• Sarah Dudinetz

Miss Michigan week 2022 recap

For three years, I've been working and working for the opportunity to get back on the Miss Michigan stage. It hasn't been easy (even THAT is an understatement), but all those challenges are what prepared me to head into Miss Michigan week 2022 just a few weeks ago! Without further ado, keep reading to hear about my experience competing at Miss Michigan.



All my pageant girls know that packing for a state pageant is no joke. Every day after work for at least two weeks, I'd come home and work on outfits, pack up everything I might need in my hotel room and dressing room, double and triple check that my earrings, shoes, and accessories were all put together for each look, and attempt to keep my head screwed on straight. When it came time to leave on Tuesday morning, all I had to do was throw my mountain of stuff into Pearl, my trusty minivan, and wake my roommate to have her take my classic 'Off to Miss Michigan' back-of-the-car picture. I hit the road bright and early around 7:30 or so.


TUESDAY

I felt strangely relaxed the entire ride. The moment I got to the school we'd be competing at to unload everything into our dressing room, I was INSTANTLY filled to the brim with so much joy and love seeing my sisters again. While yes, we are technically "competing" against each other, these girls are my absolute best friends, and we don't get to see each other in person often. In a way, the entire week feels like a girl's trip.


This is the first year in quite a while that Miss Michigan was held at a new location. While it was strange not to be at our normal location, this facility was beautiful--and, bonus, we didn't have to walk up and down a flight of stairs just to get from the stage to the dressing room.


My favorite moments of pageant week are the in-between moments: for instance, having our first lunch together on the first day. It's the perfect opportunity to catch up with some of my favorite people that I only get to see once or twice a year, and to meet new girls that I haven't had the chance to meet yet. Just after our first lunch, I already felt like I had a handful of new friends.


After a long day of moving into the dressing room and learning every walk pattern and production number (yes, all in ONE DAY--it has to be a record), we were shuttled back to our hotel. My sweet director decked out my room with sparkles and rhinestones and crowns and all things sloth- and opossum-themed (a Miss West Michigan inside joke that I'll never live down), and she moved in all of my things while we were in rehearsal. As we got settled, I got to know my sweet roommate, Melissa Beyrand, even more--this was only my second time ever really meeting her, but I already loved her. For the most part, though, her and I just relaxed in our beds after a tiring day as we prepped for our interviews the next day!



WEDNESDAY

Guilty as charged--I always try to be an early candidate number, because I like getting my interview and onstage question out of the way fairly early. I woke up feeling genuinely excited for my morning, I felt good in my skin and my brain (can you feel good in your brain? Is that a thing?), and ready to sit down and chat with the judges.

Aside from the fact that this was my first interview sitting at a table with the judges rather than standing at the podium, which took a bit of getting used to, I felt incredible about my interview. Questions ranged from 'What would be your mission as Miss Michigan' to 'What world leader would you want to meet with' to 'Tell me about a time that you failed' and more. I felt confident in myself, but I also felt confident in these judges, because I could tell by their questions that they wanted a Miss Michigan who understood, and was prepared for, the job of Miss Michigan.


Once I wrapped up and took some cute pictures in what is my favorite interview dress of all time, I had a while to relax and hangout while girls finished interviews. Once we were all done, we were treated to a beautiful dinner at Hobo's Tavern in Muskegon (HIGHLY recommend if you happen to be in the area!).


Our server, Burt, was absolutely incredible, and even ended up coming to the pageant. Burt, if you're reading this, we love you.



THURSDAY

It's PRELIMINARY DAY BABY!

What does that all entail, you ask? It meant heading to the theater around 10:30am and not leaving that building until after the pageant that night. We did a run through of the show, we ate some incredible food from our incredible sponsor, Soul Filled (seriously still dreaming about it, and another one I'd recommend if you're looking for catering in West Michigan). THEN, THE PRELIMS HAPPENED.


Nothing compares to the feeling of when that curtain rises up and you immediately see your name in big, lit-up letters. I don't know if I've ever felt more supported and loved in my entire life. Thank you to my very best friend Kathleen for crafting those herself and surprising me with them.


The cheers were loud to put it lightly. If you've never been to a state pageant before, let me just say this: There's screaming. There's glow sticks. There's lights. There's giant cutouts of our faces. It's chaos. Beautiful, overstimulating chaos.


We jumped right into our onstage questions, which is always a relief to me so I can get it out of the way, much like my interview. I couldn't help but realized how much I'd grown in the past few years. Not in the way that my onstage answers were better, although they might be--but because as I stood backstage waiting to hear MY question, I wasn't absolutely petrified. I knew that whatever was going to happen, life would go on. I would be ok. And to me, that is a far more valuable life skill than just knowing how to answer a question well.


First things first, though, I gave my 30-second onstage pitch. There's a small monitor sitting on the edge of the stage that lets us candidates know how much time we have left to answer the question. Whoever is running the monitor starts the countdown as soon as we open our mouth to speak. Whoever ran it this night started it just a *touch* earlier than expected, and in my nerves, I ended up completely butchering my onstage statement. But that's ok because--spoiler alert--I had the chance to redeem myself on finals night.


And to be honest, my onstage question actually did go pretty well. I was asked (paraphrasing, because the actual wording is escaping me): "Our nation is more divided than ever. What would you do as Miss Michigan to bring people together?". My first instinct was to relate it back to my interview, where we talked about how one of my strengths is listening. From the stage I told the judges that I think we all need to do a better job of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond, and this is something I'd prioritize as Miss Michigan in order to make people realize we have a lot more in common than we do different.


Next up came my talent performance. When it comes to my talent, I always say that it's my "goal" to transport the judges out of a pageant theatre and into the front row of a broadway show, and I had a chance to mention this to the judges in my interview as well. I perform the song 'Watch What Happens' from the Musical Newsies, and to be honest, these are usually my favorite 90 seconds of any pageant. Tonight was no different, as the very evident smile on my face here makes clear (honestly--I don't think I've ever smiled so big in my life).


I'd write more about competing in evening gown, but truth be told, I can barely remember a single second of it. I remember standing backstage and watching girls go before me, and I remember the half second of walking off-stage, but as far as actually being onstage... I guess it's all an adrenaline-filled blur. I will be consulting my Miss Michigan DVD as soon as I can get my dvd player to work to help me remember.


After prelims were said and done, I got to drive back to the hotel with my director Kelli, and got to spend an hour or so with her and my close friends and family who had come to see me compete. We don't get to spend a lot of time with our people during Miss Michigan week, so getting to fill them in on all the behind the scenes moments and to hear about their experience throughout the week too was very, very heartwarming.


FRIDAY

The next morning, I woke up to the realization that I forgot ALL of my makeup in the dressing room at the school. Special shoutout to Brooklynn and Melissa for letting me borrow their makeup that morning!


Once that scenario was settled and my makeup was done, we headed out to the patio area outside of our hotel for an autograph signing. This was another chance to connect with our friends, families, and supporters, and for Miss Michigan fans to get their program books signed by each candidate--a longstanding tradition for many people. After that, we were driven to Duck Creek Resort for some lunch and a round of mini golf, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the week--especially watching my teammate and candidate buddy for the week (we were #3 and #4!), Allison Kaatz, get a hole in one! I, for one, will not be changing my talent to mini golf any time soon.


After that, we headed back to the hotel and changed into our fancies to go cheer on the teens! I was sending as many good vibes as possible to my teen, Reese, who was about to compete for Miss Michigan's Outstanding Teen for the first time EVER--and she, as a vocalist, had to do it with a sinus infection.


I don't know how she did it--I would have probably bawled my eyes out and cursed the heavens, but she seemed to handle it with the same grace and resilience that I've seen her carry since day 1. Her talent (she sang 'This girl is on fire') sounded INCREDIBLE, her onstage question was confident and eloquent and wise, and in her evening gown, that girl literally was on fire.


I am still in absolute awe. You try singing 'This girl is on fire' in front of an audience and judges when you have a sinus infection--or even without a sinus infection, because let's be real, that's not an easy song. Let me know how that goes for you.



In addition to watching my own teen, I sat in my seat in awe of Grace Larsen, our soon-to-be new Miss Michigan's Outstanding Teen. Throughout the week, I had heard from girls who were dancing for their talent that the stage was slippery, and that they all had to take extra caution on the stage. Despite Grace's own extra caution, she ended up falling out of a flip and landing hard on her knees and, subsequently, her face. I remember squeezing my friend Brooklynn's arm, who sat right by me, as the entire audience sat in a collective silence of concern for this poor girl--but she didn't stay down for long. Within seconds, she was back up, finishing out her dance with miraculous amounts of resilience. I truly have never seen anything like it, nor have I felt the kind of supportive love radiating off of an audience.


Later on, Grace answered her onstage question, which literally had to have been ordained from the heavens as it was (again, paraphrasing): "Tell me about a time you failed". She laughed with the audience at the irony of the question before answering it perfectly in reference to the fall she had just taken. She talked about how she always got back up and kept going in life, just like she just had in her talent, and from that moment, there was no denying that it was her day. Just a few minutes later, we had the joy of watching her get crowned our new Miss Michigan's Outstanding Teen!



We also said see you later to Rylie, our outgoing teen. If you know Rylie, you know her undying commitment to not only the Miss America Organization, but to making the world, and everything in it, better. She has done such incredible things this year, and while it's so sad to see her pass on the title that she wears so naturally, I know this is just the start for this girl.


Also, if anyone was still concerned... yes, I was able to stop by the dressing room and finally get my makeup.


SATURDAY

It's funny how when Saturday of Miss Michigan week rolls around, you feel like you've been living in this hotel room for your entire life, but you also feel like you just got here. The day started off with our Friends & Family luncheon, where us candidates served as live auctioneers and auctioned off baskets we put together. As Miss West Michigan, I put together a 'Best of the West' breweries basket including some items from my favorite local restaurant, Brewery Vivant (Since Grand Rapids, MI is Beer City USA, after all). I had the somewhat anxiety-inducing job of going first since they went in reverse alphabetical order this year, but it ended up being such a fun time hearing about all the baskets my friends had put together.


After getting to spend some quality luncheon time with my peeps, we were all ushered off to the shuttle again (I will say, one happy memory I'll always carry of this week was our shuttle drivers. They were so supportive, and loved us just as much as we loved them.)


Our time at the school began with a tech rehearsal, which went about as smooth as possible given the fact that it's impossible to fully rehearse when w don't know who the top 10 are going to be, so we all just sit and listen to what the top 10 will be doing that night. Granted, our feet hurt from wearing heels all week, so we're just excited to be sitting.


Then, before I could even fully process what was happening, we were back on stage with the curtain rising for our opening number. Things seem to move so fast, and yet so excruciatingly slow, on finals night. One moment I will forever cherish is being asked by our outgoing Miss Michigan, Vivian, to pray over all the girls on both prelim night and finals night. And a HUGE thank you to whoever captured this sweet picture of the moment!



But before I knew it I was hearing my name be called into the top 10. The adrenaline I felt fueled the quickest quick change I've probably ever had, and I remember forcing myself to take deep breaths backstage--not even out of nerves, but simply because I was out of breath from running and changing so fast and didn't want to sound like I had just ran a mile when I answered my onstage question in several seconds.


This evening, my onstage question wasn't quite as good at the first night. I've talked about this before, but where I see the most growth in myself over the years is not in the times that I do incredible and have amazing, well-put-together answers. My growth is seen in the times where I don't do as well, because I'm able to walk off stage and tell myself, "That wasn't my best. I probably could have answered it better. But it's one onstage question, and it doesn't define me." Rather than beating myself up in the way I would have just a few years ago.


And this night, I also go the chance to say my social impact pitch again, and I said it correctly. *SCORE*


While I wish I had more details for you, performing my talent and evening gown this night were even more of a blur. I just remember several moments where I looked into the vast sea of people in front of me (sometimes I still forget that these are actual people who are sitting in front of me and watching me do these things), and I'd see my name in giant lit-up letters, and I'd bottle that feeling away in my mind for a rainy day. It made me wish I could whip out my camera right there on stage and snap a picture of what we're lucky enough to see standing on stage.


Before I knew it, top 10 was being brought back onstage to be narrowed down to top 5. I had a weird peace about it all, and had a feeling that I wasn't going to make top 5. It's strange though--when you're standing up there with so many incredible women, all of whom would make an incredible Miss Michigan, it's hard to feel disappointed. To even stand on stage with them and to make it that far was an honor.


In fact, watching my friend Brooklynn make top 5 brought me more joy than if I would have made it. Here's a little sneak peek of that moment because I'm absolutely obsessed with the weird little jumpy thing I do.



Like I said, things move fast. I remember sweet, small, blissful moments of standing backstage, a few deep and meaningful conversations had with other girls in dressing rooms, and thinking about just how much my feet hurt before suddenly we were all back on stage. At this point, I felt almost hilariously calm and content. I was just soaking it in, happy to have a front row seat to it all.


And then I watched my sweet roommate, Melissa, win. The girl I had shared the confusion and the joy and the exhaustion of the week with. When I say that this girl deserves it, I don't just mean because of how talented she is (I mean, prelim talent award, prelim onstage question award, AND overall interview? Come on). But because even in the in-between moments that week when we were exhausted and stressed, she was the kindest and sweetest person, down to the very core--which is why I know she's going to do incredible things this year.



We packed up and headed back to our shuttles to head to the hotel for our afterglow party. Every now and then, I'll have a bittersweet nostalgic moment and take a mental photograph of what's happening in front of me. Back in 2019, I had this moment when I was walking from the theatre across the street to our hotel. There was a packed tunnel of people cheering on girls as they walked through, escorted by their directors. Since I was first runner up/the last one to be announced before Miss Michigan, who'd arrive separately, I was the very last one in line. I was also riding solo, since my director was unable to attend, and I remember standing there on this perfect summer evening, watching all of my friends flood through this tunnel of people who were cheering and holding signs and hugging us as we walked by. It feels absolutely ethereal in my mind--I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I stood there and thought, "How did this become my life? There's no way this is real."


This year obviously looked a little different, but I had a similar moment on our way back to the hotel. I always sat in the back of the bus all week (I was the unofficial president of the Back of the Bus Baddies club), and on the ride home, I sat solo in the back and watched some tired, possibly disappointed girls lean their head on shuttle bus windows, I watched friends laughing and sharing inside jokes from the pageant, I watched girls excitedly call their family and loved ones to tell them all about the night. This moment is just as special to me in its own way.


After our afterglow party, us girls made our way back up to the hotel rooms. I wasn't sure how much I'd see my Melissa that night, since she was busy doing all her Miss Michigan things. She didn't end up sleeping in our room that night, but she did stop by to grab some things, and it was honestly hilarious to hear a knock at the door, look through the little peep hole, and see our new Miss Michigan standing there, hoping I was still awake/home to let her in. In those few moments as we chatted, it was evident that it hadn't quite sunken in for her yet, but she was still the same sweet and loving girl I'd known all week. Spending a week with someone you don't know well in a high-stress environment is sure to bring out some true colors, but this girl is as good as it gets, through and through, and I know she's going to do great things this year and will KILL it at Miss America.



Did I sleep a lot? Of course not! The next morning, my dad did what I call "pulling a Dudinetz"--that is, he woke up way too early, and tried to come help move me out of my hotel room half an hour before I told him to (Was I cranky and tired? Yeah. Did I decide to make him wait in the lobby for 20 minutes or so until I was ready? Yeah. Did I regret it when I realized it was Father's Day? Big time). But, in record time, we were moved out of my hotel room, and had stopped at the school to move everything out of there, too. I ended up making it back to Grand Rapids in time for church, and then spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool with my best friend.


In the days to follow, I got very sick. Which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to me and any exciting, adrenaline-filled event in my life.


As the local season begins to unfold again, I am perhaps more excited than ever to get back in and to see all my girls again. This organization is truly something special.


Until next time, Miss Michigan!



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