The Miss America Pageant was a very hectic two weeks for Miss Kansas Krystian Fish.
Every year, millions of Americans watch the final night of the Miss America Pageant to see who will become then next title holder. What the television audience doesn't see is everything else that goes on the two weeks leading up to the final night in Atlantic City, N.J.
Miss Kansas Krystian Fish was one of 51 state contestants vying for the title of Miss American and her experience was exciting, emotional and sometimes was a lot of get ready then wait, sometimes for hours, to get to do her preliminary competitions.
Although she was not one of the top 15 selected to compete in the finals, Fish was one of the seven finalists for the coveted Quality of Life award and was in the top six fundraisers for Children's Miracle Network Hospital that partners with the Miss America program to raise awareness and fund's for children's hospitals across America.
When the contestants arrive in Atlantic City, they all know it's a one time shot at becoming Miss America and that only one will get the title, Fish said.
It takes months to get ready for the Miss America pageant. Since she was crowned Miss Kansas the first week in June, most of her time had been spent preparing for Miss America intermixed with appearances for her Miss Kansas duties.
From the moment they arrive in Atlantic City, their schedule is full of practices and public appearances. The contestants are greeted enthusiastically wherever they go. Lots of photographers cover every appearance and lots of people, especially little girls, want to meet them. And Fish loved it. It was a lot of fun, Fish said.
Putting on a nationally televised program means lots and lots and lots of rehearsals. They had to learn the numbers for the live preliminary competition audience and different numbers for the live finals show for television.
During rehearsals and performances, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. Producers are everywhere making sure contestants go where they're supposed to go, contestants have be careful not to run into cameramen especially in the swimsuit competition where the cameramen walk beside the contestants.
During TV commercial breaks, producers are checking makeup and hair and offering water if contestants need it.
There are rehearsals for the final night competition so contestants will know where to go if they are picked for the top 15 and rehearsals for if they are not.
Announcing the top 15 is a very emotional time for the contestants. They have no idea who will be chosen and they have all worked hard to get to this point.
If a contestant is picked, they are excited but have to prepare immediately for the competition phase. Since no one knows who will be picked, each contestant has to have everything ready to continue. When she was not picked, Fish said it was hard to see her items and realize she wouldn't get to use them.
"I'm not going to lie. It was really hard," Fish said.
But she didn't consider this a defeat. She relied on her faith and realized no matter what happened, it was well with her soul and that it just wasn't her time.
"Part of me knew (I wouldn't be chosen) but it was OK," Fish said.
At the Miss Kansas pageant, when the final contestants are selected, the remaining contestants go off stage and don't come back on until the finale. This gives them a chance to deal with not making it and having a chance to cry. However, at Miss America, the contestants that aren't selected for the top 15 stay on stage and have to wait until after the crowing of the new Miss America to deal with their emotions, Fish said.
For the 15 finalists, they have to all be prepared to go on with each competition where some are ready to perform but are eliminated. The final 15 competing contestants are reduced to 12 then 10 then 7 then 5 and finally 1.
Contestants are put in groups of 17 and each group competes in four categories. On Tuesday of preliminary week, Fish had her private interview with the judges. Wednesday was her talent competition, Thursday was on-stage interview and Friday was swimsuit and evening wear.
Fish said she was calm and confident because she had done her preparation for her talent.
Each contestant performed only one category a night. They performed the opening number as a group then had to wait for their turn while other categories were going on. For her interview question, her hair was done at noon but since she was No. 15 of 17 in her group, she had to wait until 5:19 p.m. for her turn on stage.
Other than their talent competition, contestants spent just a couple of minutes on-stage each night then a lot of time waiting for the announcement of preliminary winners.
"It's each contestants 45 seconds of fame including the opening number," Fish said.
There is a lot of respect among the contestants for each other. Some contestants had entered their local pageants several times to win their state title and they all know what it takes to get to Miss America. Contestants will help each other as they prepare for their competitions. They also develop friendships. Fish said she became really good friends with Miss Pennsylvania Katie Schreckengast and when her name was called for top 15, Fish screamed with excitement. She was also good friends with Miss Hawaii Kathryn Teruya and Miss South Carolina Suzi Roberts. These friendships will last a lifetime
There were a lot of rehearsals because the Miss America organization wants the contestants to look and perform their best for the audience, Fish said.
The big event Saturday is the Show Us Your Shoes Parade on the famous Atlantic City Board Walk. Fish found out this required more stamina than she had anticipated. The parade is a couple of miles long and there were about 100,000 people on the parade route. During the entire parade route, contestants are expected to hold up their legs so the audience can see their shoes. It takes a lot of endurance to hold up a leg for over two miles, said Fish who admitted her leg was sore the next day. There is an unofficial youtube.com web site that ranks the shoes and Fish was in the top ten on that web site. It has absolutely no bearing on the actual competition, it's just a lot of fun.
Her parade theme was sunflowers and she wore them in her hair, on her cape, her umbrella and her shoes.
Fish discovered she was very popular with the Girl Scouts and there was a big fan base for Miss Kansas in Atlantic City. Fish also had a unique case of mistaken identity. One girl in the crowd thought she was Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.
Fish learned a lot at the pageant and one important thing was it's OK to be an important, confident person, something she had struggled with. It's OK to be a big deal, Fish said.
It's good to make friends and be with these 50 friends who "get it" about why they do this.
Fish quickly admits she had a great time at Miss America and getting ready for the pageant.
"I'm so upset it's over," Fish said.
Life does go on after Miss America. Fish has been very busy traveling and making appearances. She has had some unique opportunities including making an appearance at a national disability conference, something she has been dreaming about since she was 12. He father has attended the conference that features the most important people who deal with disabilities. It will be the first week in November.