The first runner-up delivers the first hug. She’s there when the winner collapses in unbridled joy, exchanging congratulations and consolations. One moment they stand hand in hand feeling exactly the same; the next they go in different directions, one named the winner, the other named something else.
Earlier this month, Clayton’s Catherine White, 17, took first runner-up at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant, and she seems fine with the second-place finish, more than fine really. The title brings her back home to North Carolina, to mountains and coastlines whose beauty can be overlooked when living among them, she said. Instead of traveling the country, White will continue to travel the state as Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen. Previously she served as Miss Clayton’s Outstanding Teen before winning the state pageant. White won a $10,000 scholarship for her runner-up finish on the national stage.
“I was so excited,” White said. “I got to know the girl who won (Nicole Jia of Oklahoma) pretty well and know she will be perfect for the job. There’s no disappointment in my heart. I never expected to advance that far. I was just super excited to be one of the last two girls.”
Along with second place, White won the evening wear contest and preliminary onstage question competition, which came with a $500 prize. Her question was whether she thought social media inhibited social skills in teens.
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“I said I thought teens on social media think too much about how they portray themselves, which keeps them from being their true self,” White said.
White said the pageant consisted of an eight-minute interview, a talent showcase, a fitness routine, evening wear and onstage question. The judges don’t reveal scoring to the contestants, White said, so it’s hard to gauge how one’s doing. The first night, the top 11 are named; the second night, the top five.
“I was happy whenever my name kept getting called, but I was just focusing on one step at a time,” White said. “I’m a competitive person, but in pageants you’re really competing against yourself. I always want to do my best, but I think it’s better to go out and have fun than be competitive.”
White started doing pageants in middle school when, after years of dance, a teacher suggested pageants as a way to get some time on stage and perform for a crowd. In Orlando, White performed a tap dance routine to Foxes’ “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.”
“I’ve always been a dancer, and pageants were really just a way to further dance and get more into that,” White said. “I started doing them and making friends and enjoyed all the aspects of it. I really fell in love with it and continued to do it.”
Pageant contestants develop a platform for some kind of social change. White’s is called “The Power of S.H.E.: Selfless, Humility, Esteem,” which is focused on empowering young girls and encouraging them to pursue leadership positions.
“I just encourage girls to be a leader in their communities and pursue their true passion,” White said. “It’s about finding confidence in yourself and now allowing yourself to be labeled.”
As a pageant queen, White makes a lot of public appearances and she realizes it can be hard to listen to someone wearing a crown and sash talk about being confident. She said she still has her own anxieties to deal with but always tries to step outside her comfort zone.
“Whenever talking to young girls, I try to bring it down to a personal level,” White said. “I spoke to a group at the Boys and Girls Club and I asked who had a hobby or interest they were passionate about. Only four hands went up, and I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting.’ ”
“They don’t want to feel judged,” White said. “I’ve had these struggles too. I’ve been in positions where I’m outside my comfort zone. Everybody goes through that; you have to stop holding yourself back.
As White settles into her role as Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen, she said once her reign is over next summer, she’s likely going to step away from the stoplight for at least a year. She said she plans to pursue dentistry or physical therapy at an in-state college next year but could consider a run at Miss North Carolina after that.
“I want to make sure I’m really ready,” White said. “It’s such a big responsibility, and the current Miss North Carolina, McKenzie Faggart, is doing such a great job. This has been such an incredible experience, I would want to make sure my Miss North Carolina experience was just as special.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson