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Racine native and current Miss Wisconsin Jennifer Schmidt was one of 50 contestants on stage at the Miss America’s 100th-anniversary edition competition. The competition was held on Thursday, Dec. 16, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT, and broadcast on NBC Universal’s streaming platform, Peacock.

Leading up to Thursday night’s finale, Schmidt and the other 49 contestants competed in preliminary rounds consisting of a private interview, onstage questions, a social impact pitch and an onstage talent display. Typically there are 51 contestants, one for each of the 50 states as well as Washington DC. Miss Maine, Mariah Larocque, was forced to withdraw from the competition after testing positive for COVID-19.

Bringing Racine Expertise to a National Stage

For the talent portion of the competition, Schmidt performed a jazz dance routine to Tammi Tappan’s “Hit Me with a Hot Note.” Added flare from the Racine area was built right in as Schmidt’s routine was choreographed by Danelle Davies, owner of Dance Arts Center in Mt. Pleasant. Former Miss Racine Haley Schonter also worked with Schmidt for over two years perfecting the choreography, performance and overall dance technique.

“It’s really is cool to bring that talent to the Miss America stage, represent Racine and have the support of Racine on that stage,” Schmidt explained ahead of Thursday’s finale.

Contestants received a score for each portion of the preliminary rounds. The top 10 earned a chance to compete in an onstage talent competition and vie for the chance to be crowned the 100th Miss America in front of a worldwide audience.

“Just getting to the Miss America stage is such an accomplishment and I don’t say that just for myself, I do say that for all of the young women who have made it this far,” said Schmidt who finished outside the top 10.

She was awarded the third-place science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) scholarship for $2,000, to go along with the $3,000 scholarship she received for competing at Miss America. Winning the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Competition earlier this year provided her with an $11,000 scholarship.

Miss America Origins

What began as the Inter-City Beauty contest in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1921 truly has evolved over the past century both socially and as a year-round opportunity for women to earn scholarships, enhance their career skills and make a difference in both their communities and around the world through the Miss America Organization.

In 1941 the competition was renamed the Miss America Pageant and the first scholarship of $5,000 was awarded to Bess Myerson of New York.

In 1947 an Intellect and Personality category was added.

The organization’s all-female leadership team eliminated the swimsuit competition in 2018 and replaced it with an opportunity for contestants to speak about their goals and social impact initiatives.

Reflecting on the Competition

“It is such a humbling opportunity. I look around the room and I realize I’m surrounded by future lawyers, doctors, teachers and politicians,” explained Schmidt, a 2014 graduate of The Prairie School and first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation/Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“All of these women have career aspirations just like myself and many of them have already started in their careers and achieved that success.

“It really is just an incredible group of young women and it’s an honor to stand alongside them and know that no matter who ends up winning the title, the 100th Anniversary Miss America is in great hands.”

Miss Alaska Emma Broyles was presented with the crown this year. By winning the title of Miss America 2022, the 20-year-old Broyles received a $100,000 scholarship to put towards earning a degree or paying off student loan debt. She was also awarded the full-time job of Miss America with a six-figure salary.

Miss Wisconsin Jennifer Schmidt is poised and ready for the Private Interview portion of the Miss America 2021 competition, Dec. 16, 2021. – Photo Credit: Bruce Boyajian

The first Miss America from the state of Alaska, Broyles beat out first runner-up Lauren Bradford (Alabama) and second runner-up Elizabeth Pierre (Massachusetts), along with the other seven semi-finalists, including Andolyn Medina (District of Columbia), Leah Roddenberry (Florida), Isabelle Hanson (Illinois), Sydney Park (New York), Abigail Hayes (Oregon), Mallory Fuller (Texas), and Sasha Sloan (Utah), who competed in the talent portion of the competition.

Bradford, Park, Pierre, Hayes, and Broyles advanced to the interview portion, during which they each had an opportunity to focus on their individual social impact initiatives.

As Miss America 2022, Broyles plans to focus on her social impact initiative as an advocate for the Special Olympics over the next year.

Miss Wisconsin’s Social Initiative Program

As the reigning Miss Wisconsin, Schmidt plans to continue to focus on the social initiative program she calls “Diabetes, YOU have the Control.” She first began developing the program more than 10 years ago as a volunteer with the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Jennifer Schmidt poses with her STEM award from the Miss America competition, Dec. 16, 2021 – Photo Credit: Bruce Boyajian

Later, she became a liaison for the ADA and state of Wisconsin as a National Ambassador, Manager of Donor Relations for the ADA in Wisconsin, and Director of Donor Relations for Operation Not Alone.

“Due to COVID-19 and lack of funding, the American Diabetes Association was forced to close their Wisconsin office, but what that allowed for was the opportunity to bring a lot of the funding resources and programs back to the Wisconsin diabetes community through my social initiative program,” explained Schmidt who has watched her grandmother struggle with type 2 diabetes throughout her life.

“So that’s really the focus is to fill that void that was lost when the American Diabetes Association closed the office, and help individuals understand their risk as well as testing for their risk.

“One in two Americans has diabetes or pre-diabetes and I think it’s about 85% of them don’t even know they have it, so really providing people with the information and resources that empowers them to make their health a priority is my goal.”

The Crowning Moment

Forever Miss Americas Nina Davuluri and Ericka Dunlap co-hosted the final night of the Miss America competition, which featured Forever Miss America panelists Heather French Henry, Katie Stam Irk, and Debbye Turner Bell.

Miss Alaska Emma Broyles was crowned Miss America 2022 by Camille Schrier. After last year’s competition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Schrier became the first woman to reign as Miss America for two years. A scientist from Virginia, Schrier was also the first woman competing to perform an onstage science demonstration during the talent portion of the 2020 Miss America competition.

“I know whoever wins the job of Miss America, it’s in great hands,” Schmidt said before the final night of competition. “It’s really cool to look around and recognize how accomplished and successful these women are, but then also remind myself that I’m a part of this group as well. If it’s not me, I get to go back to being Miss Wisconsin full-time, so either way it’s a win-win situation.”

And that attitude is just part of what makes Jennifer Schmidt a winner even on a night when somebody else took home the crown.

Miss Wisconsin Jennifer Schmidt of Racine – Photo Credit: Watrous Photography