Name: Jillian Zucco, Miss Massachusetts 2017
How she came to Tri-Town: Grew up and still lives in Mattapoisett.
Favorite place: Ned’s Point. “I like to run there, jump in the water and then keep running.”
What would you do as President of Tri-Town? “I would require everybody to volunteer a certain number of hours a year. How about fifty-two? One a week, right? Actually, I think a lot of people in our community are very volunteer minded.”
Have you ever seen a celebrity locally? Actually, wait, aren’t you a celebrity? “(Laughs) The Tri-Town area is so small, I knew a lot of people knew who I was. I think now that I’m Miss Massachusetts, people recognize me more. But mostly I don’t think it’s because I’m famous, I think it’s just that this is a close community.”
By Jonathan Comey
Mattapoisett’s Jillian Zucco is very excited about the chance to become Miss America in two weeks.
She’s also excited about John Quincy Adams.
“Part of the social media component in the Miss America program is ‘Brag About Your State,’ and so I immediately thought of Ned’s Point and the lighthouse,” said the 24-year-old Zucco during a rare moment of downtime this week. “And turns out that John Quincy Adams was a key player in allocating money toward the lighthouse.”
Adams, Zucco goes on to explain, represented Mattapoisett when the lighthouse was funded in the 1830s, believing it to be a necessary addition to the area’s thriving ocean-side economy.
If the sixth president of the United States isn’t frequently being name-checked by your average Miss America finalist, well, perhaps Jillian Zucco isn’t your average Miss America finalist.
In case you missed it, Zucco won Miss Massachusetts this July after finishing second two years in a row, and at the end of August she will head to New Jersey for two weeks of Miss America Pageant activities leading up to the September 10 main event (televised live on ABC).
“It just doesn’t feel real, still,” Zucco says. “For so long, I just saw the Miss America contestants as these larger-than-life people. But they are real, they are real people, smart and talented, with great platforms they are supporting. I think it’s important to be relatable, to be able to talk to everybody.”
Zucco recently had a conversation with reigning Miss America Savvy Shields, who gave her a glimpse of what life would be like if she were able to somehow outperform the other 50 contestants (don’t forget Washington D.C.) and become the 2018 winner.
“It’s obviously an amazing experience,” Zucco says. “She’s in a different state every 48 hours, she has a fully-paid-for place to live, but she says she never really is there. It’s crazy. She said there are times when you want to sleep in, you want to relax, you want to be sad, you know, be a normal person. But it’s one year, and it’s the most amazing year of your life.”
Winning, of course, is a longshot. Massachusetts’ representative has never won the pageant, but Zucco feels that she will be competitive in the two biggest deciding factors: interview and talent.
She says both were honed in Tri-Town where she was a product of Mattapoisett schools and performed as a singer in countless local shows from first grade through college.
“The school system is amazing,” Zucco says. “Going into college, in the UMass Dartmouth nursing program, I felt so prepared. It is rigorous and intense, and I felt like it was manageable when others were drowning. I credit it to the school system.”
She also performed as a singer and actress from elementary school through high school.
“I just sharpened so many of the skills I use competing in pageants and just in life.”
Zucco says a sendoff party held last weekend (benefiting Boston Children’s Hospital) was an extremely humbling experience, noting that people she had never met came out to wish her well.
“I am so grateful to the outpouring of support from the Tri-Town community,” she says. “I think that speaks to the spirit of people. When there’s something to be excited about or get behind, they turn out.”
Now a nurse on the South Coast after graduating from UMass Dartmouth, she enjoys the anonymity of the job.
“I don’t think people … suspect it if they see me,” Zucco says. “At the hospital, people that I work with obviously know, but my patients have no idea – it’s something I keep private.”
Zucco knows that pageants get a bad rap, but she’s long fought against that stigma with her actions, focusing on her platform of volunteering and just being a well-rounded person.
“People don’t always understand,” she says. “They think beauty pageants, not scholarship and service. The further I’ve gone with these, the more I’ve learned to just be myself. And it does feel amazing that people like who I am. I’ve learned that people like when you are honest, when you are yourself.
“Don’t think about what people want to hear, think about what you want to say.”