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Real Housewives of Orange County's Lizzie Rovsek is a pageant queen turned California businesswoman. The former Miss Kentucky competed in Miss USA and Miss Teen USA alongside the likes of Vanessa Lachey and parlayed her skills into a successful fashion line with Sun Kitten Swimwear. She's proof that pageant contestants have beauty and brains, and remains supportive of the camraderie and confidence the pageant system breeds within young women.
With the Miss America airing this Sunday, September 13, we turned to the experienced contestant to reveal the truth behind pageants (for example, is it really all about the swimsuit?) and her thoughts on the impending competition.
What’s your earliest pageant memory?
Lizzie Rovsek: I started competing in pageants when I was a teenager. I lived in a small town in Kentucky and that’s what a lot of girls did. I won the first pageant I ever competed in, Miss Teen Adair County Fair. I literally walked out on a stage in the middle of the dirt track at the fair grounds where they have the demolition derby, tractor pulls, and horse competitions. Gotta love small town Kentucky!
One of my favorite memories was competing at Miss Teen USA in 1998. It aired on CBS and was such a big deal at the time. Mario Lopez and Ali Landry hosted it (I think that’s where they met and started dating, too) and 'NSync performed on stage with us. What teenage girl didn’t love 'NSync? They were a HUGE deal! Vanessa Minillo [Lachey] was my closest friend at the pageant and she ended up winning and went on to become a VJ on MTV.
What are three things viewers don’t see that go on behind the scenes of a pageant?
Butt Glue! Before girls compete they spray glue on their butts to keep their bikinis in place. [Also], last minute dress malfunctions and commeraderie among the contestants. At the national level, these women usually go away to a host city for three-plus weeks. The girls tend to make friendships that last a lifetime. People might be surprised how the girls really root for one another. Some of absolute best friends are girls that I competed with at Miss USA.
What are the most important qualities a pageant contestant should have?
Confidence, intelligence, and poise.
How much time should you spend preparing for your on-stage question or personality interview?
Most pageant contestants are actually very well prepped on current events and global issues. You will see many of the women with big three-ring binders full of newspaper articles, current events, and possible interview and onstage questions. I would say that most women have coaches as well who set up mock interviews, etc. When a girl flubs her interview or onstage question they are either "over" coached or the nerves get them in end. I think it’s important for these women to be up on everything that’s going on in the world, but I hate when a girl comes out with rehearsed answers because they think that’s what the judges want. Be yourself and relax!
What was your favorite and least favorite competition category?
My favorite: the swimsuit competition of course! I am a swimsuit designer! I’ve heard here and there that this category should be done away with and it’s objectifying to women, but I say absolutely not. It’s a beauty pageant! If you want to see a spelling bee this isn’t your competition. It takes a lot to be physically fit and it shows dedication. Not to mention, a lot of these women want to go into modeling, acting, and hosting and I’m sure [they] would die to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. What’s the difference between modeling and this? If a young woman is confident and wants to model, she should!
My least favorite: The onstage question. Although, I love watching this portion and it has great importance as it can make or a break a contestant. It’s exciting to see how the women handle serious topics under pressure. This is also the portion that gives pageants a bad wrap. Because, if you flub a question, get ready — it will probably make bigger news than a perfect answer. People love to call pageant girls stupid. What most people don’t know is that a lot of these women tend to be in law school or med school and the majority are highly intelligent. Some of these on stage questions are so hard, I think some of our leaders would even have a hard time answering them. But in the end, it's the nerves that seem to get the girls. If you let your nerves get to you, you can easily buckle under pressure. I think we forget that most of these women are in their early 20s. It’s an invaluable experience, and by the time most of these girls hit their 30s, they are doing big things!
How much hairspray do you use during one pageant?
These days pageants are much more aligned with the MTV generation. Less is more. Natural Beauty and more natural hair goes a long way.
Miss USA doesn’t feature a talent competition but Miss America does. Do think showcasing a specific talent is important in judging a contestant?
What most people don’t know is that most of the women competing at Miss USA "do" in fact have many talents. That be singing, dancing, equestrian, etc. But Miss USA is what it is, a "beauty" pageant. There is a motto they tell you when you get to Miss USA: "Miss America is the girl next door, and Miss USA is the girl you wished lived next door." I have always thought of Miss America as the talent and scholarship pageant [and] Miss USA is more like the search for the hottest spokesmodel. Basically Miss USA looks for a beautiful woman that has a mind and speaks well. The winner of Miss USA goes on to compete at Miss Universe which boasts the most beautiful women in the world. If Miss USA is the Super Bowl of pageants, Miss Universe is the World Cup. I competed in the Miss Universe system as a Teen and Miss, so I know more about that than Miss America. I do know that the Miss America compeition has been making great strides and is essentially having a major comeback. Unfortunately the Miss Universe system suffered this year, as did I as the swimwear sponsor with my line Sun Kitten Swimwear, because of remarks that Mr. Trump made. (The shows were pulled from NBC.) Looks like this could be a big year for Miss America [with] Brook Burke [as] the host and Nick Jonas preforming. The Miss America organization is incredible and I know the women that compete are amazing young women with platforms.
All in all, I think Miss USA and Miss America are both incredible organizations and competing at this national level changes the lives of these young ladies. I think it’s a remarkable arena for young, talented, intelligent women to compete in. Make fun of pageant girls all you want, but remember most of these women go on to do incredible things; it’s an incredible stepping stone. Halle Berry didn’t even win Miss USA — she was first runner up — [and] look at her now. Vanessa Williams, a former Miss America, is a highly successful singer and actress. Ali Landry, Shanna Moakler, Kendra Parks… there are so many talented women that had their start in pageants.
See more of Lizzie before she became a Real Housewife.
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