April 25, 2017
By Mary Alice Maloney
Growing up, Annika Strolle was a self-proclaimed “major tomboy.” She was the kind of girl who wore basketball shorts and t-shirts every day, never in a million years planning on competing in a pageant of any kind. Flash forward to 2017, and Strolle will be competing in June for the second time in the Miss Illinois pageant, a preliminary contest in which the winner goes on to compete in the televised Miss America competition.
“I actually enjoyed watching the Miss America pageant on TV when I was young, just because it was something fun to sit down and watch with my mom and sister,” Strolle said. “I never thought I’d be somebody to get up and do that, though.”
Strolle’s mother knew a judge in the Miss America Organization who encouraged pre-teen Strolle to get involved with the organization. At 12, Strolle competed in her first local pageant on the Miss Chicago stage. “I was completely awkward,” Strolle said. “I didn’t know what to wear, I didn’t know how anything worked and I probably totally messed up my interview. But even though it was awkward, I fell in love. It was such a fun experience and I made a lot of friends, and it honestly changed my world.”
From that point on, Strolle frequently competed in local Illinois pageants at the Miss Teen level, and when she turned 17, she was eligible to compete for Miss titles. In 2016, Strolle won the title of Miss Kankakee County and went on to compete in Miss Illinois, but she did not place among the finalists. This year, Strolle participated in the Miss Metro East pageant and won the 2017 title, which means she gets another chance at Miss Illinois.
“I’m much more confident this year than I was last year,” Strolle shared. “It’s definitely the kind of thing where you have to go through it once to figure it out. It’s a long week with a lot of public appearances and then three nights of competition. It takes a lot of physical and mental preparation, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships to young women in the United States and works to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and STEM education for women. Each Miss America contestant at every age level across the nation proudly embodies the four points of the Miss America crown, which are style, service, scholarship and success.
The women are encouraged to advocate for an individual platform of their choosing. Strolle’s involves “STEM to STEAM”, which aims to promote the inclusion of arts education among science, technology, engineering and math for people of all ages.
“This platform touches my heart because the arts impact not only young people, but also people in retirement homes who have Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Strolle said. “Music plays a large role in so many people’s lives.”
Being a pageant participant in the Miss America program for all these years has taught Strolle some valuable lessons. “The way I see things is totally different now that I’m a pageant girl,” Strolle said. “You’re focused on a lot of different things, because we have to have a strong knowledge of current events for the interview and on-stage question portion of each pageant.”
Each pageant consists of a ten-minute private interview before the round of competing begins. “It’s nine minutes and thirty seconds of rapid-fire questioning from a panel of judges, and this year we’ll have five judges,” Strolle explained. “The questions range from topics like your favorite color to politics and current events.”
After the interview stage, the show on stage begins, which includes swimsuit, talent (where Strolle performs Scottish dancing), on-stage question, and evening gown portions, concluded by the crowning ceremony.
Strolle is proud to participate in the Miss America Organization and it hopes it will continue to inspire young women for generations to come.
“It’s really cool to say that you compete in the Miss America Organization, because it’s not something a lot of people are really educated on,” Strolle said. “I’m happy to share that these pageants are not like Toddler and Tiaras at all. The girls are not catty and we all strive to promote what Miss America actually stands for. Ever young woman should be involved no matter their background because everyone brings something so unique to the table.”
The friendships Strolle has made throughout her pageant years will last a lifetime. “At Miss Illinois, you get to spend a whole week with twenty-something other young women from the state of Illinois that you may have met at your local pageant, but you may have not,” Strolle said. “It’s cool because you may potentially know the next Miss America!”
Will our very own Annika Strolle become the next Miss America someday? The Star wishes her good luck this summer at Miss Illinois!