Miss Wisconsin USA Life: Top 5

“Your Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 is Skylar Witte”

6 months ago, this one sentenced changed my life. Over the past 6 months I have grown more as a person than I could ever have imagined.

I knew going into the Miss Wisconsin USA competition that there were many things I wanted to do if I had the honor of being crowned. I didn’t realize just how many amazing opportunities having this title would afford me and just how much fun I was going to have. Every appearance I do is different and every appearance has brought the greatest memories, but I thought to commemorate this 6 month anniversary I would share my top 5 favorite memories so far.

5. When my 9 year old cousin Eva wrote a story for class titled “When My Cousin Became Famous”. Becoming a role model for so many young people across the state is an honor that I am thankful for every day, but being able to be a role model for my two sweet cousins is a cherry on top. The story was just as adorable as you would imagine, she walked her class through the whole pageant. Reliving the best moment of my life through her words was such a sweet reminder that winning this title did not just impact me, but so many of the people who love me.

4. Singing the National Anthem at WACPC State Dance. This particular appearance was special for multiple reasons. At every middle school visit I do, I share the same story about the first time I sang the National Anthem at an Altoona High School hockey game. The story ends in me forgetting the words, utter humiliation, and using all the gumption I could muster to go back the next week and try again.   I thought while in that moment I would never sing the National Anthem for an audience again. Although I have sang the anthem since, this appearance made me especially proud, I had never given up. I also was so honored to have been invited because just two years ago I had won D1 State Pom Championship with the DC Everest Dance Team in that exact same spot. To be back on the floor as a representative of the state and cheering for my team, was such a surreal feeling.

3. The UW Homecoming Parade. Being a Badger makes me so proud, and has since the day I got my acceptance email. The parade for me was extra special, it was the first time I got to meet Chancellor Blank.  It felt transcendent because she came up to me and knew who I was. After I had won she had sent me a congratulatory email. I assumed it was from some assistant and doubted the Chancellor really took the time to reach out, I was wrong! My mom got a photo of me “fan girl-ing”. Anyone who knows me, knows that me being overly excited for pretty much anything isn’t new. At this appearance I also got to see Miss Wisconsin, Courtney Pelot, who represented Wisconsin at the Miss America pageant.  I had the pleasure of meeting Courtney when she was a local title holder and remember thinking, “that girl is the next Miss Wisconsin.” I watched the whole live stream of her state pageant and definitely cried when she was crowned. Courtney is a graduate of UW Madison, so getting to catch up with her and share a love for the greatest University on earth was fantastic. Thousands of people lined my favorite street in  Wisconsin, State Street and I threw out candy while trying to choke back tears. Footage from me in the parade was on ESPN during the game. There is no way I could ever explained how honored I am to have the opportunity to be Miss Wisconsin USA and in this moment, I was so overwhelmed with gratefulness.

2. My trip to Colorado to watch the Miss Colorado USA state pageant. This particular state pageant was the first time I got to spend any long amount of time with Miss Wisconsin Teen USA, Abby Bryson, and her mom, Lisa, after our crowning. Lisa was kind enough to let me stay with them since I was coming to Colorado alone. This trip was my favorite trip ever because I realized I had gained a lifelong friend and sister. We spent the trip laughing, eating lots of breakfast food, and realizing that we had so much in common that we really should just be best friends, and that’s exactly what happened. Pageants are always talked about as a sisterhood, and I am so lucky to have not only gained a sister, but to have gained a second family.

1. My favorite memory of the past 6 months was the day that I found my gown for Miss USA. I will attempt to tell this story in a condensed version:

I have had the privilege to work with the talented Mac Duggal for just over a year, after attending an open call looking for new models.  It has been the best job a girl could ask for. When I was crowned Miss Wisconsin USA, Mac and I started talking ideas for my perfect gown. I spent months giving his team countless ideas, nothing that I thought could actually be combined into a perfect dress, it was all over the place and a little unique. Every time I was there or working for the company we would all talk a little more about it.  At one point while visiting the Mac offices I had viewed a sketch of something being worked on and was pretty excited it sure looked like it had elements of my dream gown.  When it came time to picking a gown at our pageant prep week,  I was shopping with my directors, my mom and aunt trying on all sorts of new dresses from Mac’s collection. I loved them all, but there was nothing that screamed “THIS IS THE DRESS”. A gown was pulled for me that hadn’t been on the rack when I originally walked in the room. Immediately after getting zipped I liked what I was seeing and the gown fit like nothing I had ever tried on, perfectly. As I walked out of the dressing room and saw myself in the mirror, the tears came automatically. It was the. most. perfect. gown I had ever laid eyes on. Antoinette, the design teams Pageant Coordinator had Mac on FaceTime to tell me that he had designed this dress from his new collection specifically for me, rushed a sample so it would make it to the gown selection and it was the exact vision and culmination of what I pictured myself wearing on the Miss USA stage. Cinderella moment in real life.  The color was also hand-selected and the only completely unexpected surprise from my original dream…but the color is what makes this dress work on every level and that’s why the Mac Duggal team is the best, they just know and they definitely know me and what works for my style, personality and body!!! Turns out almost everyone in the room knew what was going to happen, but our sweetest volunteer Carol wasn’t even aware she had grabbed the gown, when I started sobbing she was panicked thinking I had just fallen in love with the wrong dress. Thankfully for Carol the sneaky plan worked out even better than imagined.  It was the most extraordinary moment, and one that I will never forget. I wish we had video taped the whole crazy thing, but for those who got to live in that moment with me I’m sure no one will forget it.  I cannot wait for everyone to see this masterpiece on the Miss USA stage. I am not revealing anything more  but if I could describe my gown in two words, they would be  SIMPLE DRAMA! (yep that will get you wondering)

To say that this has been the best 6 months of my life would be an extreme understatement. I still don’t think it’s all really sunk in, but I do know that each moment I am thankful and feel so lucky to be representing this great state. Thank you everyone for your support so far, here’s to the next 6 months! Miss USA here I come.

Dream Big,

Skylar

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Best You

I think the biggest myth in pageantry is that in order to win you must fit a certain mold. You have to wear a white dress, or have perfect pageant curls. The girl who spends the most has the best chances or you must give the judges the answer that you think that want to hear. If I have learned anything in my preparation for Miss Wisconsin USA and now Miss USA it’s that the one way to take yourself out of the running for the crown is to try and be something you are not.

When I was preparing for the Miss Wisconsin USA competition I had lots of input on lots of different things. What colors to wear, how to wear my hair and do my makeup, which swimsuit fit my body the best, and strangely enough…how to answer questions about myself. Weird! I loved that input and I listened to that input and it helped me sort through what I was and what I wasn’t, but at the end of the day I took it for what is was, someone else’s thoughts on pageantry, life and me.

It would have been so easy to fall into a trap of comparison. What did the top 5 wear last year? What have the past 5 winners done with their hair? What “story” has been most compelling in the past? What did someone else answer in their top 5 that sealed the deal?  And I think it happens all the time, in all sorts of industries, that women start to play the comparison game and feel they need to become somebody else in order to find success. NEVER NEVER NEVER!

Let’s be perfectly frank, creating a fake version of yourself is a game you will have to continue to play. I have literally watched women create versions of themselves so outlandish that they become lost in their own creation. So focused on maintaining the façade they no longer remember who they are, what matters to them and what they really have a passion for.

I decided very early on in my preparation that the way I was going to win was to be completely sure of who I was, and if it wasn’t this year it would happen when it was supposed to happen. I needed to know myself inside and out. As I’m sure you all know at this point, I love to write and that’s exactly what I did. I wrote about myself, what I loved, what I didn’t necessarily love, how I felt about issues in my life, how I felt about issues in the world and when I walked into the interview room I knew Skylar Witte from head-to-toe. (Novel about the minutiae of my life forthcoming)

When it came to being on stage, knowing who I was gave me the confidence I needed to rock my secondhand bikini with my six inch heels. I did not spend thousands of dollars on a gown or an opening number outfit. I was fortunate that my wardrobe was sponsored by designers and fellow pageant friends. (That’s the blessings of relationships and a whole different blog) It worked for me because I loved every piece of it, just look at my face, this coral spoke to me. Not because anything was custom or the fact I wore red gown or because I wore a coral jumpsuit with gold accents to interview.

People often ask me, “what was going through your head when you were walking on stage?” As goofy as it sounds, I just kept saying over and over “I am Skylar Witte, I am Skylar Witte”, and I was so excited to let the judges see ME.

So to break some pageant myths. White doesn’t always win, the color, price and style of the gown doesn’t make a difference, it’s the woman in the gown and how she graces the stage. You don’t need to ever be someone different in an interview.  You don’t need to always be pushing a created agenda.  Sometimes the judges ask the questions you have rehearsed in your head a million times, but often they simply do not.  My state interview was filled with laughs about my distaste for kale (for real, not a fan) and how my dad and I do a mean rendition of “Fergilicious”! When I walked out of that room I felt so confident that those 6 strangers now knew who I was, and that was because I knew who I was.

I want to take some time to tell every young woman out there who feels she needs to be someone else, that the very best person you could ever be in this world is YOU!! When you find confidence in who you are, it changes your world. There isn’t a secret to ‘winning’ a pageant or ‘winning’ at life. Life is all about constantly learning and growing, but when you choose to start learning more about you everything and everyone that surrounds you will gain clarity.

Dream Big,

Skylar

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)!

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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

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Model Life: Creeps

So there is a deluded myth out there that the modeling industry is full of nothing but porn directors, scam artists and rapists looking for their next victim. Well those people exist (unfortunately in the world at large), for the most part it is easy to identify and avoid the creeps. More so, the industry is filled with many, many, many girls with stars in their eyes who sometimes ignore the red flags in hopes of finding their big break and making a quick buck. So creeps will seek you out and you can easily find creeps but here are my personal tips for staying safe and creep-free.

First, vet everyone. VET= to investigate (someone) thoroughly to see if they should be approved or accepted for a job! This seems like a lot for every person who reaches out to you but it is a necessity. Here is my standard practice. A full check of their Facebook, Instagram and website if provided. If we have mutual friends whom I have worked with and trust, I always reach out to them to get a reference. This can not be stressed enough. A dear photographer friend saved me from a very uncomfortable situation once by merely being honest, ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’… problem averted. Stay within your known network and market even if you don’t have a mutual connection you are likely to find a reference with ties to you. It’s like the 6 degrees of separation game. I am not afraid to reach out to someone who knows someone and introduce myself….also this is how I have built my network over time. If you have no connections ask for references!

So what if there is no connection and no references available what-so-ever but you love their work and from your basic research they seem on the up-and-up? It may seem a bit nuts but if they are Wisconsin residents you can run a quick background check through the court system. Yep, it seems like a lot but if someone has sexual assault charges you probably want to steer clear. Of course if you don’t have court access, google is a simple and amazing tool….pictures seem too good to be true, the name seem a little fishy, do they claim they are with an agency. Find out, it is not that hard. Legitimate business professionals do not hide their background.  Learn how to do an image search to make sure the photos are real and belong to the photographer. Seriously, I am that cautious.

My other recommendation is a simple and effective one, bring a chaperone or escort. Now I might get guff from photographers or industry folk out there for this one, but if it is not a paying job set up through a reliable agency or with a known professional who either provides references or has been fully vetted, only agree to the shoot if you can have a chaperone present. I have brought someone with me when I don’t know the photographer and don’t feel comfortable meeting them in some remote studio or location, this just seems like common sense to me. So far the wonderful photographers I work with completely understand and welcome this. I also remain extremely professional and ask my chaperone to do the same, basically come along and stay out of the way! Like drop me off and wait outside (but within reasonable screaming distance:) Seriously my sweet mother has sat outside in a car for hours just waiting for me.  Actually most of the time photographers love her, she is one heck of a stylist and creative director.

Only once I have been told I could not bring a chaperone and guess what its the same person who I was warned ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’ that incident confirmed my logic. I am fortunate that in my network there are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing information about creeps. Sometimes there might be a smear campaign, sour grapes and crazy competition you have to weed through.

Also be completely upfront about expectations for shoots and jobs. I tell every photographer I work with I do not do nude and I do not do full out see-thru lingerie or overly sexy boudoir. No implied sex, and I keep my bits covered at all times.  I would say I’m PG for sure.  This is a hard line, high fashion and editorial photographers sometimes are looking for more edgy than I can provide, and I have turned down good gigs due to the fact it isn’t the type of work I am willing to do.  If that is what they are looking for they can simply look elsewhere. I have done a few shoots in my Calvin Kleins, with cleavage peeking and  a bra, strategic placement of things,  panties and over-sized shirt but those were at my request and for my personal portfolio. For those saucy shoots I had my mother along with me, because if anyone knows my personal line better than myself its her!

There are extreme stories out there about girls getting sucked into what seemed from all fronts legit opportunities that turned into absolute nightmares. So far I have not been in that severe a situation. My network continues to grow and I continue to vet and so far I have been blessed with safety and security. Creeps be warned, don’t bother reaching out, I have no interest in being your victim. I take my caution a step further. I will not respond to DMs, chats or other social media messages from people I have not met or who are not connecting for business purposes, even at that I prefer people reach me via email. If they are a photographer I prefer they send along a link to a portfolio of their work.

Finally two points that make me sound like my dad but I appreciate his advice the older I get. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is and It is OK to say NO! So stay safe out there my fellow models.

Dream Big, Skylar

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Model Life: 1 Inch

I mentioned in my first post that my only actual agency interview involved a measuring tape, and OK I’ll admit it, some tears. After submitting my headshot and first campaign photos to every decent agency in the Midwest my senior year of high school I got what I thought would be the call of my life.

An agency in a very large city that has a reputation for being very up-and-coming in the industry reached out to me. And it wasn’t a staff member, it was the owner. I was elated. Especially because the voice on the other end of the phone told me I was just unique enough and my facial features made me very marketable. Looking back I’m not sure if ‘unique’ is a compliment, but in this life it is the hook you need. She asked how tall I was, honestly I had never really measured, hahaha my mother claims she is 5’8″ I am just a little taller so I’ve always assumed I was also 5’8″. So when asked I legitimately answered “about 5’8″” Turns out my mother is a liar.

Truth told I am just 5’7″  The fact was unfortunately discovered when I walked into that agency  and the owner immediately pulled out a tape measure. The conversation that followed was very brief and very deflating. I was told that all fashion, runway and most print models were at a very bare minimum 5’8″ but in reality more like 5’10”-6′ I guess this wasn’t shocking or news to me, but the next piece was. I was told simply “Miss Skylar Witte, you should not pursue modeling.”  I would never find work at 5’7″. Now I am not usually a vengeful person, but I literally walked out of that building two minutes later with an I’ll-Show-Them attitude.

What I discovered since, is in many respects she was partially right, big designers and fashion week shows, Victoria’s Secret and Vogue they want tall, tall, tall girls. But there is a market for me, and a solid one at that. I fit in most retail clothes directly off the rack,  throw me in any Target or Boston Store and I can wear most juniors and most womens clothing. I fit in dresses and gowns without any alterations. It is how I landed my deal with Mac Duggal. I was told I am the perfect measurements for their sample gowns.  I am not too skinny where the clothes hang off me and I am the perfect height to be a fit/commercial model.

My consistent job is with a large online boutique  www.bluechicboutique.com The owner likes working with me because I fit into every size small in her inventory. As a matter of fact, she shares my measurements (which lately have been decreasing) with her customers. She once told me she tried a tall model but all the clothes looked awkward and unnatural on her, whoo hoo, score one for the average girls!

Someone once said, you are so close you should just lie…but after my unintentional lie, back when I actually thought I was 5’8″ I could never do that again. In the modeling industry measurements are everything. I would hate to show up for a call thinking I had a chance and knowing that my waist was an inch too big or too small. It is wasting my time and the clients!

Now I don’t want to give all the short girls out there false hope, there is a market for petite models but it is a sliver of an already small pie.  I have found the difference between my 5’7″ and another’s 5’6″ is huge. In this business an inch can get you the job or lose you the job and once you start getting into the realm of not fitting sample sizes it gets pretty hard for fit and commercial models.

When people ask me my end goal, as fun as it would be to walk in the VS fashion show, I am a realist. I am perfectly content and fortunate to get any paid modeling jobs. I am living my dream, there is no secret end point. I’m just happy that all 5 foot, 7 inches of me can find work at all 🙂

Dream Big, Skylar

Photography: Amo Studios, Dance Series