Watching the Miss America competition was a family tradition when Ashlee Baracy of Westland was growing up as she and her mother scored the contestants and compared their preferred finalists.
That tradition will soon come full circle as the 23-year-old Baracy, now Miss Michigan, leaves for the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Jan. 15 to represent the state in the upcoming Miss America program.
“It’s still very surreal,” she said. “I just want to soak up every moment. I never thought in a million years that I’d be on that stage. I idolized Miss America.”
The weeklong Miss America competition is scheduled to begin Jan. 19 with her interview with the judges followed by a preliminary each day thereafter. The competition culminates with the only part those at home see—the live competition—on Jan. 24.
Baracy will have her own cheering section as friends and family, including relatives who live across the country and a few she has never had a chance to meet.
“We have close to 160 people coming—quite a following,” she said. “It’s really brought my family together. It’s like a mini family reunion.”
While some of the family members may be new to her, the faces of the competition will be familiar. Baracy will be reunited with the contestants she met in the fall during the filming of the reality show Miss America: Countdown to the Crown by The Learning Channel (TLC).
“We’ve already established friendships,” said Baracy.
She added that although she had not seen the final version of the series, which will continue to air on Friday night for the next three weeks, she hoped that the 18 hours of film compiled each day would include footage that showcased those friendships to challenge the stigma of cattiness that is sometimes attributed to the pageant world.
As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, breast cancer awareness and education has long been both her platform issue in competitions and a matter she is dedicated to promoting. It’s a task, she said, that her title as Miss Michigan as well as her prior titles have facilitated.
“When you put a crown on your head, people stand up and take notice of what you have to say,” she said.
“It’s been even more than I expected,” she said. “I’ve had an opportunity to meet so many amazing people—mainly children. It really gives me a new outlook on life.”
A few people in particular stood out, she said, including young Alyssa Jennings of Wayne who, despite battling cancer, remained happy and positive when they had a chance to meet.
For the moment, however, much of Baracy’s time is spent on the final polishing of attributes she will need at the national competition—boning up on current events, practicing her routines in the dance studio, and hitting the gym to maximize her physical fitness.
“Preparing for Miss America is not necessarily something you can do in a few weeks,” she said, adding that many of the skills necessary start in the home. “Really, it’s something I’ve trained for all my life.”
Although she would love to earn the national title, Baracy remained pragmatic, noting that she just plans to do her best and enjoy it.
“I want to walk away happy, no matter what happens,” she said. “You really just have to go into it with an open mind. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The former John Glenn High School valedictorian first became involved in the Miss America program about three years ago in the hopes of earning some scholarship money. The Miss America system, she said, is the largest scholarship provider for young women in the country.
Since then, she has earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and begun studying for a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Eastern Michigan University. Ultimately, Baracy said that she hopes to work in broadcasting, with a career in the Detroit market as a health reporter as her dream job.
Source: The Westland Eagle