Meredith Holt, Published March 22 2013
Miss N.D., Miss Minn. reflect on national competition
It was a red vintage Valentino with the original $2,300 Bergdorf Goodman price tag still attached. She paid the thrift store $50 for it.
Twenty-five-year-old Rosie, who grew up in Fargo, did things a little differently in the lead-up to Vegas week in January.
She’s no “Pageant Patty,” a stereotypical over-the-top hometown sweetheart with a fake smile and a stiff wave.
Nor is her Minnesota counterpart, 22-year-old Siri Freeh of Minneapolis.
Unlike many of their competitors, Rosie and Siri didn’t grow up in the pageant circuit.
Siri was 15 when she entered her first pageant at the Becker County Fair. When the home-schooler won, the judges suggested she try Miss Minnesota.
“I was just starting to get to know myself better and come into my own,” she says.
In 2010, she won first runner-up in “Miss Minn,” as she calls it, then took a year off to focus on her studies at the University of Minnesota before winning the title in 2012.
Rosie also started at the state level in 2010, and she’s moved up a spot each year since – second runner-up in 2010, first runner-up in 2011, the title in 2012.
The longtime competitors are the ones more likely to be portrayed as going after the crown at all costs – and to some extent, that’s true.
“Of course that’s what they want if they’ve been working toward it since they were 6,” Rosie says.
For the Concordia grad, Miss North Dakota and Miss America were more about the opportunity than the crown.
“It’s been a series of experiences this year that have helped me a lot, but it’s not going to define who I am for the rest of my life,” she says.
Rosie, who works in North Dakota State University’s musical theater department, is interested in going back to school to someday teach at the college level.
So far as Miss North Dakota, the local musician has traveled more than 10,000 miles making appearances around the state incorporating music into her diversity platform.
Playing in front of an audience is nothing new to her. But the Miss America stage and live telecast were a far cry from coffee shops and bars.
Leading up to Vegas week, she worked with mentor Katherine Noone at NDSU to prepare for the more formal performance.
Siri took a year off from school to focus on her own prep for Miss America, as well as her duties as Miss Minnesota.
“It wasn’t just finding the gown and the swimsuit, and I think a lot of people think that’s all it takes,” she says.
Miss America requires a platform, and the majority of scoring comes from talent, private interviews and on-stage questions, but 35 percent of contestants’ scores during preliminaries is based on appearance.
Both Miss North Dakota and Miss Minnesota stay active and eat healthy, and they didn’t go to any extreme measures for the competition.
The naturally tall and thin Rosie says she didn’t starve herself, though she was aware of others who did. The only change she made to her diet pre-Miss America was “eat less pizza.”
Siri grew up eating fresh vegetables from her family’s Lake Park farm, so eating healthy wasn’t anything new to her, either. In fact, she prefers it.
After the competition, she went to Buffalo Wild Wings with some girlfriends.
“I really wanted the chicken salad, and they were like, ‘Siri, Miss America’s over, you don’t have to eat salad anymore,’ ” she says.
Nor did either have any cosmetic procedures done, though Rosie heard of several Miss States who’d had breast augmentation.
Not everything TV viewers see is as it seems, anyway. Swimsuit tops are padded, abs are defined with spray-tan body makeup, and “butt glue” keeps bikini bottoms from riding up.
“Yes, we all work out, but the human body is the human body, and it’s just not what you see in a magazine,” Siri says.
Rosie defends being judged by her looks by pointing out the benefits. She was able to pay off her student loans three years after graduating from college.
“Even that is worth wearing a swimsuit onstage for 10 seconds of your life,” she says.
Siri also responds to criticism by emphasizing what the Miss America pageant system has done for her.
“I realize that I get attention for the way I look, and if I can use that attention to reflect onto something a lot more important – for me, it’s heart disease, talking with kids about eating healthy, talking with adults about how to live a healthy lifestyle – then that’s what’s the most fulfilling at the end of the day,” she says.
The live telecast of the Miss America competition at Planet Hollywood looked polished, but behind the scenes it was chaotic.
With only 20 minutes before showtime each of the three televised nights, the young women were a flurry of hair extensions, false eyelashes and sequins.
By the end of the week, they were exhausted. Rehearsal-filled days started at 6 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. – sometimes later.
The lack of sleep was even harder on Siri, who had to work through sickness.
“It was kind of empowering for me to see that I can push myself, I can be 100 percent if I have to be,” she says.
For Rosie, the lack of privacy was more difficult to deal with than the schedule. The group went everywhere together with a pack of bodyguards following.
“It’s unusual. There are 53 women ages 18 to 24 in one place competing for this crown,” she says.
Being paired with a roommate she immediately bonded with brought some normalcy to the bizarre experience.
Three months later, Miss North Dakota and Miss Michigan still talk every day.
“When you go through an experience like that together and you still want to see each other at the end of the week, that’s amazing,” Rosie says.
The highlight of her week was winning the preliminary talent competition with her piano-vocal performance of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.”
It wasn’t an easy sell initially because both singing and playing piano isn’t a “typical” Miss America talent.
“Winning talent was that much sweeter because I had to push for it, I had to convince a lot of people that it was going to be OK,” she says.
Both women were cut in the semifinals on the last night of competition.
“I am so happy I didn’t win, and people don’t believe me,” Rosie says.
She’d already started planning what she wanted to do after the national competition, and if she’d won, she wouldn’t have been able to follow through.
Siri says she has no regrets about any of her pageant losses because she’s stayed true to herself.
Upon her return from Las Vegas, she realized, “Most people will never get to meet Miss America. Here in my state, I am their Miss America.”
Her platform keeps her busy, but she continues to work part time as a CNA at a Roseville nursing home.
“We’re not these superhumans that have some special abilities and gifts and therefore we can do this. Any girl can do this. I’m a normal girl that is in a nursing program and is working in a nursing home,” she says.
This summer Siri has an internship at the U of M’s Lillehei Heart Institute, and she plans to earn a doctorate specializing in cardiovascular research.
Her advice to aspiring Miss Americas? “Keep the bigger picture in mind. It goes beyond the crown.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590.