For Kathleen Masek, the pageant world is a chance to learn confidence and compassion on one of the biggest stages in the world. The Westminster resident represented as Miss Maryland in the Miss America 2018 competition.
Though she was not chosen as one of the final 15 competitors, she said she is "beyond OK with that."
"Less that 5,000 girls have had the opportunity to set foot on that stage," since it began in 1921, she said. "They say you're more likely to have a son play in a Super Bowl tha have a daughter on stage at Miss America."
Masek arrived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Aug. 29 in preparation for the competition on the weekend of Sept. 8 that led up to the final competition, which aired on Sept. 10 on ABC. The annual event is held at the Boardwalk Hotel.
One of her favorite parts of the week was a day at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, which serves the local homeless population. Most other time was spent in rehearsal, from practicing on-air questions to spending hours per day rehearsing her talent, a theater dance routine set to "I Gotcha" from the musical "Fosse."
The week was not, however, all work and no play. For one meal, the competitors enjoyed a seven-course dinner at Olón, a restaurant at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Masek stayed at the hotel during the competition and said, "they truly treated us like queens."
The preliminary round of competition consisted of five categories: judge's interview, on-stage questions, talent, lifestyle and fitness, and evening gown. Masek was excited to meet the preliminary round judges, who included model Rusty Joiner — "Every girl was fan-girling," she said — and reporter Kate Bennett, who Masek said asked great questions in the interview.
Though some might assume a pageant queen is always happy in her own skin, Masek said part of the preparation for the competition was building her own confidence. For two weeks during her Miss America preparations, she became ill, and losing weight from a low appetite made it hard for her to feel her best. In rehearsals, Masek said she had to work hard to gain her confidence back.
Though dance is her talent, Masek said, "I'm not a natural performer; that's just not me," and said the knowledge that a one-minute, 35-second performance would count for more than 30 percent of her score had her feeling nervous.
In the end, she reminded herself to trust her muscle memory and "slap a smile on your face and just go out there and have fun with it."
Luckily, in her competitors, Masek found a true source of camaraderie.
"Every single girl was so compassionate for each other," she said. "Really and truly, we have been keeping in touch since the moment we left each other."
Masek will continue her year as Miss Maryland with public appearances and community service related to her platform, "From Sea to Shining Sea: Supporting our Military Families."
She said she has seen great support from her hometown, including a proclamation by Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick thanking her for her community service. "I hope to continue to make everyone in Carroll County proud, especially all of my friends and teachers from my alma mater, Winters Mill," she said.
She also hopes to expand the Miss Maryland program, so more girls have the opportunity to participate.
"Building up in pageantry has taught me so much about life and about myself. That's valuable information that no one can ever take away from me," she said. "I choose to be compassionate and care for other people … . My heart has grown so much bigger."
Follow Miss Maryland
Follow Westminster resident Kathleen Masek's tenure as Miss Maryland on social media at www.facebook.com/MissAmericaMD, twitter.com/missamericamd and on Instagram @missamericamd.