Abby Mansolillo, 22, was crowned Miss Rhode Island 2022 at the Bishop McVinney Auditorium in Providence on May 1.
Mansolillo, a law student at Roger Williams University Law School, who will also be interning at the Attorney General’s office this summer, said she wanted the crown for quite a while.
“This has been a dream I’ve had since I was little,” she said. “I’m speechless. It’s an honor, it’s a privilege. I’m humbled. I’m actually afraid that it’s not real. I love this state. I’m thrilled. I’m so thrilled.”
The Smithfield native received her bachelor’s degrees in English and Women and Gender Studies.
Mansolillo was third runner-up to Miss Rhode Island 2018 and has competed in other systems, but said she’s looking forward to spreading the word about her Social Impact Initiative, Trust Your Gut, which is about advocating for one’s own healthcare.
Of course she’s also excited about the Miss America competition, slated to take place in late 2022.
“I’m excited to serve this state and represent Rhode Island at Miss America, and I want to be the very first Miss America from Rhode Island,” Mansolillo said.
During the competition, she said she was nervous, but that was a good thing.
“I was really excited, and I was nervous, of course,” she said. “But, as I say all the time, the day I’m not nervous is the day I stop, because that would mean it’s not important anymore. It was all-around incredible. The girls were phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. It was an honor to share the stage with them. All of the competitors are smart, driven, intelligent, beautiful, and talented.”
New England Pageant News was able to sit with several of the Miss America candidates – from New England and beyond – to talk about being part of the 100th Miss America competition, how the phases have treated them so far, and the camaraderie or sisterhood among the women from across the country.
“I’m having the time of my life,” said Miss Massachusetts Elizabeth Pierre. “It’s been really awesome getting to spend time with the fifty other candidates competing for this job. Stepping on the stage yesterday was just insane, and I’m just really proud of the performance I’m putting out there so far.”
“I can’t believe I’m here,” said Miss Rhode Island Leigh Payne. “I still can’t believe I won Miss Rhode Island, so to be here has been even more of an overwhelming happy, fun experience.”
Performing their talents on the Miss America stage – something they all had practiced ad infinitum – was a dream come true. While some said they are experiencing nervousness at times, none said anxiety was any sort of a hindrance.
“It was absolutely incredible,” said Miss New Hampshire Ashley Marsh. “My second year of dance, I actually tap danced to a song called ‘Someday I’ll Be Miss America,’ so it’s always been a dream to tap dance on the Miss America stage. I really never thought it would happen, and it happened last night. It was truly the best feeling to be up on that stage.”
“It was amazing,” said Miss Connecticut Sapna Raghavan, who performed a traditional Indian dance, which she choreographed herself, to a musical piece she also put together. “It was so special, because the audience was pretty quiet. I’m used to an Indian audience who is keeping track with me, who knows [the style] and is with me. I could tell this audience was thinking ‘What am I watching,’ which I personally like to do the most. I like to be like, ‘Ha-ha! Here I am!”
“During dress rehearsal, I always get the jitters and nerves, and backstage I always get nervous, but once I hit the stage, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m having so much fun,'” Pierre said.
“I was really surprised,” Payne said, after answering the judges’ questions on stage, and presenting her Social Impact Initiative. “It was enjoyable throughout the entirety of the preliminary. I enjoyed the moment on stage. There was no shakiness of the knees, and that was a first for me.”
Miss New York Sydney Park won the preliminary talent award for her spoken word poem, during which she also played a character, of sorts, which was maybe part of herself.
“Every time I’ve performed that talent, I’ve tried to listen to different types of music to set the tone for when I go out there,” Park said. “Performing poetry is about being present and speaking the feelings that you’re feeling. I think all of us have that extra character, that is someone we wish was our bodyguard. It’s the person who we wish, when we get the wrong order at a restaurant, would speak up for us. That comes out every once in a while, and it’s just important to remember that you have a backbone too. When I’m performing that talent, I just want to be that person – that person I would have wanted to look up to when I was a little girl.”
The candidates also shared their thoughts on how this big moment in their lives will stick with them, and perhaps help shape their growth.
“Coming from a small state, there is just not anything like this [in Vermont],” said Miss Vermont Danielle Morse. “So, I think just knowing how something so big – on such a large scale – can run. Six months from now I’m just going to be so proud to represent my absolutely favorite state, where I was born and raised.”
“It’s absolutely the people that I met. I have two best friends [Miss Virginia Tatum Sheppard and Miss West Virginia Jaelyn Wratchford] who I’ve met in this organization. I love all of these women, but Jaelyn and Tatum – we’re like this little trio, and I’m excited to see all that we accomplish together,” Pierre said.
“I think it’s the preparation for Miss America – it really makes you step back and think about yourself,” Raghavan said, “what you’re passionate about and what makes you tick – what makes you excited in the morning. I think every woman can agree with that. We’re doing so many things we hardly get time to think about ourselves. I think I’ve really found my voice, and I’m unapologetically me.”
The private interview, the candidates said, may have revealed something about what the judges will be looking for when deciding who the 100th Miss America will be.
“I went to a very professional school in a big city….so I had just come out of interviewing for internships and jobs, and I told the judges that Miss America brought a lot of joy back into my life,” Payne said. “I’ve been very technical for a few years, so that was very genuine. It’s really just a really happy experience. I’ve gotten in touch with that side of myself again, and I was able to communicate that.”
“I think it went really well. I got to say most of the things I wanted to say,” Park said. “What I was kind of seeing is that they are looking for what a modern woman in America would be like, and who can represent that best.”
“The judges are so fun, and they’re there to have a good time and to get to know us. I got asked a lot about myself,” Pierre said. “They are 1,000-percent looking for someone with a plan, someone who knows what they want to accomplish or how they want to accomplish it. I think I did a good job in portraying that.”
“I absolutely love the panelists that we have this year, so I think I was just so excited to go talk to them. I shared who I was and what makes Ashley Ashley,” Marsh said. “I think they’re just looking for someone who is ready for the job, who is ready to start day one promoting their social impact as Miss America, and someone who cares about the program and the service aspect of it.”
“It was awesome, and I was so shocked,” Raghavan said. “I had thought that I might not get the questions I want. I think they were very receptive to diversity. A lot of the themes in the interview were around diversity and inclusivity, which is the legacy I want to leave. It felt very much that they were on the same page – that it’s what they wanted to talk about.”
“Walking out, I was thinking it’s not me that they want, but that’s okay,” Morse said. “I got asked about firefighting and the children’s hospital – things I’m used to talking about, so that was nice. I honestly don’t think I got to show my heart as much as I wish I had.”
Perhaps most of all, the candidates are enjoying their time getting to know each other, sharing silly and fun moments, and forming that sisterhood that is central to the experience for them.
“People seem to bond over their talents and the things they have going on,” Pierre said. “Miss Indiana Braxton Hiser and Tatum, Miss Virginia, realized they were both theatre kids, so basically every day now, they go into a song-and-dance from a different musical, and give everyone a show, so that’s really fun.”
“We were wearing masks, and I tried to eat my soup through my mask,” Raghavan said. “I had soup all over my mask all day. There have been a lot of funny jokes- all the girls are so fun.”
“We were rehearsing a few days ago, and we came out and were standing around in our walking pattern. All of a sudden, everyone starts singing – we were just singing the theme songs to Disney shows and clapping hands. It was so genuine, and we all knew it. Something like that can only happen her, so that was really special.”
“It was really exciting to watch Sydney Park, Miss New York, win her talent prelim,” Morse said. “We’ve been close, so it was great to see my friend’s accomplishment.”
UPDATE: More candidates interviewed
Miss Nevada Macie Tuell said she’s extremely grateful for the experience. She competed for title of Miss Nevada seven times (!) before winning the state crown in her last year of eligibility.
“It was a whirlwind, especially after doing this, including the COVID year, for nine years,” Tuell said. “I was told ‘no’ seven different times. Finally, hearing ‘yes’ on the eighth time, finally getting to stand on the Miss America stage, let alone the 100th anniversary Miss America stage, is an honor – it’s very humbling to represent my home.”
Tuell, who had played the violin for most of her competition career, chose this time to sing Queen’s “Somebody to Love” as her talent.
“I feel good about it. I’m proud of how much work I’ve put into my preparation,” she said. “I decided to do something my heart feels more passionate about, and do a vocal performance. I am a Classic Rock kind of girl. Classic songs have always been in my upbringing. I knew it was important for me to do something that I grew up loving and I grew up singing. When I stepped on that stage, I could feel every beat and every lyric to that song.”
Tuell said the panelists were very serious about their job in the interview room.
“I walked out as though that was the best interview of my entire life,” she said. “They are looking for someone who is going to take this seriously as a career, because being Miss America is a full-time job. They want someone who is dedicated and willing to serve. They want someone with a plan.”
Like others, Tuell said the friendships are what will have the most lasting impact on her, after the crowning.
“They will genuinely last me a lifetime. There’s been a lot of time to get to know these girls – getting to know their stories. I’ve learned a little bit from each girl that I will take along with me in my life,” she said. “That, and I’ve proved to myself that I’m capable of accomplishing my dreams.”
Miss Washington Maddie Louder said her dance also meant a lot to her, because she has dealt with an eating disorder, which has caused her to be very ill in the past. To perform a dance with such physical effort was, in itself, a triumph for her.
“I started realizing that the voices who told me I wasn’t good enough – not only in the dance school, who told me I wasn’t good enough to dance unless I lost weight – but also the voices in my own mind, that said you won’t be good enough. I do that dance just for me now, just to dance because I love to dance. It’s about how I breath and how I express myself,” she said.
Louder didn’t get a clear sense of what the judges were looking for in the interview room, instead just enjoying the moment.
“I laughed with them, I cried with them, I shared my heart with them. All I can be is me, and show them my best self. From that point on, it’s in their hands whether they think I’d do the job of Miss America,” she said.
In the future, Louder said, she’ll look back at the emotional experience from the competition.
“No one prepares you for it. It is a whirlwind of emotions,” she said. “From the highs and lows, to feeling anxious from the pressures of the week, or the pressure you put on yourself before you go on stage. I’m trying to put all those feelings aside, but also knowing that I’m human, and at the end of the day, trying to lean into that vulnerability as a human being.”
Miss District of Columbia Andolyn Medina said she felt great after preliminaries, and did the absolute best that she could, and that lead to a little sigh of relief. She said she chose her song, a soulful rendition of “Summertime,” because it has multiple layers of meaning to her.
“It’s from the opera Porgy and Bess, and it’s one of the first African-American operas, and it’s set in South Carolina, which is where my mom’s side of the family is from,” she said. “When you hear some of the current renditions of ‘Summertime,’ you hear that jazz and that soul, so when I sing it, I’m singing an operatic version, but it reminds me of my family, my Southern ties, and the whole story of the song is of your parents and family members believing in you and wanting you to succeed.”
The biggest thing Median thinks she’ll take from this experience is learning the resilience that her fellow candidates have had, as well as her own.
“After the year that we’ve had, to be that passionate for something and hold onto that passion for so long, I think that’s what I’m going to remember the most,” she said, adding that she’s also learned to be more patient with things she can’t control.
“Coming into this year as Miss DC, it’s really changed my lens, to where I want to enjoy and make the most of all the little moments that I have, instead of critiquing the moments that I don’t have.”
Medina said that as soon as she met her Miss America sisters at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition last summer, she recalled hearing from former candidates about how the sisterhood forms and that at least some of them would become her best friends.
“I sat there and thought ‘Who’s going to be my friend? Who am I going to get close to?’” she said. “It’s hard to imagine that you get that close that quick, but you look at our class and it’s happened!”
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.”
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.
New England Pageant News got a chance to chat with Miss Rhode Island Allie Coppa, as she was preparing for the first night of preliminaries. She said she is feeling rather surreal as she competes for the coveted title, and was surprised at how easy her interview with the judges seemed.
How has your stay in Atlantic City been so far? Super exciting. It still doesn’t feel real to me. I had my interview yesterday, and I walked out saying, “Well, when’s my real interview?” I had so much fun and the judges were so amazing. I got to talk about my platform a lot. Interview’s one of my favorite parts.
Did you get any sense of what the judges were looking for? I think they were looking a lot into who you are as a person. For Miss America 2.0, they are looking for the well-rounded girl. They’re looking for a scholar and a talented young woman.
Any thoughts on the sisterhood? I love everyone. How am I going to be able to go back to Rhode Island and have a friend in every state across the country, and not be able to have a reunion every day? One of my new BFFs is New Mexico. I’ve met some of the girls from my side of the country, and we can stay in contact, but you want to have that connection with someone from the other side of the country. I’m so excited to be a part of this class.
What’s different about Miss America 2.0? I think they want the same thing they have in the past, they’re just trying to make it more obvious. They’re making it more clear that Miss America has a voice, is a strong woman, is a scholar and is talented, and doesn’t need to wear a swimsuit in order to earn a scholarship. I don’t think that’s changed at all. I just think we’re trying to push that message more, so that more people are interested in being involved.
What is your message to all of your supporters in Rhode Island? Thank you so much. I would never have been here without all of them. My mom and my dad, especially, have been so supportive throughout my life — through college, through the Outstanding Teen program, and now. I am just so grateful for the opportunity.