LA Life: From Crowns to Cameras

Many pageant girls have aspirations to get into the entertainment industry at some level and many will use pageantry as a spring board into that life. Since moving to LA I have had many current and former titleholders reach out and ask for advice about making the transition.  Much like every blog I compose I can only speak to my own personal experience ( which is just in its infancy) so, take it for what it is worth:

Don’t lie about your pageant past: I mean let’s be real, you shouldn’t lie on a resume ever for any job, modeling, acting or otherwise. Remember the modeling agency visit when I thought I was 5’8″ and I’m only 5’7″, even unintentional lies bite you!  But that said, I can not tell you how many people suggested I never mention I was Miss Wisconsin USA when I was moving to Hollywood. I was told over and over and over again that pageant girls are not taken seriously, they are frowned upon. Many said it would actually  hurt my chances of ever getting work. Here has been my reality. Every single time it comes up and it does a LOT (I mean Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 is still in my insta bio) it has become a wonderful topic of conversation and actually in many, many instances been a connection  I needed.  Maybe it is because by the time the subject comes up I have already proven my worth, professionalism and talent or maybe it is because a lot less negative connotations than people imagine are associated with Miss USA or maybe they don’t exist and it’s all a fallacy. I am not one to wager on the whys and hows, but Gal Gadot and Olivia Culpo have really helped to pave a pretty clear path. Suddenly pageant girls are cool. I’ll take it. If you aren’t comfortable, you don’t have to include it anywhere, that is completely your choice. For me it was worth promoting because I’m proud of that piece of my personal history. And people are always intrigued by the words “Butt Glue” and want to know more.

Big leaps and moves are necessary: So even years after I myself first realized it,  I repeat myself but, market matters. I once wrote a whole blog about making sure you were in a market that supplies enough work. It doesn’t have to be LA, although I will tell you this place is great, it can be any major entertainment market.  If you want to dabble in the entertainment industry and don’t want to make the move it can be done but know the limits of your market. Landing roles that will move you progressively up a scale might not happen if you are living in well, Wausau, Wisconsin, which is where I lived. If you are really serious know you can not commit to one home and plan to settle. I was just submitted for a film that would shoot for three months in Barcelona. Many TV shows film in Toronto, New York, Georgia. So even if you move, when that break happens you best be prepped and ready to uproot on a few days notice.  I just chose to leave every piece of clothing I own in my car, just in case 🙂 This also helps when I’m on set and the wardrobe person asks if I have shorter shoes, or taller shoes. Yes and yes, I have ALL the shoes.

Don’t make that move empty handed: What I would suggest is building your career well before you make any major moves. If you are a model and don’t have a great portfolio or an actress who doesn’t have a solid reel stay put and work a little longer. One; it is easier to do trade work with photographers and get local commercial work in a smaller market. Unfortunately the top notch fashion photographers in LA aren’t looking to do a quick shoot at the beach with an unknown when they can be shooting with Bella and Gigi and getting paid the big bucks. Two; you will learn the industry enough to be comfortable on set and taking direction. This goes for models and actors. Pageant headshots are not the same as shooting for a commercial brand. No photographer or director is going to stop and teach you what you need to know, you just better know. Acting on camera is different than performing on stage. If you are a musical theatre kid, like I was, or college theatre major get some commercial work first even if it is for the local television market. Something is better than nothing. The biggest mistake others who have come and gone have shared is that they made the move completely unprepared.  Never having worked in any capacity in the industry, without materials and without a financial plan. The triple whammy that will lead to massive disappointment.

Money$$$: Be realistic, understand how much everything and I mean everything costs. Can you stop working all together to pursue your dream? Can your family help you? Do you have a money genie? If the answer to all of these is no, make sure you have a really, really, really, solid plan. I have worked consistently on industry jobs since I moved, not full-time, not every day and sometimes I go weeks at a time. I honestly right now make $1,000 a month average in the industry. My rent is $1,200 a month. So clearly without a full-time job outside of the industry I would be packed up and moved back to Wisconsin and in debt. I also take weekly acting classes and  just got new headshots.  Ching, ching, ching. Oh and I just became eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. That SAG card is great but the initiation fee alone is $1,500. Before I made the move I saved every single penny for months and months. Do not make the big move until you have the honest to goodness cash to get established. It’s a lot, but trust me you will be so thankful you have a start.

NETWORK LIKE CRAZY: The great news about pageant girls in the industry is there are quite a few of us. My first contacts were pageant folks and many are still willing to give me advice and connections. But in the industry every single person you meet is a connection. That photographer you did an TFP shoot with back in Chicago, the cameraman who also graduated from UW-Madison. Networking is how I started this crazy ride and it’s how I will continue it.

Not all advice is good advice, mine included: To the above point one of the greatest connections I have made here is with an amazing Director/Producer/Actor couple. I met them because I randomly submitted to do some background work. It also is the set upon which I met my greatest friends here in LA.  The piece of advice I didn’t take, “Doing background work will discredit you as a serious actor.”  A few days on the set as an extra have literally changed my life out here…all for the better. Do I want to be in the background of movies and TV shows forever? Nah! But the best things that have happened so far happened because I wasn’t too proud to do what I had to do. Also I happenstance landed on a huge movie set in the background with one of the biggest actors in recent history so that was a bonus. Stay tuned full details on that one coming June 2020! But by then I hope to have my first role working a little closer to the cameras. The point is, this industry is not much different than the pageant industry, every former and every coach thinks they know the formula for success and your path will not be the same as another persons. Do what works for you!!

Hone the pageant skills because you will need them all: Make-up and hair, be able to do your own. This will come in handy on every level. The first real make-up artist I worked with was hired to do touch-ups and you were to arrive camera ready. She couldn’t get over my technique and didn’t have to do a thing. I quickly became her favorite person on set. Interview skills are a must and those 2 minute interviews you prep for in pageant land, well you have even less time to impress a potential agent or casting director so you are practicing every single time you do one. Walking in heels, comfy in a bikini, can rock a gown…..all essentials. Granted I have been a high school student, scientist and ‘hipster’ girl in my last three jobs so glam is not a real go to necessity for many jobs,  but the confidence to work any look helps. Your pageant training is going to help you.

Finally, in true #skysthelimit fashion that I preached to thousands of middle school children throughout my reign as Miss Wisconsin USA. Set a goal and then set and accomplish smaller goals to reach that dream. Here are my 10 best:

1) Make the decision to be a model/actor/stuntwoman/writer/singer/producer whatever it is and fully commit to it. 2)Pick your market 3) Research and set you budget 4)Build your arsenal of work to get you started 5) Find others doing what you want to do and reach out 6)Save those pennies 7)Surround yourself with people who believe in your dream as much as you do and lose anyone who is holding you back 8)Let go of the fear and self-doubt before you set foot on your first real job. You can be your biggest set-back. Enough people in this industry will tell you “no” and you “aren’t good enough”, do NOT make yourself one of them. 9)Know what you are willing to sacrifice and where your boundaries lay, these will be tested. Write down when something is over that line (for me it was an offer to do a wacky commercial for a religious sect and a modeling gig for a rope bondage magazine called Knotty-can’t make this stuff up people) strange things will arise  10)Persist, persist and persist.  It might not move at the pace you hoped for so when you stall out – reassess, tweak, learn and move forward.

Follow me on Instagram and follow this blog to hear more about he trials and successes of life in Hollywood. I learn something new every day. And as you all know I’m not afraid to share!

Skylar Hollywood

Dream Big,

Skylar Witte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pageant Life: Post-Pageant Blues

Everything I write is happy, happy, positive, but guess what life isn’t always happy, happy, positive…even mine. It’s amazing but I have my days, my weeks, my months and even my years (sorry Friends fan) Every pageant girl out there has gone through the PPBs Post-Pageant Blues, sometimes it happens after a state pageant, sometimes after a biggie like Miss USA, but we all face it and if you don’t think it will happen to you prepare yourself.

I am digging myself out of it as we speak.  People will always jump to the conclusion that you are upset or sad that you didn’t win or place….always. But for most of us it has nothing to do with the outcome, it has to do with coming off of the high. Just over two months ago I was coming from this place of total mind, body and soul preparation.  Ever inch of my being was humming in perfect unison.  Not only did my butt look fantastic, but I could answer any question you threw at me from my thoughts on government funding of Planned Parenthood to my favorite flavor of ice cream, and everything in between.  PEAK pageant performance.  I had spent months investing in not clothes or make-up but in myself  in preparation for the big show.  And honestly all the time was worth the investment. I am a different person because of it!

Now on top of all of that, throw me in a place for 11 days with 50 literally amazing humans who have all been doing the same thing, who all have perfect butts and brilliant banter and you have now entered this alternative universe and that place is hard to leave. Everyone imagines Miss USA is this cut-throat, competitive experience where everyone pretends to get along but the minute interviews and prelims begin the gloves come off and the claws come out….hahaha someone actually told me that before I went. But guess what, the opposite usually happens, by the time prelims hit you have found your pageant soul mates and you cheer for each other; HONEST TO GOD.  You become completely protective of your new family, when the crowning is done and they whisk away the new queen talk turns to your wishes and hopes that she has an amazing year…then everyone stands on-stage and  the reality hits you…IT’S OVER!  Tomorrow or even that very night everyone will once again go their separate ways and you have to hope that you can reconvene at reunions, other pageants and maybe if you stumble into the state where they live. And the weeks and months pass and you miss them.

That’s phase one.

Then there is phase two….your mind goes insane….”I don’t have to do two-a-day workouts, I’m in Vegas and they have infinite pizza and buffets, when I get back to Wisconsin I’m getting Culver’s…..all of Culver’s, everything they make at Culver’s! Thank God I can stop with the hours of  FOX News and CNN coverage to try to get a full and realistic view of every single thing happening in every corner of the world. I’m shutting off for a bit, and when I’m ready I will turn back on.”

Everyone goes a little crazy after the pageant, again if you don’t think you will be this girl, prepare yourself. I have finally quelled my need to experience all of the things I had been missing, at the expense of the butt, my belly, the thighs and every other part of my body that has gone into a little bit of shock. I have started to pay attention again to the things I’m passionate about happening in the world and want to follow, everything else will be handled by a daily look at ‘The Skimm’.  Yesterday I went to the gym……I didn’t recognize the front desk attendant……uffda….it has been a long time.  I’m slowly finding my way back to me. Will she ever be the sculpted, news junkie who made her way to Miss USA, probably not?!?! But she will be a better version of who she was before this journey began and she will have some of the coolest, most insanely beautiful long-distance friends…..YEP she will and she does.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened……blah, blah, blah……it’s OK….YOU CAN CRY BECAUSE IT’S OVER, just know when it’s time to stop whining and get back to what’s important.

Also don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually sad, down-and-out or going through real depression….I’m loving my life. One part is over but a million other things are just beginning. I have thoroughly enjoyed hitting up the Culver’s and experiencing a million life events that could only happen after Miss USA.  But every once in a while the pangs of PPB flair up…..and there is no remedy.  It happened, it’s over……accepting it….slowly!

Dream Big, Skylar

18767435_1514618801924231_7958778479398826780_n

 

 

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Path Pavers

One of the most overwhelming ‘truths’  of becoming Miss Wisconsin USA was the fact I was suddenly launched into the same category as some of my idols. This is not hyperbole, the 12 women in this photo (Courtesy: Pageant Update)  who have come before me are, with all sincerity,  my lifelong heroes.

I have been fortunate to follow their journeys and some I have been blessed to personally get to know. Many have impacted my own path in ways they may have never even realized…but isn’t that what a blog is for…to share your inner most thoughts. So I’m about to tell them.

Kate Redeker, your pure beauty is incomparable. When I found out you would be competing as a miss the first year I was a teen contestant I tried not to ‘fan girl’ the moment I met you. Winning your title at 19 gave me hope and courage.  Just two months later while attending the Miss Minnesota USA pageant my mother and I got into a lengthy conversation with your parents. I told them how much I wanted to become Miss Wisconsin USA but thought I should wait, worried I was too young to compete. They were so absolutely inspiring. Your mother told me I had something special and the judges would see it at any age. They are such a huge reason this was my year, they planted a seed that grew all year long.

Haley Laundrie, there is a photo of you and Bucky Badger throwing up the “W” that was my ‘goal image’. Whenever I imagined my dream, what it meant to be Miss Wisconsin USA and how I envisioned it,  I thought of you and UW-Madison and that image. Bucky and I have yet to recreate, but I’m working on it. There will be a picture of Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 with Bucky, it will happen.

Bishara, I once referred to you as the “Queen of Queens”, and it is the truth. This year I finally had the chance to meet you and learn from you. I even had the opportunity to try  on the yellow dress you wore the night you were named into the Top 10 at Miss USA (fate anyone)!

img_5018

Your mother was on a mock interview panel that day and she gave me the best piece of advice I had gotten up until that point. She asked me about my dream job and I started by talking about becoming Miss Wisconsin USA and then Miss USA but quickly apologized for sounding too over-the-top. She stopped me and said “never apologize, be strong and confident in what you want and don’t be afraid to say it out loud!” I’ve thought about that moment many times since. When I completed the Miss Wisconsin USA interview I was disappointed that the judges never asked me that question. I’ve come to the conclusion they already knew the minute I walked into the room. Strength and conviction, they knew exactly why I was there. Thanks to your beautiful Momma for reminding me it’s ok to know what you want!

Courtney we have yet to meet, however my mother and your mother have formed a unique mommy mojo that makes me laugh. Your mother has always let it be known she believed in me and she saw something in me before anyone else had quite yet noticed it. She was convinced of my fate and kept my biggest fans sane in their most insane pageant moments not one but two years in a row. She just knew, I don’t know how but she believed in me when others doubted! I have to think it is because she raised a double crown winner and astonishing human being. She once said something about me reminds her of you, there is no greater compliment in the world.

Jordan I remember meeting you at the tender age of 13 when you were helping Kenna Mia as we both enjoyed our first stage experiences…I remember being completely enamored by you and your smile. You were the most beautiful woman in the room and still are everywhere you go.

Alex Wehrley, you are living my dream by creating a successful career in the entertainment industry. Not only that, you are doing it with grace, style and remaining true to yourself the entire time. You are the woman I aspire to become. I hope we can meet in person one day, because my connection to you is strong and that’s all I can say about that. #empowerista

Caitlin, your undeniable commitment to the growth of young women is evident. You have been such a force in the Wisconsin pageant community. You and your mother are the mentors every woman hopes to find in this world. Your motivations are so clear and so genuine… to build up others. I feel like I look just a little bit like you in our reaction photos and that gives me happy chills (fate anyone)!

Finally, Melissa there are no words. You are a beacon of pure light and energy. For years I ‘just missed you’ while those around me shared your story of hope and inspiration. In the end I believe it was only fitting that we finally embraced in-person the night I was crowned. Your life, your persona, your ability to create a legacy so much larger than yourself is the stuff dreams and legends are made of. You are the real and forever Miss Wisconsin USA.

My path has been paved by each of these remarkable women and their families even those I have yet to meet and know; each laying stones of hope, guidance, inspiration and love.  I feel like I am somehow the end product of each of their time with the crown. I followed their each and every move, dreaming of my moment, while working hard to create my own destiny. I can only hope that some Miss Wisconsin USA hopeful is reading this right now and someday feels the same way about me! And whoever she may be, it is just as spectacular as you have imagined it in your dreams.

Dream Big, Skylar

12-crowns

Pageant Life: Coaching

Pageants are extremely difficult to explain to your average non-pageant type. Years of bad reality shows have muddied the waters of what pageantry is, sometimes beyond the point of recognition. So when I meet someone and they ask I usually find myself reciting this elevator speech:

The pageants that I participate in are primarily scholarship based and/or  provide a platform for me to share my voice and talents. Much like your child who plays hockey or basketball it is my venue for participating in an activity that I can grow in and become better. I am a communicator and the stage is my comfort zone.  It gives me the opportunity to represent other young women and my community on a broad scale. And much like your child I have to invest time and energy into honing my skills. And yes, I have a coach who helps me to do that. Someday, I aspire to be Miss Universe, similar to if your child were to make it into the NHL. There is only one Miss Universe, however, so it requires a great deal of practice and a little bit of help along the way. Any questions?

There are usually a million questions, but the one I will address in this post is one that is a point of contention, even among pageant people. Coaches: Do you need them? What do they do?  Why would you pay someone to help you walk and talk differently?

When I started in pageantry I was most definitely in the ‘no coach’ camp. I had this weird assumption that girls who hired coaches couldn’t be successful being themselves so they hired someone to give them all the answers and turn them into what my mother calls a “Pageant Patty”, the cookie-cutter girl. My opinion on both that front and my opinion on coaching has changed, rather significantly over the years.

A pageant coach isn’t someone you pay to teach you to be a different person, it’s someone who helps you present YOURSELF to the best of YOUR ability.

I started working with a coach primarily on my walk. You may think walking in 6 inch heels is just something you can learn to do, I am here to tell you that it truly is an art. The way you face your body to the judges, how to walk with your hands looking natural, how to smile and still walk with confidence at the same time. As silly as it sounds, it is so difficult to do without someone who can watch you and help you understand how those little things can make all of the difference. It takes a lot to get in front of an auditorium of people in a bikini and 6 inch heels, but my coach has helped me to build confidence and make that frightening task seem like an everyday occurrence. Seriously I don’t even flinch at the thought anymore.

I have always been a strong communicator, it’s why I began pageants in the first place. I wanted a space where I could connect with like-minded people and have the opportunity to have my passions heard. It is the interview portion that many girls struggle with the idea of a coach, they don’t want to sound rehearsed, or unnatural. The right coach will do none of those things. Never once has my coach given me an answer for a question, or told me this is how you need to say this. He simply asks the tough questions and gets me thinking about things that hadn’t crossed my mind. It’s practice and it’s practice with someone experienced who knows that when you’re using your hands to talk constantly, it becomes distracting. Or that if you have a platform you are passionate about there are ways to talk about it in an eloquent and well thought out way.

One of the best things my coach has helped me to do is to convey very complex thoughts in a very short amount of time. Sometimes you have 2 minutes to  tell and sell your story. You are interviewing for a job and you better be able to prove you are the best person for the job. When I started coaching two minutes would have been one single answer to one single question. I mean if they start with, “If you were a fruit, what kind of fruit would you be?” that would never give a group of judges any idea what Skylar Witte is really about. (It’s a strawberry, I would be a strawberry. Mostly sweet but occasionally a little sour.) See there is more important stuff about me that I really want to make sure people know.

I am thankful I decided to work with a coach for my pageant career. And I can honestly say I would not be where I was today if it wasn’t from the guidance of my coach, Jimmy Lee Langhoff and that isn’t just a pageant statement that is a life statement. I have the confidence to be the best Skylar Witte I can be (and I can do so without waving my hands around like a goofball)

Dream Big, Skylar

Jimmy Collage