Juggling life as a pageant queen and a 23-year-old woman
On a damp afternoon in late January, a brunette glides into the Starbucks on Dixwell Avenue. Her long, dark brown hair is straight yet voluminous and her eye makeup is alluring, as if they were both done by a professional. Her hair and makeup, however, contrast her casual afternoon attire, consisting of black yoga pants and a black long-sleeved zip-up. While Morgan Amarone looks like a regular Quinnipiac graduate student, her perfected smile and the Miss America 2012 logo embroidered on the top-left corner of her zip-up indicates otherwise. Crowned Miss Connecticut in June 2011, Amarone’s lifestyle now consists of juggling duties as both a pageant queen and a normal 23-year-old woman.
“It definitely is a lifestyle,” Amarone said with a hint of exhaustion in her voice. “You need to live it every day and prepare for the job, because it really is a job and not just winning a pageant.”
When her grandfather passed away from cancer in 2005, the Hamden native selected cancer education awareness as her pageant platform, a chosen issue that is relevant to society. Today, Amarone frequently visits hospitals and camps for children who are battling cancer. She also wrote and published “Madison’s Journey,” a children’s book that features a character who is diagnosed with cancer.
“It’s about leading a healthy lifestyle, community involvement and cancer awareness,” Amarone said. “It’s just a light way to talk about a difficult topic.”
All proceeds from “Madison’s Journey” are donated to the American Cancer Society, and the book has recently been used in elementary schools throughout Connecticut.
In terms of scholarship, Amarone has won more than $15,000 from her pageant participation. In order to compete for the Miss Connecticut title, participants must first win three local pageants. Amarone was crowned Miss Waterbury 2006, Miss North Haven 2008 and Miss Southington 2011.
Tom Prete, executive director of the Miss Connecticut organization, began working closely with Amarone once she became Miss Connecticut.
“I can’t take credit for her talent; she came with it. I can’t take credit for her beauty; she came with it. I can’t take credit for her intelligence; she came with it,” Prete said. “She could very easily end up being one of the better Miss Connecticut’s we’ve ever had.”
Coincidentally, Miss Connecticut 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2011 all attended Quinnipiac. Prete says he hopes to see Quinnipiac host its own pageant in the future.
Amarone said she was “completely hooked” after competing in her first pageant, Miss Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen, at 16. Unlike many pageant participants, however, Amarone was not a toddler in a tiara.
“I think since I didn’t grow up doing pageants, I’ve never felt like I’ve had to fit a mold or be someone I’m not,” Amarone insisted. “I think that’s really what set me apart, I was more natural because I didn’t grow up around this and I didn’t conform myself to a mold.”
That mold is the stereotypical “beauty queen” figure that pervades media outlets. It is the repetitive image of a woman who is beautiful, but stupid and unable to think for herself.
In fact, Amarone cites improper media portrayals as the pageant industry’s “biggest problem.” By noticing the ease and eloquence with which Amarone answers every question, that stereotype effortlessly disappears within the first moments of meeting her.
“There are certain people who might not know about me personally, who may think that I’m uneducated, that I’m only there to stand and wave,” Amarone confessed. “But there are also good opinions from people who understand what the organization is about.”
The stereotype that pageant participants are uneducated could not be further from the truth in Amarone’s case. After graduating from Quinnipiac in 2010 with a degree in accounting, Amarone began working in Hartford at Deloitte & Touche, the largest accounting firm in the world. She will graduate from Quinnipiac with an MBA in health care management in December 2012. Amarone hopes to work administratively for a hospital.
For now, Amarone keeps busy with interviews, attending events, showcasing her jazz dance talent, keeping fit and spreading awareness about cancer.
“When you wear a crown, the crown is like a microphone,” Amarone said. “You have a voice and people are willing to listen.”
According to the official Miss America website, more than 8 million television viewers and 8,000 audience members watched Amarone and 52 other women compete in the Miss America 2012 pageant in Las Vegas on Jan. 14.
Miss America is unlike any other pageant, as it is the only competition that judges using the criteria of service, scholarship and talent. Out of the 14,000 women who competed in 2011 local and state pageants, Amarone earned a spot in the top 53.
Although Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, won the Miss America 2012 crown, Amarone left the Las Vegas competition with new friendships and unmatchable memories.
“Not making the top 15, of course it’s a little bit upsetting to begin with, but the fact that I was even there was incredible,” Amarone said. “For me, I kept looking down at my sash that said ‘Connecticut,’ and I was like, ‘this is just so surreal to be here.’”
Marla Prete, Miss Connecticut 2003, first met Amarone in 2005. Prete’s role quickly changed from Amarone’s mentor to close friend.
According to Prete, a mutual friend went into labor and began experiencing complications while Amarone was competing in Las Vegas.
“She sent a quick Facebook message just saying, ‘Hey, I’m thinking and praying for you,’ even though she’s competing at the biggest competition of her life,” Prete said. “I think that really exemplifies what she stands for as a person and what she’s truly made of.”
Despite those who don’t support scholarship organizations, Amarone remains proud of the Miss America Organization.
“I think that [Miss America] really showcases the fact that women can be smart, beautiful, talented, they can be the whole package and they can be extremely proud of it,” Amarone said. “It really is a scholarship organization, and it really is so empowering.”