Many a crown has graced the head of beauty pageant veteran and Geneva resident Nicole Elizabeth Cook.
Formerly known as Nicole Rash, she represented her home-state, Indiana, in the 2008 Miss America pageant, qualifying as first-runner-up (second place), and nearly taking the Miss America title.
Six years later, Cook is at it again. But this time, the 29-year-old will represent Geneva in the Mrs. Illinois America pageant at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at the Elgin Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin. For information, visit www.mrsillinoisamerica.com.
In its 34th year, the Mrs. America pageant is open to women 18 and older who are married – with or without children – and serves as the only nationally televised beauty pageant for married women.
Kane County Chronicle features editor Kara Silva got a chance to chat with Cook about life in the world of beauty pageants and the upcoming competition.
Kara Silva: How long have you been competing in beauty pageants?
Nicole Elizabeth Cook: I’ve been competing in beauty pageants for quite a long time. I did a few when I was really young – about 6 or 7 years old – but it wasn’t quite the “Toddlers in Tiaras” style that you see nowadays. ... I just really enjoyed it because I got to dress up like a princess, and no matter what happened – win, lose or draw – we always went to McDonald’s and got cookies afterward. So, I thought it was the best thing ever.
Silva: Why did you decide to get involved in the Mrs. America pageant?
Cook: I joke sometimes that pageants are kind of like my sport. I just really like competing and the opportunities that you get from doing it. Not so much the prizes or the crown or things like that, but really the volunteer and community opportunities that you get. ...
I didn’t realize you could do anything beyond [Miss America], because you either age out or once you get married you can’t compete in [Miss America] anymore. ...
I really like how the [Mrs. America] program is centered around empowering and encouraging women to really work together and build each other up and get involved in the community, whether it be through your children or through a cause that you’re really passionate about. ... It kind of just shows that even though you’re married or a little bit older, it doesn’t mean that you’re no longer beautiful. I think there is so much focus in today’s society about youth and beauty, and so I like that I can still be beautiful and still be successful and still be seen as a beauty queen even though I have gotten older and now I’m married.
Silva: Why is it important to have a pageant devoted to recognizing married women and what is the Mrs. America pageant’s purpose?
Cook: The Mrs. America pageant’s purpose is to really show the importance of the modern American married woman. ... It really shows the diversity that there is and that there is not one right way to be married or to make your life. And so, it’s really just supporting and encouraging and highlighting all of the differences in the modern married woman and what that means in our society today. ...
[The] Mrs. America pageant is just trying to show that really there is a lot more value to people who are raising our future – our children.
Silva: Some people believe that beauty pageants are antiquated, antifeminist and demeaning toward women. How do you deal with the haters out there?
Cook: I just feel like there are a lot of things that aren’t for everybody. Everybody has an opinion, and they are completely entitled to that. I would say that before you judge – just like anything – try it one time either as a contestant or a judge or even a spectator or just talk to a title holder. The biggest misconception is that it’s only focused on beauty. ...
Once people get involved, there is a whole other side. The stage part of the pageant is what you see on TV. But that’s only for a night. What you don’t see is the 364 other days that those women are out in their communities fighting for what they believe in and supporting the causes that are important to them.
Silva: What does it take to win a beauty pageant? What are the judges really looking for?
Cook: It depends on the pageant system and age level (Miss, Teen, Mrs.). I think a lot of it has to do with confidence in yourself, knowing yourself and being completely confident in your own skin, and making sure that you relay your passions and your true purpose to the judges. ... And I think the judges are looking for someone who will use [the crown] for a purpose. ... The interview (which isn’t televised) is the most important part, and that’s where you really have to show them your true self.
Silva: What is your platform? What message are you trying to get across by competing?
Cook: I do some writing, and I am part of developing a website called InspirationalLadies.com, and it just basically interviews women from all across the country who are inspirational in some way.
So, it could be that they are an amazing housewife ... who has a blog to help other people; or a doctor; or a lawyer; or someone in a powerful position like a CEO. It spans all across all of the different ways that women can be inspirational and powerful. And I love that platform of women helping women.
Unfortunately women tend to think it’s the male roles that are bringing them down, but ... I see so much woman-on-woman hate, and it’s very disheartening to me. And I want to change that. ... I think that’s really keeping us down in a lot of situations. That’s my main platform and what I want to do. (Other platforms include working with children as part of the Children’s Miracle Network and an anti-smoking campaign.)
Silva: You’re very involved in the community with volunteer work and philanthropy, but what do you do for you? What do you do for fun?
Cook: I love reading a good book. I just finished the “Hunger Games” series and I watched the movies, which was fantastic.
I also read “Pride and Prejudice” and some of the classics, which was really a goal for me this year.
I like spending time with my husband and my little [Pomeranian] dog. They’re both my world.
We go to First Baptist in Geneva, and we’re part of the worship team. ... I love having fellowship and community with other people. Friends and family are most important to me. It’s really what life is all about – relationships and spending time with each other because every day is a gift and you just have to treat it like that.