After a week full of 13-hour practices, preliminary competition, volunteer work and panel interviews, Katie Preston was exhausted when she took the Rosen Center Stage in Orlando, Florida.
After hearing her name called among the top 10 contestants in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant, Katie took center stage to represent the Great Lakes State with her talent, a vocal performance of “Think of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera.”
Dressed in a black and white satin dress with a red bow, Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen jumped right in to belting out the difficult tune, but a couple of measures in, she realized she could not hear her voice coming out of the speakers.
After several seconds of silence, the audience heard the 17-year-old’s infectious giggle and, seemingly un-phased, she dove right back in to the tune — this time amplified loudly through the sound system.
“It was definitely nerve-racking because it was a full house because it was finals night, and all these people were watching live at home,” she said. “I couldn’t hear my voice and I knew it wasn’t on, but at the same time I knew there were professionals in charge of that, so I just kept on singing.”
The Bridgman native handled the technological mishap with the poise of a professional, which is understandable considering the amount of experience she has on stage.
In addition to numerous pageants, Katie has performed in more than 25 theatrical productions ranging from Shakespearean classics to modern musicals like “Rock of Ages,” in which she recently played the lead.
After earning the title of Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen in Muskegon, Katie traveled to Orlando this summer to compete with 51 other teenagers for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen crown. Katie was voted People’s Choice winner at the Miss Michigan teen pageant and was the talent preliminary winner.
In the final leg of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, Katie sparkled in an elegant red Mac Duggal boatneck dress with a sequined bodice after qualifying among the top five competitors.
In addition to being crowned fourth-runner up to Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, Katie earned recognition as a talent winner during the preliminary competition, and was awarded Best Overall Vocalist.
The pageant, which serves as Miss America’s younger sister, contributes more than $33,000 annually in scholarships and in-kind donations through pageants on the state and national level. Teen girls compete in local pageants in their home states, and then titleholders from each local pageant compete for the state title. Each summer, the 52 state representatives compete for the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
Sharing her story
Pageants at every level of the competition contain four categories. In addition to talent, evening wear and onstage question, all 52 contestants are interviewed by a panel of judges about their platforms, volunteer work and views on important social issues.
Katie will spend her reign as Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen sharing her platform, “Coping with Anxiety.”
“Having this crown on my head gives me so many more opportunities to go speak in front of larger groups of people,” Katie says. “As a role model for so many little girls, that is such a huge responsibility that I take.”
As a pre-teen, Katie struggled with anxiety so severely that she saw a doctor.
“At first I focused on ‘Healthy Living for Teens’ because I didn’t want to talk about [my anxiety] in front of so many people because it’s still something I deal with today, but I thought if I could get up there and talk about it, so many more people would have the courage to talk about it,” she says.
Katie recently partnered with the Be Nice Organization, an affiliate of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, through which she will share her story with the hope of helping others who struggle with the same disease.
“I don’t think of my anxiety as of something that can hold me back,” she says. “I think of it as something that makes me stronger.”
In addition to talking about her anxiety, Katie has found other coping mechanisms, including listening to music and working out. Through the lifestyle and fitness portion of the competition, she performed an aerobics routine wearing active wear sponsored by Sketchers at the national competition. At her fitness sponsor, Anytime Fitness, Katie exercises with a trainer and also does yoga to relax.
Born to shine
Although she calls Bridgman home, during the school year Katie lives in Minnesota, where she studies at St. Paul’s Conservatory for Performing Artists.
“I want to perform musical theater as a career one day on Broadway,” she says. “After high school I want to attend Boston Conservatory to get my BFA in musical theater.”
In spite of her anxiety, Katie is most comfortable in a position that makes the majority of people nervous: at the center of attention.
“At this point in my experience with performing I’ve been on stage so much that it’s to the point that I get excited to go in front of people because I don’t look at it necessarily as performing,” she says. “I look at it as I get to share my heart and what makes me happy with all these people and hopefully it will impact them as much as it impacts me and makes me happy.”
Michiana residents may have seen her perform at The Citadel in Benton Harbor, at Southwestern Michigan College or on stage at the Twin City Players. She has played a variety of roles in shows such as “Parade,” “Next to Normal,” “Little Mermaid,” “Into the Woods” and “Oklahoma.”
Katie found the St. Paul Conservatory after attending a performing arts camp at Columbia University.
“When I was [at Columbia] I just loved the high intensity and how passionate everyone was about theater. It was a great environment to be in and I love the city so much,” she says. “When I was there I realized I’m going uphill and I don’t want to stop, so I found this school and ended up moving out there. … It was definitely just going for it but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
With the Miss America teen pageant behind her, Katie plans to take a year off of pageants to focus on her senior year at the conservatory and college auditions.
“I’ve been very successful lately and I feel so blessed,” she says. “This experience has helped me grow a lot as a person. I’ve made memories that will last a lifetime.”
Photos by WES JERDON/WESTLEY LEON STUDIOS