After almost two weeks spent under the bright lights of Miss America rehearsals and appearances, Jillian Zucco found herself enjoying two things on Monday: her cellphone and the sun.
Driving back to Mattapoisett from New Jersey, she reflected on life back in the real world after 13 days spent competing for the Miss America crown. Zucco was eliminated as they cut the field from 51 to 15, but her mind wasn’t on anything but the positives.
“It was absolutely incredible,” she said. “It was so exciting! The energy in the room was just crazy, and to know that millions of people were watching us on national television was so cool.
“I was sort of just happy to be there in the first place and really just to be on the Miss America stage, so I was so happy and joyful to be there in the first place that making the finals would have been icing on the cake,” she said. “Without it, I’ve still got the cake.
“I mean, I think we are all in it to win it, but maybe some are more about the win than the journey. I think the key is to be about the journey; there’s only one Miss America and fifteen finalists.”
While Zucco only got a few minutes of screentime on Sunday night – spurring many of her fans across the SouthCoast to take pictures of the TV for social media – the entire 13-day experience was a whirlwind. From 7:30 am (when they started the day and gave up their cellphones) to 11:00 pm (when they got them back), there was usually something going on. Contestants were driven back and forth from their rooms to rehearsals or recordings through underground tunnels.
While Zucco missed the sunlight, the glow of cameras and performance lights more than made up for it.
“It was incredible and non-stop the whole entire two weeks,” she said. “The first week we did a lot of rehearsing, a lot of promo, video and photo shoots, then the second week we had three nights of preliminaries and the interviews.”
They rehearsed in a ballroom as the Miss America stage was being constructed, and after a week of waiting, they got to perform on it this past Tuesday.
“The first time being on that Miss America stage was really cool. Everybody cried,” Zucco says, the emotion coming through in her voice. “Because we worked so long! This was my fifth time competing. Some of the other girls, they had tried five times also. A lot of little girls dream about being on the Miss America stage.”
“And the stage is … it is unbelievable,” she said with emphasis. “There’s this huge crown that holds up all of the lights. It’s so amazing, and the whole thing lit up is insane.”
She won a $5,000 scholarship for placing third out of the 51 contestants in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) branch of the competition, and has earned a total of $40,000 in scholarships during her time competing in pageants.
Zucco now goes back to work and will have a busy year as she balances public appearances – available to be booked through MissMass.org – with her job as a registered nurse. She will be hosting a blood drive at Boston Children’s Hospital later in the fall.
She was second in the Miss America competition in the “Miracle Maker” award for Children’s Miracle Network fundraising.
“This whole experience has just really reinforced for me that there’s something to be said about perseverance and to never give up,” she said. “I’ve just learned so much and gained so much from competing … the opportunities, the resume material, the people that you meet. I think I’m happy to just go for it, focus on the journey and not the outcome, because it’s what you learn along the way that’s so much more valuable.”
By Jonathan Comey