Caressa Cameron is a great storyteller, which is easy to do when you have so many great stories to tell. It’s hard to pick her best tale, as you could point to her family’s amazing strength and the character she’s built because of it, or you could note her brilliance by using competition as a means to win, even if she doesn’t win. Perhaps it’s simply how she overcame missing out on the Miss Virginia crown not once, not twice, but three times. And she still went back one more time, won her state title and rode it all the way to her victory as the 2010 Miss America.
As the Miss America Organization prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary in a glorious return to network television on ABC, Caressa is readying herself for the major role that she will play in this historic occasion. While her term as Miss America and her year of endless travel, promotion and goodwill are coming to a triumphant end, Caressa will of course soon crown her successor on stage in Las Vegas in front of perhaps the largest audience in the event’s history. But first she’s looking back at the gigantic shoes she is leaving behind, and she’s hardly saying, “The end.”
Pageantry Magazine: This upcoming year is a very special anniversary for the Miss American Organization—90 years. What do you attribute to the enduring legacy of Miss America?
Caressa Cameron: The Miss America Pageant is something that has been absolutely woven into the tapestry of this country. Little girls from all across the country think about one day becoming Miss America, and I think that ideal is still out there and as long as there are still little girls who want to tune in and watch and pick their winners from home, there’s always going to be something that’s very unique and special about the Miss America Organization.
PM: What has the title of Miss America and the responsibility of holding that title meant to you?
CC: It’s meant so much to me, especially in a world in which young people in general are in desperate need of people who stand for something and who want to be relatable, have a cause to talk about and who want to be a role model. We’re in desperate need of more people like that, so I’ve definitely taken my responsibilities as Miss America very seriously because I feel like Miss America is one of those people who can be that voice of her generation, and who can be a spokesperson, a role model and all of those things, and not just for young women but for young people in general. It has been something that has weighed heavily on all the decisions that I have made this year.
PM: The 12 months of your service have gone by in the blink of an eye, and as you begin to think about returning to Las Vegas, what will be going through your mind at that point?
CC: I am going to be so excited, because the amount of performers who will be coming back for this year is projected at about 50. Just for me to be able to go through and meet all of them—I’m going to be a fan more than anything else. I’m just really excited to go and see this class, as I got to meet them all in Orlando and talk to them. They are an incredible group of young women, so to see them go out there and shine and to be their best selves is something that I’m really looking forward to because I know what it’s like. We’ve had talks about their nervous jitters and the questions that they’ve had, and I really do think that they’re ready. Whoever I do turn the crown over to will do a fantastic job.
PM: Tell us about the relationship and the return of Miss America to network broadcasting on ABC.
CC: I think it’s an absolutely wonderful thing. When I heard the news I was so excited for us to be back on ABC. For some people who didn’t have cable, it was hard for them to find us, and though we are very thankful for the relationship we had with TLC during the time, it’s wonderful to say that Miss America in celebrating the 90th year will be on ABC. I’m excited because I know the viewership will go up this year with it being our 90th anniversary and featuring so many former Miss Americas. People from the past who may not have tuned in for a while are going to want to watch to see their Miss Americas. I’m just excited for the direction the pageant is heading in.
PM: The Miss America Organization and yourself have had quite the busy year, especially as a brand, as a lot of new things have come out. Tell us about the new opportunities that have been developed with the clothing line, the furniture line, and et cetera?
CC: We’ve been re-branding all year, which is awesome. We have the t-shirt line that is now out with the ideologies of the Miss America pageant on them. They’re wonderful brands for people of all ages—little girls can wear them, I have them, my mom wears them—it transcends age and it really speaks to what the competition is about. It’s something that is absolutely wearable and you can wear your support for the organization. The furniture line is something that just came out, and it is so sweet. It is one of the cutest lines that I have ever seen and I’m so jealous that I’m not little anymore. I just think it’s wonderful that more people can now participate in the organization than just showing up at the pageant and they can actually take a little bit of our brand home with them.
PM: Another iconic staple of the Miss America pageant is returning to the event, and that is the Miss America Shoe Parade. Tell us about that.
CC: It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to happen at the Paris-Las Vegas, and I’m really excited to bring that tradition back. For years and years people have been asking if we were ever going to have the shoe parade again, and so we’re thankful for the partnership with DSW who is willing to take this project on. We want the girls to be able to show their shoes again and I’m excited to see what the girls come up with in decorating their shoes. This is going to be the first time that I’ve been able to experience the parade in a really long time, so for those of us who remember what the parade was in Atlantic City, it’s going to be an awesome thing to start to re-brand and rebuild new traditions while we’re in Las Vegas.
PM: With the schedule that you have and all of the personal appearances that you have, there have been many moments that you’ve had out there on the road. Can you think of one that has stood out the most as more memorable than any of the others?
CC: One of the most incredible experiences I had was my trip to Germany, when I went to visit the soldiers and I was able to visit their children at the local high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. There was a little girl named Sarah at the middle school and when I got there she had a t-shirt with pictures of me all over it, and her teachers were telling me how much of a fan she was of the Miss America Organization and how she does that every year. Just to see that even in Germany they are bothering to tune in want to know what’s going on with the organization, I thought that was absolutely awesome. When I met her, she was crying and she said, “Thank you so much for coming and I know that you’re here to visit my dad but you took the time to come see us, too, and it means so much to me.”
PM: Miss America is known as one of, if not the largest scholarship providers for women in the world. They provide mind-numbing amounts of scholarship benefits to young women in helping them to pursue their dreams of a college education. How have you personally benefited from these scholarships?
CC: So much. I tell my story about my pursuit of the crown all the time—it actually took me four years to win the title of Miss Virginia. But even in the process of competing in those four years, I was obtaining scholarship money. My parents never had to write a check for me to go to college at all. That’s just a testament to the amount of money in scholarships that is given out, that it is made available. Even when you’re losing in the eyes of some people, you’re still winning because of the amount of money that you have gained. There was one girl in Virginia a few years ago and she competed in 18 locals and she finished first runner-up in every single one, and she obtained $18,000 by “losing.” That says so much—$18,000 and she didn’t even walk away with a title yet. After the process of me going through my four years of competing and then ultimately winning the Miss America pageant, I will graduate not only with my Bachelor’s degree, but my Master’s and debt free.
PM: In addition to the scholarships, the Miss America Organization supports a number of very noteworthy causes at the national level. What can you tell us about these charitable causes and how has the support affected you personally?
CC: The most important is our partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network, which is longstanding, and it has been an absolute honor for me to serve as the goodwill ambassador for CMN. I get to go into these hospitals and play with these kids and talk to them and their parents, sharing with them the stories of hope that I’ve seen all across the country. The Children’s Miracle Network holds a special place in my own heart because they have facilitated two miracles within my own family.
PM: Some deserving young woman will soon join the sisterhood, and will be a new sorority sister with you and all of your wonderful predecessors. What advice would you like to impart to your successor?
CC: The most important piece of advice is to always remember why you are doing this. Always remember why you start with any public role, because you’re always going to face some sort of opposition or some sort of criticism, but you don’t want to lose focus of the main point and goal. There are young people and young girls all across the world that are looking for someone to be that light in the darkness. They are looking for someone they can look up to and they can feel proud of. Even on the days that it gets really hard and you just crave something normal to eat and you want to eat out or you want to go home and sleep in your own bed, just remember that this is only one year. And it’s one year that will fly by so fast, but you have the opportunity to make a difference in ways that you never had before. Take hold of those, live in the moment and not think about what you have to do next week, but take the time to take in exactly what you’re doing, because those are the memories that you’re going to want to share.
PM: Are there any special people or supporters that you would like to acknowledge?
CC: I would like to first and foremost acknowledge the Miss Virginia Organization and the locals that I went through in my process of getting here—Miss Arlington, Miss Hanover, Miss Chesterfield, Miss Greater Springfield—because a lot of times we forget and we just think about our state organizations or the Miss America Organization, but there are people who are volunteers and are working so hard on the local level helping to make girls’ dreams come true. And then I would just say my family, friends, my supporters and all of the people who have been there from the very beginning of this very process and carried this dream in their hearts as if it were their own. I’m so thankful for them because without them I wouldn’t be here. It does take a village to raise a child and I think I came from a fantastic village.