost paid off my student debt with these two plaques right here,” Taveras said, excitedly, in the press room after that evening’s competition.

“I don’t really remember what happened on that stage, to be honest,” Taveras said, still somewhat in shock. ”

Taveras was asked what message, should she travel abroad as Miss America, would she bring to the world about our country.

As for the STEM award, Taveras explained that her mission was to hush people who doubted her.

“The reason I went into STEM was because I was told I couldn’t. I was told I wasn’t smart enough, and that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, so I said, ‘Well, watch me!'” she said. “Years later, I got my Bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.”

Describing the moment she learned she won the preliminary award, Taveras said she had something else on her mind just before that.

“I’m so surprised. I was standing there when they were announcing the interview winner, holding my breath, thinking ‘I just really can’t wait to order Chinese food later,” she said. “I’m just really blessed and excited to have this opportunity, and to show all the kids who are like me that you really can do whatever you want to do. I’m just so fortunate.”

Taveras thanked her local organization, the Miss Boston organization (she held the title of Miss North Shore when she competed for Miss Massachusetts this year, and was Miss Boston in 2017).

Miss Massachusetts was also asked how she was going to prepare for the finals, and keep her focus.

“Just have fun,” she said. “God has already chosen who Miss America is, so I can’t get so focused on the competition. I’m just going to have as much fun as I possibly can. If I’m the woman for the job, I’m the woman for the job. I’m just going to enjoy my friends, my sisters, for the next 48 hours.”

Conversation With…Miss Massachusetts

Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras just had a few quick minutes between rehearsals to chat with New England Pageant News. The Lawrence, Mass. native said she’s extremely luck to be at the competition, and is taking it all in, while realizing that conquering her fears, and her difficulties growing up, have made this moment so much more worthwhile.

Despite being a little tired, will you be ready to perform your talent in tonight’s prelims?
I feel like adrenaline just takes over your body. You’ll be wired and just feeling like “This is your one shot, you’d better do it.” In rehearsal, the lights were on in Boardwalk Hall, so I didn’t feel like I was competing. I could see everyone. It was kind of boring.

How has your stay in Atlantic City been?
So much fun. Everything is good. I told the judges [in the interview room] that I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was supposed to be dead by the age of 18, and now I’m at Miss America. It’s so cool. It’s such a good time.

The sisterhood with the other girls — with all of the changes happening, how is that?
We’ve had to support each other, because of all the things that are going on. It’s traumatic. We’re not really talking about it, because we’re focusing on ourselves. The way I interpret it is that we are the reset button for the Miss America Organization. So, we have the opportunity to make it what we want it to be. There have been plans in place for the new Miss America 2.0, but ultimately, we have an opportunity to also contribute to that new identity of who Miss America is supposed to be.

And what is that?
Well, it’s great, because all of the women in this class are extremely accomplished. We have people who are going to get their PhD or start their own business or non-profit organization. It’s time for people to actually respect them for what they do.

What do you have to say to all of your people back in Massachusetts?
The thing that makes Massachusetts so special is that we are willing to take what we can give. When tragedy happens in our state, we all band together and try to make it better. When anyone criticizes our state, we band together and defend ourselves. It’s been so beneficial to me, because it’s gotten me far. I’m so proud to be from Massachusetts.

Conversation With…Miss Connecticut

Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei (from this reporter’s home state) sat with New England Pageant News and spoke about the experience of being on the Miss America stage, as well as what she sees as her role as part of Miss America 2.0.

Are you excited for tonight’s talent prelim?
I can’t wait to do my talent on stage. A) It’s on the Miss America Stage, and B) It’s my talent, but also half of my culture, so I can’t wait to show America what Irish Dancing is all about. I re-edited the music to be a little more full and powerful for Boardwalk Hall. I had my competitive Irish Dance teacher, Dr. Colleen Griffith, choreograph it, so it is new, improved and very exciting.

What’s been the best part of being in Atlantic City?
Definitely meeting the other contestants. Never again will I meet so many girls from across the country…with the same goal, the same dream and the same motivation. It’s really a surreal moment.

How did your interview with the judges go?
Wonderful. The judges really wanted to know who I was, where I came from. I got to talk about my talent and my plan as Miss America. I really got to communicate my goals, and just who I am, which is a very excellent feeling when you don’t know these judges, but they are deciding your future.

What’s it like being on that famous stage?
There’s something so natural about it. You get very giddy. You’re either dancing or bopping to the music. It’s very exciting. That stage has a powerful magic to it. Whether it’s the old stage with the runway, or the new one, it’s just magical. I had the time of my life [last night in prelims] and if I was over-exuberant, I did not care. I just enjoyed it.

What is Miss America 2.0 all about and is that you?
They want someone who is charismatic, energetic and exciting, and can inspire and move the nation to get excited about the new, female future that we’re heading toward. How you translate that on stage is just being as bright and as completely yourself as possible. That’s what I really felt I got the chance to do when I walked on stage in evening gown last night, and that’s what I’m here to do.

Whether you become Miss America or not, how will this experience affect you?
There truly is no way to be disappointed with this experience. Meeting 50 other contestants, working with a world-renowned production crew, and the Miss America program in general, you gain pain perspective. You grow your understanding of the world around you. It’s very exciting to be a part of that. I’ll come home with a better understanding and appreciation of how the world works.

Are the changes in the Miss America program affecting you?
It can be stressful, sure. We all love the program so much, so we’re concerned for its future, but you just have to step back and say, “I am part of its future, so what can I do?”
Sometimes you have to forget about everything else that’s going on, and remind yourself that you have a job to do, and there’s no one else who is going to dictate how I do it.

What do you want to say to Connecticut?
Thank you for believing in me, and for giving me the opportunity to represent you. I truly believe I am a small part of a huge village. Whether I come back to CT or continue on as Miss America, I want to continue to make my state proud, by sending the message that I came with my goal to transmit, and that I’ll keep that message consistent. I was the same woman who I was before I competed for Miss Connecticut, when I became Miss Connecticut, and if I win Miss America, I will stay so true to myself.

Conversation With…Miss District of Columbia

I know, I know, she’s not from New England, but all are welcome here. The lovely Miss District of Columbia, Allison Kathleen Farris, sat down with New England Pageant News, to talk about her time at Miss America.

What has your experience been like so far?
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s nothing like it. Just getting to know everyone and getting to experience Miss America as a group, is a great experience.

How’d interview go?
It went well. I feel like they were able to understand who I was, as a person, and what I bring to the table for the job of Miss America. They’re wanting someone who is very motivated and driven to really give back to their communities and serve. I’m a software developer and I promote women in technology. It wasn’t until I discovered using software that I realized I could turn my passion for music — growing up as a musician — into a career through technology.

Are you looking forward to the on-stage question?
I’m very excited. It’s an extension of our private interview, but we get to bring it out on-stage, in front of the audience, so they get to see who we are as a candidate a little bit more.

What about the changes going on in the organization?
We’re very flexible. We’ve always known that the job of Miss State, or wherever we represent, requires us to be flexible and adaptable. I think that’s a very useful skill in the workforce, and incredibly important to understand and know. We’re very excited. We’re eager to know how it’s going to come out on camera and for the audience to see it.

If, by some chance, you don’t win, what do you hope to get out of this experience?

There’s so much you gain. First of all, you know one person, at least, from every state, and it’s important to network.  It’s all about your network, especially in the professional world. But also, it’s about the skills that you have to learn to get to prepare for this moment, and to be at your best. It’s kind of like the Olympics, in that it’s something that you have for the rest of your life.

What do you want to say to the folks back in D.C.?
I’m full of gratitude and could not be here without their support. It’s incredibly humbling to be able to represent the District of Columbia, the nation’s capitol, and that is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.