'I'm just a girl chasing a dream'
Hudson native Amelia Skye Dunlap grew up watching the Miss USA pageant.
"I loved watching the different girls compete in their evening dresses," she said, "and seeing the diversity that when on up on this Miss USA Stage."
She's also long had a love of performing on stage.
So when she came across a Facebook ad for Miss Wisconsin USA auditions, it caught her attention; she applied.
She wasn't initially sure she'd go to the auditions, but made a last-minute decision to go for it.
"I just had this calling to do it," she said.
That was last year.
Dunlap didn't win. In fact, she said, she didn't even place. Nevertheless, she said it was a great experience.
"I fell in love with it," she said. "I just grew in confidence... I really grew into myself."
She said not placing last year hasn't stopped her from wanting to try again this year.
"Every girl has her year to win," Dunlap said. "Some girls, it can take them years and some girls it can take them one year. It's just different."
This time around, the UW-River Falls student said she's much more confident in herself and much better prepared for the pageant, which will be Sept. 9-10 this year. The preliminaries will be Sept 9, and the finals Sept 10 in Fond du Lac.
Right now, Dunlap is preparing herself "physically and mentally" with the help of a personal trainer and a pageant coach.
"I have to be in shape," she said. "But it is a lot of mental training, kind of digging deeper into my life, figuring out who I am, what my purpose is here on earth."
As part of that mental preparation, she said, she's been blogging and journaling, writing about her life on a daily basis. All that writing has taught her a few thing about herself.
"I would say blogging for sure helps me kinda dig into my life and pull forward the stuff that I want to share to the judges at Miss Wisconsin," she said.
The best part of the whole process? Personal growth, Dunlap said. She's also made some lifelong friends.
Many opportunities have come her way since last year's pageant. Her instagram accounts (@theameliaskye and @ameliaskyefitness) have done very well, with 355,000 and 19,000 followers respectively. She's also getting the chance to sing the national anthem for the Arizona Diamondbacks at a game this summer.
She sung the national anthem for other sports games in high school and college.
"There's this powerful feeling about it, because it's honoring the USA," Dunlap said. "I just love being able to do it."
The hardest part of the process is balancing her training with school work (she's studying communications at UWRF) and her social life.
"I can't always hang out on Friday night or Saturday night," she said. "I take advantage of the weekend time to sit down and prepare for this pageant as well as catch up on school work."
Unfortunately, that means less time with friends, but she said her friends and family have been supportive.
She has come across some people who have misconceptions about pageants.
"I don't think they really fully know that earning the crown means that you're serving your time to help other people on a daily basis," Dunlap said. "The crown symbolizes your help."
Each candidate has a platform, something for which she advocates, and what she would support if she won the title.
Dunlap's is "Surround yourself with positivity."
"I grew up in an alcoholic household," Dunlap said. "Because of the people that surrounded me during that tough time, I am the way I am today. If crowned, I will go around to middle schools and high schools to talk about my platform and share my experience in hopes to make a difference."
Dunlap said her father, now many years sober due to treatment, is one of her "biggest inspirations." He overcame alcoholism through treatment and now mentors and sponsors others.
"He's amazing," she said.
Dunlap, a 2014 Hudson High School graduate, is set to graduate from UWRF in December 2017.
She's sponsored by Hudson Bagel and Coffee Co., Brian and Beth Senoraske, owners of the River Falls Anytime Fitness, Big Guys BBQ Roadhouse, Hudson Chrysler Dealership, and her parents.
"I could not do this without them," she said. "And I just hope I can make all of them proud, regardless of what happens. But their support means the world."
If she wins, Dunlap will serve as Miss Wisconsin USA for one year in service to the state. After that year, Miss Wisconsin USA and each state representative get a chance to compete for Miss USA.
"I'm just a girl chasing a dream," Dunlap said.
The Miss Wisconsin USA Pageant will be held in Fond du Lac, shown on FOX.