Miss America contestants recently had two chances to tape a personal video in which they ask the public for their vote as a finalist in Saturday's pageant. If they didn't get it right in the two takes, they were out of luck.
Miss Nevada was out of luck.
Alana Lee, 22, thought she would make her former peers at Mojave High School proud and rap it out. The video starts out great. The blond-haired, blue-eyed girl from North Las Vegas wears a sweatband and swaggers into her lyrics. But, about 35 seconds in, she loses the beat and mistakenly substitutes the word "chick" with "trick."
By the end of the video she's laughing at herself. When it gets brought up a few weeks later, she's still laughing.
"Hopefully I'll do (my Mojave classmates) proud at Miss America instead," says Lee, her face blushing as she covers it with a sofa pillow in her parents' living room.
It's rare for her to lose that pageant poise, but mentioning the Vote for Miss Nevada rap seems to have done it.
Lee has competed in the pageant circuit for only two years. She wasn't a toddler in a tiara, and her bedroom isn't bursting with sashes and crowns. In fact, her bedroom boasts not one, but three pictures of Jesus Christ. She's a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Her father, state Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, nudged her into her first pageant at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. Her two older sisters competed and found it a good experience. No one expected her to win the thing, least of all her parents who traveled to New York during the competition.
She went on to the Miss Utah pageant but didn't make it. The following year she gave Miss Clark County a try and won. After that came Miss Nevada and another win.
Alana won't claim to be a stunning beauty, amazing performer or smokin' hot bikini babe. She will tell you point-blank that her pageant success comes from one thing: her interview skills.
She demonstrates perfect posture and flashes a bright, white smile when fielding questions, but every Miss Nevada before her did the same, and it has been 10 years since one cracked the top 10. It's intellectual ability, Alana says, that makes her shine a little brighter than her recent predecessors.
And, the Miss America Organization, which awarded $340,000 in scholarships to last year's 53 contestants, values intellectual ability.
During her recent Miss America send-off party, Alana performed her talent, singing the Michael Buble version of "At this Moment," and she participated in a mock interview for family and friends.
Miss Nevada board members grilled her with questions about why Mitt Romney's Mormon religion could get in the way of his bid for president, whether the Kardashians are suitable role models (Kris Jenner is a Miss America judge) and her stance on illegal immigration. She didn't stumble once, firmly supporting Romney and his faith, referring to the Kardashians as "great businesswomen" and citing Newt Gingrich's immigration policies as parallel with her own.
Alana has back-of-her-hand knowledge of current events, world issues and, most of all, politics. She may love eating cookie dough and belting out "Redneck Woman" at karaoke, but neither rivals her love of the news.
Her favorite program is "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, and she catches "Hardball With Chris Matthews" on MSNBC to "get the other side." Her personal email address has the word "news" in it, and she spends Friday nights surfing news channels. The mass communications major sincerely enjoys the news.
Her father, who jokes that he now has the "supporting role" at public events with his daughter, has had to adjust to getting hard-hitting questions at his own dinner table.
The state senator is a registered Democrat, and Alana calls herself fiscally and socially conservative. He used to give her the easy, short answers when she asked for his opinion on political issues. He since has learned he can't get away with that.
"She really wants to debate it," he says. "She says to me, 'Tell me why I should have your position.' "
Although her pageant success has surprised her family, Sen. Lee acknowledges the youngest of his seven children has always set her sights high. Alana aspires to one day go into broadcasting and eventually politics, not ruling out the presidency of the United States. The reigning Miss America, Teresa Scanlan, has expressed the same commander-in-chief goal.
"Oh, really?" says Alana, when hearing this. "Well, she'll have to beat me to do it."
Confidence isn't a problem for her now, and it won't be during Miss America competitions, which start tonight with preliminary rounds. She says being among the cream of the crop doesn't intimidate her but rather makes her more sure of herself. "Dang, I'm in some good company," she says. "We're all winners. I'm not competing against any chumps. ... I'm not a chump, either."
Among her non-chump attributes, her life experience ranks pretty high. Not every 22-year-old can say she has lived in Ireland and spent time in China too. She attended Catholic school and worked as a bartender in the former country (though, to this day she has never had a drink) and learned to appreciate her rights as a North American after visiting the latter country, literally kissing the ground when she returned to the States.
Her Miss America platform, should she win, is Patriotism: Rock the Vote. It stresses voter registration. She hopes to cure what she calls "the apathy bug" and get young people as interested in politicians as they are in reality TV stars.
Alana's own brush with the world of celebrity came with her work as a production assistant on the Wayne Newton documentary "Wayne Newton: A Native American Legend." Through that position, she secured sponsorship from the Wayne Newton Museum for her runs as Miss Nevada and Miss America.
Steve Kennedy, producer for the documentary and an investor for the museum, says Alana's interview skills never cease to impress him. "When people try to throw her curve balls," he says, "she always lands on her feet."
She hopes to do just that after the Miss America pageant, win or no win. Alana's bedroom dresser holds a stack of business cards that she has accumulated over her many personal appearances as Miss Nevada. She jots notes on the back of each card, reminding her where she met each person. If she wins another crown, though, the networking will have to wait a year.
Scanlan, who relinquishes her title Saturday night, has said it all comes down to whoever can win over the judges the fastest.
With that in mind, Alana will have to find a way to stand out in a room of 53 beautiful, intelligent, talented women. The last time she did that, she found herself rapping on YouTube. This time, though, she doesn't get two chances.
"Once you win the (Miss Nevada) pageant, it's all self-motivated after that," she says. "You get one shot, and that's it."
Contact fashion reporter Xazmin Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter at @startswithanx.