Pack, grab your luggage and hop on a plane. That sounds simple enough, right? As an airline professional, I’ve packed my bags a million times without any problems, but planning and preparing for Miss USA was one of the most intense experiences of my life.
Imagine being away from your home for two and a half weeks at a competition that requires two to three outfits per day. I started organizing my wardrobe weeks ago, so much that I ended up filling my entire family room with dresses, shoes, and other pieces I thought I should pack for Vegas. I had Post-its and lists in every corner of the room so I could stay organized. I thought I had it together.
The day of my departure, I pulled out three steamer-sized suitcases, a huge duffle bag, one standard roller, and my tote to pack everything I had laid out. Surprise: My stuff did not fit!
With less than two hours left before my flight, I had to run out and buy another big suitcase, while urgently pressed for time to make it to the airport. Luckily, I caught my flight - with minutes to spare.
Something the Miss USA experience has taught me is that I really need to just go with the flow.
A few months ago, I ordered a beautiful custom-designed gown that finally arrived the Monday before my departure. But when I tried my dream dress on, it didn't fit. (Don't worry, your Miss Pennsylvania USA didn't eat too many doughnuts!) Somehow the measurements of the dress were off and the item was never going to fit. Luckily, I had a Plan B, a gown that I love just as much.
Now that we’ve spent one week here in Vegas, the competition is starting to heat up. My schedule has been packed with back-to-back events, wardrobe-fittings, rehearsals, and more. We’ve already attended some cool events, including a magic show. We danced the night away Saturday at Pure and last week, we had a "Gatsby"-style photo shoot for the program book. Although I haven’t been able to get much rest, I still attend everything with a smile on my face. I realize what I’m doing is special.
One of my favorite events actually took place Sunday morning. For those of you unfamiliar with Best Buddies, the organization creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It's actually near and dear to my heart because my brother is autistic.
The group held a Sock Hop, pairing each of the Miss USA contestants with a buddy. I spent the morning with a really sweet and energetic girl named Crystal, who later sent me a drawing that read, “Best day of my life.” That time with her was a welcome break from the stress of preparing for the pageant.
If anything, Crystal reminded me how important it is to truly value the time I spend with others, without getting caught up in superficial matters. By that I mean she exemplifies true beauty, a quality based on how we make those around us react and feel. These are a few of the lessons I can take away from Miss USA - for life.
We had preliminary interviews today which were surprisingly relaxed. No hard math problems there! Overall, it’s been crazy busy and I feel like my time in Vegas is rapidly dwindling. I’m getting more and more excited for the competition every day, though these next five days will probably be a blur.
I'll share more updates from the Miss USA competition as they develop!
Jessica Billings, 26, is a Philadelphia-based flight attendant who currently holds the Miss Pennsylvania USA title. Billings is competing in the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas. The pageant, hosted by Giuliana Rancic and Nick Jonas, airs on NBC at 9 p.m., Sunday, June 16. Judges include Betsey Johnson, Bob Harper, Mo Rocca, NeNe Leakes, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jessica Robertson. Fans can vote their favorite Miss USA contestant into the top 16 by Saturday, June 15.