by MIKE CHAIKEN
Payton May, for a little bit this summer, is just an ordinary teen, enjoying her break from school in Washington State.
But, there is merely a pause button pushed on her life, not a full stop.
On July 27, May, 17, was crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2020.
When she was interviewed a week and a half after her crowning in Orlando, Fla., May said none of her duties as the titleholder had begun. The teen said the staff with the Miss America Organization decided to let her finish out the summer and enjoy life as a typical teen.
So, the former Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen has been spending her summer days at the local swimming hole and cliff diving with her friends.
The fact that she beat out 50 other young women to earn the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen still had not kicked in, said May, calling from her home in Vancouver, Wash. When she was interviewed, May said she still had not made her first public appearance as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
On the night of the finals, May found herself moving forward through semifinals, finals, and then finally the top 2 contestants. As she progressed, however, May can’t remember what exactly she was feeling.
May said she has seen a video of when she was standing on stage, one of the top two contestants, holding hands with Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen Katelyn Cai. She saw in the video that she was saying something to Cai. But she was so caught up in the moment, May said she has no idea what she was telling Cai.
Looking back at the nationals, May said, “I felt confident I’d make top 15.”
“That was my goal.”
Moving up to top 10, top five, and the top two far exceeded her expectations at the national competition.
“It was unbelievable,” said May.
Heading into the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen contest, May’s experience with pageants had been fairly limited. Until she won the Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen crown, which sent her to the nationals, May said she had only reached the state competition once before. That year, she was second runner-up.
“I never expected to compete in a national pageant,” said May. “I’m not a pageant person.”
If she is not a pageant person, what kind of person is May in school?
“I kind of do it all in a weird way,” said May.
“My school (Skyview High School in Vancouver, Wash.) is pretty cliquey,” said May. “I like to float among the groups.”
May said she’s a “choir kid.” (She sang “Over the Rainbow” for her talent at nationals.) “I’m a nerdy band kid.” She’s also a preppy kid and a cheerleader.
“I’m involved in a lot of different things,” said May.
However, May said, “I never expected to be in this world.”
One of the reasons why May was hesitant at first to enter a pageant was the negative reputation the community had.
“Growing up, I felt like that’s not the girl I am,” said May.
When she did her first local pageant, May had her perspective on the pageant world changed. She found the other contestants to be kind and intelligent. They were involved in all sorts of activities. They all exhibited great passion for issues that concerned them.
May said she learned that the girls who competed in pageants were just like her.
She was, indeed, a pageant girl.
For her issue of concern as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, May is looking to encourage more young people to register to vote.
“I grew up around politics,” said May, whose mother was part of the former Washington governor’s election campaign.
Growing up around this political sphere, May said she developed a lot of opinions on issues on what has happening in Washington state and Washington D.C.
At the same time, May said she has a passion for helping people and helping give them a voice in government.
So when it came time to choose a platform to compete for the Outstanding Teen crown in her state, she chose to convince young people to register to vote so they could have a voice.
In her research, May said only 46% of millennials show up to the polls. “That’s incredibly alarming,” said May, who turns 18 this summer and will be able to vote this November.
To improve the number of young people heading to the polls, May said she is going to throw her weight behind several bills in Congress that should increase voting numbers among the young. She wants to lobby U.S. representatives and senators in Washington D.C. to secure their support behind the bills she has targeted.
As Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen, May said her goal was to register 5,000 new voters during her year as a titleholder. Now that she’s Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, she said she’s hoping to hold registration drives at high schools in each state she visits (including Connecticut when she attends Miss America at the Mohegan Sun arena in Uncasville on Dec. 19)
When she makes her pitch to young people to register, May said she tells them their vote matters, especially at the local level. She noted that many times local elections can be decided by a few votes. And the local elections is where the voice of the young will be heard the loudest.
As someone interested in politics and making a difference, May points to Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a hero.
“I’m inspired by women who choose not to follow the path placed in front of them,” said May.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN