How do you line up 51 smart, beautiful, charming, talented, philanthropic-minded young women and decide with authority which one is the most smart, beautiful, charming, talented and philanthropic-minded of them all?
I’ve got no clue. But a panel of judges will have to do just that at the Venetian Theater in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas next Saturday, when they’ll select the winner of the 2016 Miss Teen USA competition.
Representing North Carolina against the other 49 states plus Washington D.C. will be Emily Wakeman – a 19-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student who hails from Cornelius and graduated from SouthLake Christian Academy in Huntersville in 2015.
Here are some things that will help you get to know our reigning state queen as she prepares to wrap up her quest for national recognition:
She’s a relative newbie when it comes to pageants. She won the Miss North Carolina Teen USA pageant last October on her second try, after being first runner-up in 2014. How’d she find her way into the competition? “I just Googled it.”
The crown didn’t exactly fit like a glove, at first. “My dad helped me bend it and put wire at the back to make it fit my head and stay in that position,” Wakeman said. “We also lined it with foam to make it more comfortable.”
This month, she’s spending far more time than usual looking way too overdressed for her living room. “I think it’s good to practice in your gown a little bit, just getting really comfortable with exactly how it moves ... and fits your body,” she said. “So I definitely am going to walk around my house in it a few times.” The evening gown Wakeman will wear next Saturday was designed by Gregory Ellenburg of Greenville, S.C.
She’ll be part of the first group of Miss Teen USA contestants to not have to wear a bikini on stage. In June, the Miss Universe organization announced that the Miss Teen pageant would be going swimsuit-free. Replacing the two-piece: athletic wear.
She was a fan of the swimsuit competition, because it made her feel confident and proud, but she’s also relieved. “I had a little second-grade girl ask me, ‘How did you win Miss North Carolina Teen USA?,’ and I felt awkward talking about being in a swimsuit,” Wakeman said. “I just think (the athletic wear) is setting a better example for other young girls who watch us when we’re competing.” She shared her feelings on the topic in a blog entry that can be found at balanceandbody.wix.com/byemily.
Inspiring kids makes her happy. With the help of Charlotte-based Together We Feed, she has been visiting local elementary schools to present a program she created called S.E.E. Fitness, with the S.E.E. standing for “Starting at Home, Exercise and Eating Healthy.” “I’ve gotten to speak to hundreds of kids now about the importance of eating healthy, the importance of living life and having a healthy body image. That’s been by far probably my favorite part of the entire year.”
Her career dream is to be in the news business. She’s a rising sophomore at the UNC School of Media and Journalism in Chapel Hill, and plans to continue reporting on campus issues for student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel this fall (she was hired last winter). Wakeman is leaning toward pursuing an on-camera job in TV news, which kinda makes sense, no?
Speaking of news, her favorite way to digest it is probably different from yours. “Have you heard of theSkimm? It’s great. That’s what I read every day,” she said. The condensed-news briefing – targeted toward young women and written in an irreverent, conversational voice – arrives in her email inbox every weekday morning.
But all summer, she’s been devouring news from a variety of sources – because if she makes the Top 5...
Once the field is whittled to five finalists, the judges will hit them each with a question related to a current event or societal ill that the contestants haven’t been told about in advance.
At this spring’s Miss USA pageant, for instance, there were questions about late boxer Muhammed Ali, the Pentagon’s recent decision to open up all combat jobs to women, Clinton or Trump, and my favorite: How do we narrow the gap between the rich and the poor?
As in the Miss USA competition, Miss Teen contestants have 30 seconds to solve the world’s problems. “When you approach an onstage question, I just think it’s important to answer based off your beliefs and your moral compass ... and to answer it as honestly as possible,” Wakeman said. “But it’s definitely scary standing in front of hundreds of people and not knowing what the question’s going to be. Our (political) leaders can’t even answer some of the questions!”
Win or lose, she’s got a pretty good idea of how she’ll celebrate the end of the competition. Wakeman has tried to incorporate lots of healthy carbs and fruits and vegetables into her diet this summer, while depriving herself of one massive guilty pleasure: French fries. “I haven’t had one in like a month and a half, so that’s the first thing I’m gonna eat after the pageant...”
How to watch
Viewers can catch preliminary competition beginning at 11 p.m. EST Friday, July 29; coverage of the pageant starts at 8 p.m. EST Saturday, July 30. Both events will stream live on the Miss U App, MissTeenUSA.com, Facebook and YouTube. Details: www.missuniverse.com/missteenusa.