Every bit the regal “Queen of Texas,” Shannon Sanderford is the 23-year-old woman full of grace and poise (and a wicked sense of humor) that was crowned Miss Texas on July 4th this year. Starting in 1937, the Miss Texas Pageant was organized as a means to award young ladies with higher education scholarships. When Shannon’s stint comes to an end next year, she will move on to finish her graduate studies at Dallas Baptist University. We sat down with Shannon, over a cup of coffee at Fourteen Eighteen Coffeehouse in historic downtown Plano, and asked her a few questions about her reign so far as Miss Texas.
Shannon, where did you grow up? Coppell, born and raised.
At what age did you begin to compete in pageants? I did not do my first pageant ‘til I was 21. It’s a big misconception that we all do pageants our whole lives.
When were you crowned Miss Texas? July 4th, 2015–very patriotic!
What leads up to Miss Texas? Are there several other pageants you must win first? There are local pageants that go on all across the state. They run August through February, and you have to enter one of those local pageants and win one of them to compete at the state level for Miss Texas. In Texas, we have a lot of locals, so this year we had 55 women competing for the title of Miss Texas! It’s one of the largest pageants in number of competitors. I was crowned Miss Fort Worth before I won Miss Texas.
How did you prepare for the 2016 Miss America Pageant a few weeks ago? I was also doing the job of Miss Texas at the same time. It’s stressful, but I saw it as preparing me for the job of Miss America. So the biggest part of preparation is for the private panel interview with the judges that’s held early in preliminary competition week. They can ask you anything on current events, politics, pop culture and social issues. You have to learn to craft a statement that is not offensive, all while explaining how you feel, yet also be charming enough to help them fall in love with you. It’s a lot to think about!
What was a typical day like for you leading up to Miss America? No day looked the same, at all, ever! Some days I was absolutely booked full doing appearances, other days I would have prep meetings with my whole team and possibly meeting with sponsors we have.
I spent a lot of time just thinking and preparing for what you’re going to need while you’re there. The packing process took about seven hours! You have to remember every little thing because we change on average about three times a day and we are there for two whole weeks. We also have to anticipate and prepare for any kind of wardrobe malfunction, make-up, hair, etc.
What is it like behind the scenes of the Miss America Pageant? Did you make a lot of friends? Pageants get the worst reputation in movies and tv. In reality, you make the greatest friends because you are surrounded by girls you are spending two solid weeks with. They are such incredible and such high caliber women that I am so honored to be friends with them. We have a great support system and we have a group text among all 52 of us. Miss America texted this morning saying she was a bit lonely and we were all able to encourage her.
There are some who dismiss pageants as just a beauty contest. What would you like them to know? Miss America is scholarship-based and they provide the largest amount of scholarship dollars to winners across the United States. When you look at the caliber of women that have competed and won and who they have become, it is incredible–people like Gretchen Carlson [a tv commentator, author and award-winning journalist] and Lee Meriweather [an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress]. These are people who have influenced our country all because they had a platform in Miss America first.
In what ways do you serve your community? I wanted to take a year and serve the people of Texas and that’s what I get to do. Whether it’s serving at a festival, school visits, corporate appearances, children’s hospitals—I do a lot of different things. All appearances are an opportunity to speak to people about Texas and get to know the people.
What is the platform you speak about? My platform was really inspired by the Dallas Women’s Foundation and focuses on any opportunity I have to speak to women or participate in events that focus on women or girls. I talk about how we can empower them to become strong members of society, and I also really love talking to the men and small boys about how we treat and respect our female peers, how we encourage them to achieve.
What are some of the perks of being Miss Texas? There are quite a few! I have some really fabulous sponsors. Grubb’s Infiniti gives me a car to drive all year. Dillard’s gives me clothes to wear. Shimmer Boutique in Carrollton is one of my sponsors and does all of my eveningwear and gowns. I also have EtreBell Salon at NorthPark that I get to visit as much as I can squeeze in.
Other than the many sponsors is the way I am received when I go out to different events. Texans love Miss Texas and it always blows me away how warm and welcoming people are wherever I go. When I meet smaller kids who don’t really understand the whole pageant system, they always call me the “Queen of Texas!”
Will you be based out of Richardson for your whole reign? Yes, I am blessed I get to live in a Miss Texas-sponsored apartment located near another wonderful sponsor, the Renaissance Hotel Richardson. The pageant each year is at the Eisemann Center and we all stay at the Renaissance.
How often do you travel for engagements? I do 450+ appearances during my year as Miss Texas. We try to make the most of my schedule and do 2-3 appearances at a time based on my location and how much I can get done in the time I have. I have handlers that help to maximize my schedule and keep me fed, clothed, happy and well rested so I can do my job. I love getting to know my traveling companions (handlers); there are 18 of them!
What are some of the remarkable things you’ve done and people you’ve met? I absolutely adore the Mayor of Ft. Worth, Betsy Price. I’ve gotten to do several appearances with her, which is so special since I was Miss Ft. Worth. I have met all the Deans and staff and President at Dallas Baptist University. I’m the first Miss Texas to attend DBU. It was also really cool to meet the celebrity judges at Miss America. Vanessa Williams is fabulous! One of my favorite appearances was visiting the Shriner’s Hospitals in Galveston and Houston. They are doing so much for kids in orthopedics and burns.
What have you learned about Texans with all of your travel throughout our great state? How are we alike? Everyone in Texas LOVES food! I already thought this was true, but now I know for sure because everywhere I go they try to feed me exorbitant amounts of food! We also have the absolute sweetest people in Texas. I have a warm welcome everywhere I go.
Now, for the most important question. Do you do your own hair and makeup? Yes, I do. For all my appearances I have learned to do my own makeup and style my own hair. When I’m all dolled up, I’m in Miss Texas mode, but my regular Shannon mode is with my yoga pants and top from my favorite, Lululemon, just hanging out all day and being comfy. I’ve learned how to make myself presentable, after all Miss Texas does have to uphold a certain image. Every situation teaches me something new. For example, always have a back-up outfit!
To meet Shannon, check out some of her upcoming public appearances here:
Thursday, Oct. 29th, Boo on Ballard, Wylie
Saturday, Nov. 7th, Richardson Humane Society, Huffines Park in Richardson, 10am-1pm
Wednesday, Nov. 11th, Veteran’s Day Parade, Dallas
Friday, Nov. 22nd, Christmas Parade, Fort Worth
Saturday, Nov. 28th, Miss Ft. Worth Pageant