A couple of months ago, I found out that Miss Iowa, Mariah Cary, has Tourette Syndrome. She had just been crowned and started her preparations for the Miss America Pageant.
What you have to know about Miss America is that it isn’t a regular beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship program — young women can earn money to go to college. This means that Miss America (and Miss Iowa) has to be more than just pretty. She has to be smart, she has to have something to say, she has to be confident, she has to be sweet and nice, she has to be talented for the talent portion of the competition and most of all, she has to be “real.” She has to be the person she really is and show it.
Miss America contestants often become lawyers and doctors. Besides all those qualities, she has to have her own “platform,” which is a charity that she made and she has to give it her all. In the case of Mariah, Miss Iowa, it wasn’t a tough choice — her platform is “Tourette Syndrome: The Involuntary Companion Syndrome.” And no, that’s not a coincidence that the last part spells “tics.”
For the past six months, she’s been traveling through Iowa to tell as many people as possible about Tourette Syndrome. And at the same time, she has prepared herself for the Miss America pageant. If she would win this, she would travel throughout America to speak about Tourette Syndrome (amongst other things).
For the past two weeks, she’s been in Las Vegas for all the events leading up to the pageant. She’s been on stage in swimsuit and evening gown, she’s shown her amazing tap dance talent, and she’s answered a tough question live on stage. Besides that, she’s had 10 minutes to prove to the judges why she should be the new Miss America during the interview round. Ten minutes! That had to go really well, since it’s a big part of the final scores.
The past six months (and especially the last two weeks), she’s been working really hard to get this all done. And of course she had to look great all the time! And I think she did a great job with that as well.
Through Twitter I’ve been in contact with her once in a while, and I promise you, she’s an amazing young woman — sweet, kind and all those other things you need to become Miss America.
And then, the night finally was here: the final night of the Miss America pageant. First there was the People’s Choice Award, which was won by Miss Montana, who has autism! After her, they named the rest of the top 15. When the first 14 girls were named, I was certain that this would be the end for Miss Iowa. Something that would’ve been fine, she was there and that was what counted. But she was named 15th! So she did proceed!
Then there was the swimsuit round, in which she was third, so she proceeded to the top 12. In evening gown, she was in a tie for fourth place, which ensured her the talent round. And really, wow! That was so good! I don’t know anything about tap dancing, but this was amazing! So, yes, she proceeded again: top 5!! She got a question, live on stage, for millions of people to see. And she did a great job answering, her message was clear.
Finally she ended 4th runner-up: 5th place! Really, super good!
I’m so proud of her, she did an amazing job. For her, but secretly a little bit for me, too, a dream coming true. Sadly, she didn’t win, but that’s OK. For the rest of her life, she’ll be able to say that she was in Miss America’s top 5.
And maybe even more important:
If there’s ever a child who asks you if there is a future for someone with Tourette, this is what you have to say: “Yes, there is, ’cause even if you have Tourette, you can be smart, kind, sweet, talented and really you, and you can have confidence in yourself and who you are. You can care about others and help them in any way they need, you can do volunteer work and make your mess your message. And you can be beautiful, with or without tics. And you can do all those things so well, that you can end up in the top 5 of Miss America.”
Thank you, Mariah, I’m so proud of you. You are truly an amazing role model for everyone who has Tourette Syndrome. You reminded us that it really is possible. Anything is possible. Even with Tourette.