Theresa Vail expects to be noticed in Atlantic City. Before the Miss America Pageant judges even meet her as Miss Kansas, they will have read her platform statement about empowering young women and a resume that includes five years of military service, leadership roles in her church and an honors student with majors in chemistry and Chinese.
She has a strong talent performance of "Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turandot. She won preliminary talent and outstanding vocalist awards at the Miss Kansas Pageant, but the vocal selection was not her first choice for talent. Vail wanted to do a presentation centered around archery, but when that was not allowed at the Miss Leavenworth preliminary, she found a song she liked, listened to it on YouTube a few times and made it her own. In preparation for the Miss America Pageant, she has had a few lessons with a voice coach at Wichita State University.
To prepare for the interview portion, she has studied current events and participated in mock interviews.
She has been starting her day at 4:30 a.m. to be ready for a workout at 5. A state preliminary swimsuit award is a good omen for that portion of the competition, but it can be assumed that many of the 53 contestants were also swimsuit winners.
Vail will stand out from the others, however.
Her personal mission statement for life is the serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
She had it tattooed on her right side. She also has a smaller military medical insignia, with the letter "D" in the center, representing her dad, whose influence she says is "paramount" in her pursuit of a career as an Army dental surgeon.
She announced that she had been "inked" in her blog at misskansas.org.
"I do not want to shock the nation when I'm seen in a swimsuit, bearing my marks," she wrote. "I want to explain the meanings and reasons behind them, and why I am opting to show them proudly."
Growing up and being bullied, she found herself asking God on a daily basis to give her strength to change things over which she had power. Praying got her through adolescence and National Guard boot camp, and she always wants to be reminded of her past and its connection to the prayer.
Her platform is about empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. As Miss Kansas, or Miss America, she is expected to represent contemporary young women between the ages of 17 and 24. People in that age group get the most tattoos, and one in five Americans have at least one tattoo, Vail said.
"I pray to God it doesn't hinder my chances (to win)," she said. "I hope it would have no effect. It doesn't make me less capable of doing the job.
"I am a traditionalist, I am conservative and I am a God-fearing woman. Having tattoos does not negate any of those," she wrote in her blog.
She has received some positive feedback from the blog. A former Miss America contestant from the northeast expressed the wish that she could go back and compete again, and this time be true to herself.
"I didn't do that the first time," the woman wrote to Vail.
The Miss America Pageant returns to its birthplace in Atlantic City, N.J. Vail will leave Kansas on Sept. 3 and competition begins on the 8th, with the final performance to be broadcast at 8 p.m. CDT Sunday, Sept. 15, on ABC. One of the 15 semifinalists will be chosen by popular vote (see box).
Vail has already received more national attention than Miss Kansas contestants in recent years. She will be featured in a segment of ABC 20/20 leading up to the pageant. Also preceding the pageant, from 6 to 8 on Sunday, the traditional "Show Us Your Shoes" parade will be rebroadcast. Vail will be wearing fatigues and combat boots.
In Kansas, she has been very busy, raising funds for Children's Miracle Network and making appearances relating to her platform. She is a spokesperson for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, promoting outdoor activities, hunting safety and tourism. Mostly, she said, she's been teaching archery to Girl Scouts, and has been booked to teach archery at girls' birthday parties.
Former titleholders from the last four or five years have all been involved in helping her get ready to compete in Atlantic City and have advised her, "it's a once in a lifetime opportunity; just have fun with it."
She doesn't speak of "when I come home" from the Miss America Pageant, but "if I come home — we want positive vibes here."