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pageantry interview ● leah sykes A Song in Her Heart Leah Sykes sees the end of her reign as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen as a blessing, for the girl that she’ll soon crown and the next step in her music stardom F or many teenagers, the prospect of moving away to a new city for college is as terrifying as it is nec- essary. After all, new cities mean new faces and fewer friends, and if that school is out-of-state, then it also means being further away from par- ents and a source of free food and endless laundry deter- gent. But that’s just one of the many benefits of being Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, as Leah Sykes has learned the fun way by adding so many miles to her travel odometer over the past year. Going to college at Belmont University in Nashville will probably be a breeze, since she’s already been there during her reign. If all goes well, she’ll be in Nashville well beyond college, too. Leah’s singing career is just starting to take off as her time as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen comes to an end, and taking classes in the same city that so many of the music industry’s biggest stars have recorded their best hits is simply going to inspire her like never before. But before she can get to that point, she has to crown her successor in Orlando, the same way that Rachel Wyatt crowned her on August 17, 2013. It’ll be a bittersweet moment for Leah the same way that it has been for others, but she couldn’t be more excited for it. Pageantry magazine: You’re a very busy young lady, but looking back, what memory still remains from the night you were crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen? Leah Sykes: I know that every girl always says it, but for me that night was so special and so crazy, having been my first pageant and not expecting to win. Being able to turn around and see all of the girls come running towards me to give me a big hug was so memorable and sweet, because that night I made so many amazing friends. That’s some- thing I will cherish forever. 70 PAGEANTRY PM: Tell us a little bit about your travels as Miss Amer- ica’s Outstanding Teen. LS: They told me right after I won that there would be this time in the summer when I would be just totally swamped for like six weeks with continuous travel. They called it the “Summer Tour.” I’ve been to around 15 states this year, and I visited four more than once, so I’ve been super busy but it’s been so wonderful to get to go to completely different climates and meet completely different people. It has been so much fun to be there to support the girls and meet so many people. It has been such a blessing. PM: Was there a particular place or state that you were able to visit for the first time that really blew your mind and changed all of your perceptions? LS: I don’t know if my perceptions necessarily changed, but for the first time this year, I got to go to Nashville, Ten- nessee, and I’m a singer/songwriter and I play guitar. It was so amazing for me to get to go there and it really does fit every stereotype that you know. There is music on every corner and to me it’s the happiest place on Earth. It was my favorite place to visit. PM: One of your goals as MAOTeen was to be a role model for young people. Have you been able to carry that message throughout the whole year? LS: Absolutely. One of my favorite appearances was in Philadelphia, where I got to go to the U.S. Dream Acade-