Less than three years ago, Alana Lee would have scoffed at the idea of strutting on stage on a one-piece bathing suit.
Although two of her sisters had entered beauty pageants, her father had to give her a shove to try it. In quick succession, she won Miss Dixie State College, Miss Clark County and Miss Nevada in July. Next stop: the Miss America pageant at Planet Hollywood Resort in January.
To get there, she has had to drop an almost cavalier attitude to assembling an entourage to help her win. In the process, her bills have gone up.
She has hit the phones and worked connections to line up business sponsorships. She will continue to scout for companies that hope to be able to tie themselves to a possible future Miss America.
In the past two years, this and scholarships from winning have topped $50,000.
"This is by far the best-paying job I have ever had," she said.
Question: This feature is called Nevadan at Work. What is the work of being a beauty queen?
Answer: Oh my gosh, it’s more than you would ever imagine. So many people view participation in the pageant world, as we call it, as mostly the superficial stuff. You see all the gowns and the dresses, the cocktail parties, walking the red carpets, all these different things. But that’s really not it. That comes one week a year when you participate in Miss Nevada or Miss America.
The work really involves a lot of platform focus. The platform each person in Miss America has is a personal commitment to community service with a focus on what interests them. My platform is patriotism and Rock the Vote, youth voter registration. My motto or keynote phrase is, "Invest yourself in your community." That’s a lot of the work.
Plus networking. There are a lot of speaking engagements and performances and things like that, not to mention my preparation for Miss America. It is really pretty time-consuming, but it’s definitely worth it at the end of the day.
Question: The popular impression of a Miss Anything is someone who just walks the runway, wears the tiara and sash, waves and smiles. How can you change that?
Answer: Through my actions. If you see me at a City Council (meeting) receiving a proclamation, I am obviously doing more than riding in parades. The more people (that) see me in the community doing things that have nothing to do with the glam, the more they will understand that this girl has substance.
Question: You mentioned substance. Does it bother you that people think of a beauty queen as always speaking in clichés about how she will work to end hunger or …
Answer: (Achieve) world peace. A world peace initiative, right? Does it offend me? No. Because, you know what, I’ve only been involved for two years. I had that opinion just two years ago myself.
I can’t blame people for holding that opinion because that’s what they see. The people who make the headlines are the ones that have the dumb on-stage interview answers and the girls that have the scandals or something like that, so, of course, you would have that perspective. But that’s the difference between the Miss America pageant organization and other pageant organizations. Our focus isn’t on the superficial stuff. It’s on the community service, it’s on our scholarships. So our GPAs (grade-point averages) are more important than our waistlines.
Question: Is that how you get away with eating cookie dough as a hobby?
Answer: You know what, I need to hit the gym. At Miss America, it is important that you look nice, but it’s more important that you speak well.
Question: You said you got into this a couple of years ago. Isn’t it common to start at a very young age?
Answer: Toddlers in tiaras, yes. Honestly, I am still learning pageant stuff. There are so many different pageants around, I don’t even know half of them. I don’t know what it takes to be a Miss Junior Something Or Other. I’m still learning about that stuff. You could say I’m still naive in pageant world.
Question: To reach Miss Nevada, what did you do to try to win?
Answer: You have to not care. Honestly, that sounds ridiculous, but it seems the less I focused on the pageant itself, the better I got. I wasn’t trying to fit into their expectations. I can be a little rough around the edges. The Alana Lee that you meet in the first five minutes is the one you’ll know in five years.
But I now have a team of people helping me prepare and handling the appearance requests and the hospital tours. There are definitely a lot of people helping me out with wardrobe and how to walk and things like that because this is a larger scale and Miss Nevada will be Miss America-ready this year. Nothing will be overlooked.
Question: You said you get coaching in how to walk. How are you supposed to walk?
Answer: Miss America, in the past, has been very elegant and ladylike. She still is, but this is the 21st century. We are competing with different shows, different pageants. They say that Miss America is the girl next door and Miss USA (a pageant owned by Donald Trump) is the girl you wish were next door. You have to compete in that kind of environment. So now, you want to be a lady with a little bit of sexy to it, a little bit more coy.
Question: Is there a contradiction in going from not caring about winning to assembling a team to help you win?
Answer: Actually, it’s a beautiful transition. It’s streamlining the work … I’m going in with a motive, and that’s to become Miss America 2012. I want to be the best version of Alana Lee I’ve ever been. To get there I definitely need some help.
Question: What is your talent?
Answer: Singing. I am singing a song called "At This Moment," the Michael Bublé version. I’m really, really going to make an effort to make it a tear-jerker. I’m a communication expert. I want to relate to the audience like they are my friends and make them think they are walking in on a conversation with my former love. Or my love that is unrequited at this point.
Question: How do you pay for it all?
Answer: The dresses, the tan, the hair, the makeup. It all adds up, not to mention the transportation and the lodging. So I have a tanning sponsor, Endless Glow. I’ve got Wayne Newton museum and Wayne Newton himself. I’m working on getting some housing sponsorships. I’m still out there contacting businesses, lining up sponsorships and fundraising. I don’t want to be just the good, in-shape Miss Nevada. I want somebody to have their name on me and say, "This is our Miss Nevada. We support her and endorse her in general on a national spectrum."
Question: Do you sit at home and wonder you would do if you I win Miss America?
Answer: I’m not assuming that I will win. But if I were to win, how would Alana Lee be as Miss America? It would be incredible.
Question: How would you want to be remembered as Miss Nevada?
Answer: For more community involvement. I understand that in years past, we have had Miss Nevadas but no exposure so nobody knows about them. If you asked Joe Schmoe on the street, they would have no idea who she was. What I want to do is change that. I want people to know Miss Nevada.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.Vital Statistics
Name: Alana Lee
Position: Miss Nevada 2011
Quotable: "I can be a little rough around the edges. The Alana Lee that you meet in the first five minutes is the one you’ll know in five years."
Education: Senior at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, majoring in broadcast journalism; graduated from Mojave High School in 2007.
Work history: Crowned Miss Nevada in July, putting her into the Miss American pageant in January; production coordinator for the official Wayne Newton documentary; continues with other assignments with Wayne Newton museum project; before that, anchor for SUN news, a nightly broadcast produced by Dixie State’s Center for Media Innovation for six months; Before that, reporter with KCSG-TV news in St. George-Cedar City, Utah.
Hobbies: Long-distance running; political involvement in a nonpartisan way; eating cookie dough; singing karaoke.
Books: Just started "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.
Hometown: Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas since: 1989.