• Sarah Dudinetz

Hustle & Heart will set you apart: Takeaways from Miss Michigan




I’ve been waiting for this last weekend for the last two years—Miss Michigan WEEK. Who else missed the energy and buzz of a full audience at a pageant!? I didn't realize how much I missed it until I was there again.


This year felt a little different, as I was sitting in the audience rather than competing on stage. But that energy and buzz was just as real, and it woke up part of me that I didn’t even realize was sleeping. Getting to cheer on all of my friends, being inspired to get back into the personal development and self-growth that pageants provide, and seeing all of the friends and family—many of which, I hadn’t seen since pre-covid—was exactly what my soul needed.


So, what were my takeaways? So glad you asked *wink*. As I watched three nights of competition and caught back up with all of our people, here were some of the thoughts that I left with.

First, pageant people are the real deal.


They’re with you until the end. My mom always describes jumping back into 'pageant world' as a big old family reunion. And that’s exactly what it felt like--a long overdue family reunion.


The morning after Miss Michigan, I was up bright and early singing with my worship team at church. I started mentioning to someone there that I competed in pageants, and that that’s where I had been all weekend. I was met with the same wide eyes and confusion that I’m sure a lot of pageant girls have grown used to as she said (with the purest of intentions) “You really do pageants!? But… you’re not… shallow.”


I know! It’s crazy! None of us are. I am realizing more and more the disconnect between what the world thinks of the pageant community, and what the pageant community actually is. Her comment made me think about all the titleholders, families of titleholders, long-time volunteers, directors, and others this weekend who checked in with me when they saw me, asking me about my own endeavors, wishing me the best and offering their time and energy to help me as I jump back into the pageant world. I received so many genuine hugs, the kind where you can feel how much they care. I realized that this is what we mean when we say ‘pageant family’. It’s not the reality TV pageants full of petty drama. It’s infinitely better. Every single person cares so deeply.

Rylie and I the night of Miss Michigan finals.

I got to watch my forever teen, Rylie, win Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen. Rylie was my teen when I held the title of Miss Sunset Coast 2019, and I’ve watched her grow into the most BEAUTIFUL young woman, while making the world a better place in the process—balancing the two gracefully while she also tackles high school, extracurriculars, and the rest of life.


I've learned so much from Rylie, but the overarching lesson is this: Dedication and hard work can get you anywhere you want to go. Rylie sometimes mentions how she's competed as a teen for years. Her first year, she didn't even place at a single local pageant. In the years she's been competing, she's put in the WORK. And I loved sitting in the audience and watching all of her hard work pay off! This girl truly puts 110% into everything that she does--she is the DEFINITION of hustle. I saw that in every phase of conversation: in her onstage question, in her INSANE baton-twirling talent, and in the work that she pours into her Social Impact Initiative.


Also... Let’s talk support systems real quick! Us contestants are so lucky to have such powerful supporters in our corner. When we say it takes a village, we're not kidding. I've been lucky enough to get to know Rylie's sweet mom, Tiffany, who has poured so much into helping her daughter succeed. Say what you want about pageant moms, but between my own incredible mother, Tiffany, and all the other pageant moms I'm lucky to know, I know that they're the ones who make it all possible! If you're a pageant mom, give yourself a pat on the back for me. We love you!



Viv and I in 2019 after making Top 5 at Miss MI.

The next night, I got to sit and watch the crowning of our new Miss Michigan, Vivian Zhong! Vivian won the first pageant that I ever competed in back in 2013. She’s been hustling every second since--while also getting her Masters in Pharmacology at Tulane University this year (WHAT!? I know), and has made the top 5 at Miss Michigan multiple years in a row.


My takeaway from her performance was also a mantra that I’ve been trying to adopt into my life: “Hold the vision, trust the process.” She’s been on fire for years, but this was HER time. Sometimes it's easier said than done, but consistency really is key. It is all too easy to beat yourself up after a pageant, even if you placed well, wondering if you had just changed one little thing, or said something different, or did your hair different... would they have picked you?


One of my favorite bits of advice from one of my favorite Miss Americas, Savvy Shields, was this: You can perform everything to the best of your ability, you can absolutely be on fire, and you can do better than you've ever done--and that won't change the fact that it's not your time to win that title. Likewise, you can fall flat on your face, you can screw up your talent, and you can say something COMPLETELY face-palm-worthy during your interview... and you can STILL win, because it's YOUR time.


Now, none of that happened to Vivian--she was absolutely on FIRE (cue endless fire emojis). All of this to say--hold the vision and trust the process. ;)

Other takeaways…

  • It takes an INSANE amount of work to pull off local pageants, state pageants, and national pageants. More and more with each day, I am infinitely grateful to each person who sets the stage for us girls to do what we do--whether you're *literally* setting the stage for us, or just figuratively! As the Miss America Organization has endured a season of change and occasional turmoil, I find so much peace in being surrounded and lifted up by the most passionate, dedicated, loving volunteers I've ever known. Thank you to each and every MAO volunteer and supporter who pours into all of us so that our dreams can come true. We love you dearly.

  • I often tell people that pageants are the weirdest, but also the best part of my life. Miss Michigan week proved that this is still very true, and I wouldn't have it any other way. When I was younger, I never envisioned that pageants would become such a big part of my life, but I am INSANELY glad they are. And I love getting to showcase to the world that pageant girls are not what they think, one person at a time--starting with my church's worship team. ;)

  • I’m more excited than ever to be back on stage, but I’ve got work to do (because did I mention these girls were ON FIRE??)

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