The dreaded “Runner-Up Curse.” It can be one of the most frustrating things about pageantry. This is when a contestant competes for a title year after year only to never walk away with the crown. Instead, they are always left in the “Top 5” photo next to the queen.
I have seen many examples of this over the last decade. Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013, was first runner up to her state title, Miss New York, twice (to Claire Buffie and Kaitlin Monte). When she was left standing in the final two on the Miss America stage, she told The Pageant Planet she was sure they would call her name as 1st Runner-Up. When they announced she won it gave the pageant world one of the best crowning moment shots in history.
(Mallory’s reaction when she heard her name called as Miss America 2013 / Photo Credit: Hilary Levey Friedman)
(Audra (left) and Danielle moments before the crowning of Miss Teen USA 2011 / Photo Credit: Jaime Ennis)
Audra got a second chance to win a national title when she was crowned Miss North Dakota USA in 2014. Much to her dissappointment, she was the first runner-up again at Miss USA 2014. This time she lost to Nia Sanchez, Miss Nevada USA. Nina would go on to place first runner-up at Miss Universe that year.
(Audra (left) and Nina moments before the crowning of Miss USA 2014 / Photo Credit: Daily Mail)
Audra competed again as Miss North Dakota World America in 2016. Finally, she won the national title of Miss World America 2016 and competed at renowned international Miss World Pageant where she placed in the Top 11. You can watch the raw emotion of finally breaking the curse on YouTube!
(Audra (left) hears her name called as Miss World America 2016 / Photo Credit: Eye For Beauty)
While the “Runner-Up Curse” can be frustrating, it is important to remember it is not the end of the world. A contestant can be amazing and never win the crown. Mallory and Aura are perfect examples. Yet, they managed to break the curse. How? Not by doing more work, but by doing the right work. Mallory did not win her state title until she changed her platform from the Dove Beauty Campaign to child sexual abuse prevention. This was a topic she really connected with and was able to win over the judges with her passion.
Breaking the curse is difficult but not impossible. It takes real reflection and commitment to find the thing that is holding you back from the crown. Maybe you do not connect with your talent piece. Maybe, like me, you find yourself holding back in the interview room to appear more professional when you really should be embracing your quirkiness.
Regardless, if you find yourself in this situation, take a step back. Be proud in your strengths but really dig into what is holding you back. The answer may surprise you.