By MIKE CHAIKEN
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — With two nights of preliminary competitions for Miss America under her belt, and one more night looming, Miss Connecticut Colleen Ward looked well-rested and perky.
And that was one of the things that surprised the Watertown, Conn. resident, who received the state crown in June.
(The finals for the Miss America 2016 crown were Sunday night with Miss Georgia, Betty Cantrell, winning the national title.)
After the morning rehearsing her talent (Irish step dancing) to perform for the judges on Thursday night in Atlantic City, Colleen said, “I’m very surprised by how much sleep I’ve gotten through all of this.”
“But,” she said, “I’m having the time of my life. I’ve met girls that I never thought possible that I would meet… My Miss America experience has been way beyond what I could have expected. Everything I’m feeling on stage you can see it.”
In addition to how well-rested she has been, Ward said she was surprised by the other 51 contestants. “They always talk about the mold of the pageant girl. I don’t think there’s one mold on the stage tonight—or any night.”
Ward arrived in Atlantic City on Aug. 30 to begin the final countdown toward Sunday’s finals. Preliminary competitions were held last Tuesday through Thursday with Ward participating in on-stage interview on Tuesday; swimsuit and evening gown competitions on Wednesday; and Thursday’s talent competition. From the three nights of preliminaries, the contestants will be trimmed down to the top 15 at the beginning of Sunday’s event. By the end of Sunday night, the successor to the 2015 Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, will be crowned.
Although she arrived on Aug. 30, Ward said she did not step into the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City—which has been the epicenter of Miss America for decades—until the first night of preliminary competition. And then, she said she only saw it in bits and pieces as they were escorted from place to place, many times underneath the main auditorium.
Then, when she finally got a look at the auditorium from the same entrance as the public, Ward said, “I’m going to look like an ant standing on this stage.” The 5’0” Miss Connecticut said, “It’s so big. But I was excited.”
When show time arrived for the first night of preliminary competition, Ward said her thoughts immediately before go-time for the opening number was, “Don’t trip.” Then she thought to herself, “Have fun. Smile.”
“Once you get out there, there’s this weird energy in the whole entire stadium. It brings you back to why you’re here and what you’re doing, which is just having fun out there.”
Then when the lights went down, and the audience left for the night on Tuesday, Ward said she was thinking, “Oh my god. Night one is over.”
The audiences see the evening gown, health and fitness (swimsuits), on-stage question, and talent competitions. But one of the competitions not viewed by the public is the private interview, which is held with the judges behind closed doors. There, the judges will fire off a variety of questions at the contestants to see what the women say and how they handle themselves.
“I was challenged in my interview for Miss America,” said Ward. “They (the judges) had no problem spitting out questions whenever they needed to. They were random, too. I went from one current event question to a political questions to a personal to a fluff question.”
“I had them laughing when it was time for them to laugh,” said Miss Connecticut. “I had them serious when it was time to be serious. But I think in that moment, in my Miss America interview, I was 100 percent me… I felt really good after.”
However, she added, “There might have been some tears, ‘Oh my god, my last pageant interview ever is over.’” She won’t be competing again for a state crown.
As for her on-stage question on the first night of preliminaries, Ward said, “I think I did very well. My question was based off my platform (‘Promoting Childhood Literacy: Encouraging A Healthy Mind for a Healthy Life’) and my passion.” The graduate of Central Connecticut State University who has a degree in in elementary education in English said, “It was awesome to speak in public about that (platform) again.”
Ward, a graduate of Wolcott High School, also had time to interact with the current Miss America during her time as Miss Connecticut. “Kira has been very gracious with us with her time. She’s called every single one of the contestants. We spent time with her both in Orlando (at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant) and in Atlantic City.”
The contestants also had a chance to meet with past title holders or women who have competed for Miss America.
“Everyone has said, ‘Live in the moment.’ We have a slogan backstage that says, “Keep Calm and Embrace the Moment’ and that’s what everybody’s doing so far.”
And years from now, when Ward is a grandmother, what will she tell the grandchildren about her Miss America experience?
“They’re going to tell me to be quiet because I’m going to be talking about it so much,” said Ward.
“This was my realization moment of who I am and this is not going to define me. I am here because I deserved my spot and I promote myself very well.”
“But it’s a moment, that I don’t think a lot of people realize, it’s not just what you see on stage. It’s the whole experience.”
So when she speaks about Miss America to future generations, Ward said she expects they will reply, “Okay grandma, we heard it.”