She stood on the stage, attempting for the third time this year to take the crown. She saw herself surrounded by beautiful women and became doubtful. This March, Brittney Brown's name was finally called and she walked off stage donning the crown, sash, and title of “Miss Tahoma.
Brown said when she looks back at that moment, it is still hard to believe she was the one the judges picked.
“The crown and sash are just a cherry on top,” Brown said. “Having the title and opportunities I have now are life changing, it’s a once in a lifetime experience” Brown said.
She values the program most for giving her the ability to stand up and speak for those with disabilities.
The title of “Miss Tahoma” placed the Western sophomore in the running for the Miss Washington Competition happening on Thursday, July 2.
Brown is a Biology major focusing on pre-dentistry, and is trying to balance her pageant responsibilities with studying for midterms, volunteering with her platform at Western's "Sharing Interests Forming Friendships" club and working 17 hour weeks at the YMCA.
With a big smile, Brown talks about her hopes to follow her mom’s footsteps and become a dentist. Brown said a smile is the first thing people see, and she is hopeful that one day she might have her own practice.
Today it is difficult for her to figure out what to focus more attention on. Her passion for pageants, her studies or her platform.
“Balancing is definitely the hardest thing,” Brown said. “School, getting scholarship money and the Miss America system are so important to me so it’s hard to put one in each hand.”
Brown wishes she could spend all of her time promoting her platform, a topic each contestant works to fundraise and promote.
She found her platform for the pageant through a club called “Sharing Interests Forming Friendships.” Through its mentorship program, Brown was paired with Sydney Watson, 22, and they are now best friends.
Watson inspired Brown to take on her platform to spread knowledge toward disability awareness and inclusion.
“[Sydney] has Down Syndrome and people have a hard time seeing why someone without a disability could actually be best friends with someone with Down Syndrome,” Brown said. “She is my best friend, not because of what she is capable of or what she looks like, but because of who she is as a person.”
Pia Watson, Sydney Watson’s mom, said she saw their friendship take off when they first hung out outside of club events. She said she has seen many changes in her daughter and Brown.
”They both inspire each other,” Watson said. “I can see subtle changes in Sydney, she’s more confident.”
Brown often goes to Watson’s house to have sleepovers and home-cooked dinners. Brown said the Watson’s are a “second family,” and offer a great deal of support to her, especially when she is in Bellingham.
“It is hard for me to do many things,” Sydney Watson said. “It is hard for me to speak up and advocate for myself, she encourages me to do different and new things and our friendship is very important to me.”
Sydney Watson went to see Brown perform in the Miss Whatcom pageant earlier this year and expressed excitement toward her plans to see Brown perform in the Miss Washington competition in July.
With some contestants receiving their spot in the Miss Washington pageant as early as November, Brown said she is more pressed for time to prepare for the competition. Getting her wardrobe, filling out envelopes of paperwork and fighting Western’s quarter system is making it difficult. Brown said she is squeezing in the time to fit it all in.
The competition will include an on-stage interview, a private interview, a ballroom gown walk, a swimsuit portion and talent performance. Her talent, ball-room dancing, is a reflection of her passion for dance and she has chosen to perform it for her 90-second stage talent.
Brown performed pointe dance her first year and jazz dance her second. For Brown’s third year, she performed a solo ballroom dance. She said the challenge is making the partner routine work as a one-person act.
Brown said she does not have the best luck when picking questions for her on-stage interview.
“When I just won the title three weeks ago, I picked my question out of the fishbowl and I was asked what I thought about the Boston Marathon bombing and if I thought he should be considered for the death penalty,” she said.
Learning from past experiences, Brown plans to dig into the fishbowl for the piece of paper with the least amount of words. The on-stage interview question can be anything, and she often seems to get stuck with more controversial questions, Brown said.
Her smile fades a little when discussing the portion that is most new to her.
The swimsuit portion is different, she said. Although Brown understands it is part of the pageant’s history, she said she can’t completely agree with it.
“They try to say 20 seconds or less on stage, but it always feels much longer than that,” Brown said.
“There is a lot more that goes into someone’s health than what their body looks like and it is really hard for me because I know a lot of people that could benefit from participating in this program and it’s the swimsuit portion that keeps them from participating,” she said.
Miss America Organization emphasizes the scholarship opportunities they offer to contestants. Brown said because she comes from a low income family, scholarships are very important to her education.
“Being able to get a scholarship for doing things that are helping me grow into a better person and make me feel good? It’s really cool to have a program like that,” Brown said.
Interview skills, being a part of the community and even dressing up are all things she values about the program, she said.
Brown said cat fighting and drama can be how some pageant girls are on TV, but added that pageantry is not like that at all.
“It is so the opposite,” Brown said. “I find myself so enthralled by the other girls, instead of being jealous of them or catty toward them, I look at them and think ‘they are an incredible person, look how much they’ve accomplished,” she said.
Brown went on to join the Miss West Sound program in Kitsap County where she was the outstanding teen Miss West Sound for three years.
As she plans for the Miss Washington pageant, Brown laughs at her initial plans coming into college. She said had been adamant about giving up pageants once she came to Western.
“The thing with pageants is, I don’t do it for the gowns and how everyone sees it from the outside--all glitzy, glamour, high maintenance, It’s really not like that.”
Brown said getting out of the pageant world is not as easy as it seems. She received multiple messages encouraging her to continue competing, though she initially made excuses, she couldn’t stay away for long, she said.
Brown said the program has given her confidence and allowed her to be more vocal.
“The program just amplifies your ability to grow, and it never stops, you can never stop improving and that is something this program helps you do,” she said. “It kind of forces you to get out there in your community so with the title, I’m held responsible to raise money and bring awareness to my platform, I don’t want to waste this opportunity I’ve worked so hard for.”