More than just a pretty face
HTexas What was your childhood like?
Crystle Stewart: I grew up in Missouri City and had the perfect childhood. My mother was a teacher and, in the summers, she would take us to the beach. I lived a pretty sheltered life. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. I loved school, loved church, life and my family.
HTexas Did you watch beauty pageants as a child?
CS: When I saw the pageants on TV, those women were unreal. They had great hair and make-up, voluptuous bodies; and I’m sitting at home with a Snickers bar, no make-up and my hair was a mess. I saw these Glamazons and I didn’t think I could be there with them. I didn’t realize all the things they did to get their hair and make up done, to stay in shape and to look like that. It didn’t seem real to me. It was more like a fairy tale. I never thought I would compete, much less win.
HTexas How was it that you began participating in pageants?
CS: I was never the young girl whose mother forced her into pageants. A friend of mine told me she thought I should enter pageants. I looked at her and asked, “Who are you talking to?” I didn’t have the confidence to say I would enter one, but she persisted. I thought she was talking about a small local pageant. Instead, she was talking about Miss Texas USA. I told her I would give it a try. My first pageant was Miss Houston USA in 2002. I finished as the swimsuit winner and third runner-up overall.
HTexas What happened after that first pageant?
CS: I competed again in 2003; I was third runner-up and swimsuit winner. The third year, I was first runner-up and swimsuit winner. I went back, and again was first runner-up and swimsuit winner. That was all at Miss Houston USA. I thought maybe I am one of those people who competes, does great, but never wins. Not winning taught me persistence and perseverance. You have to keep trying when you set a goal and can’t stop until you achieve it. I also gained communication skills and friends. Everyone gains that in pageants. But, not everyone gains persistence because they win on their first or second try. It took me five times. Now, if I don’t succeed my first time, it’s easier to pick myself up. It motivates me and I am definitely a stronger person for it.
HTexas When the announcer said the first runner-up’s name, did it take a second for it to click that you were Miss Texas USA?
CS: I was Miss Fort Bend County and she (co-finalist Brooke Daniels) was Miss Houston. I was looking at her sash and thinking that I wanted to hear “Houston.” You never want to hear your title called. When he announced the first runner-up as Miss Houston, I was overjoyed. Everything goes so fast, everyone is screaming for you. People are hugging you, kissing you, shaking your hand and everything. Then, I was handed the keys to my new car. This was big for me because I was driving a 1995 Ford Escort. I was just overwhelmed. Honestly, I was also tired because my dress was heavy.
HTexas What is a day like in the life of Miss Texas USA?
CS: It’s just a regular day. I get up at 5 a.m., eat my breakfast and go to work. I work at a local high school as an assistant for a class of autistic children. I’m there from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. I do my photo shoots and everything else after work. I have four jobs right now. I work with the students, I model, work as Miss Texas and have my own self-improvement program called Inside Out. It’s a program where I teach young women character building, self-esteem, poise and posture. I want to open a charm school, so right now, these are like little workshops.
HTexas How was it that you began working with autistic children?
CS: I was substitute teaching for a teacher who worked with autistic children. [After] the first day I thought I would never go back again. They had severe cases and I thought it was too much. There were children who were aggressive, some were biters and one who couldn’t keep his clothes on. I didn’t think I could do it. When I got home, something told me I needed to go back. The second day, I helped a student learn how to tie his laces. That just stuck with me. [The school district] asked me to come in as a long-term substitute. I still wanted to model and do pageantry instead; I took a para-professional position and ended up loving it.
HTexas What do you feel is the most important part of your tenure as Miss Texas USA?
CS: I think it’s important that I touch people. Not many people take advantage of what comes with this title, but I enjoy it. I enjoy going to the hospitals and burn centers. Signing pictures for patients; taking pictures with them makes their day. There’s a lot of motivational speaking. I talk to young women and help make them feel good about themselves. It might be cliché, but every pageant girl says they want to help the world. I think I put my money where my mouth is.
HTexas What are your responsibilities as Miss Texas USA?
CS: There are a lot of parades, so I’ve got the waving down. I do a lot of interviews with magazines and talk shows. There’s also a lot of speaking engagements. It’s everything that I thought it would be and more. I have a broader audience for my motivational speaking. It’s great because when I am in front of a group, I know it is what I want, so it makes me focus even more on reaching my goals.
HTexas What sets you apart from being “just another pretty face?”
CS: Goals. I set them and work hard to achieve them. A lot of people have goals, but don’t think they can achieve them. That’s how I was. Now, I set my mind to it and it’s simply preparation meeting opportunity to achieve success. At the Miss USA Pageant, there are 51 beautiful girls on the stage and I have to set myself apart from them. I have to have depth by speaking and helping others. I’m not saying that they don’t do that, but I have to use that to make myself stand out.
HTexas How has this experience changed your life?
CS: I am more in the public eye, so I have to be very conscious of what I am saying and doing. I got a letter from a young girl who told me I am her role model and she looks at everything I do. I cried. She said she watches me and I inspire her to be all she can be. It motivates me to do my best. When I am tired and don’t feel like going on, I look at the letter and read it again. I had a hard time gaining weight and I was so stressed and so busy that I actually lost more weight. I can’t do that because I am a role model.
HTexas As a young black woman, do you feel more pressure in pageantry?
CS: At first, I was blaming losing on being African-American. But really, I knew blaming it on my race was all in my head. I know it wasn’t really that way. But still, it made me want to work harder. I turned things around in my head to where being African- American made me stand out even more and that it would help me.
HTexas Is there any added pressure representing a state as proud as Texas?
CS: Definitely. Starting in 1990, I think, Miss Texas won the Miss USA pageant for five years straight. Usually, people are looking for Miss Texas when she arrives. [Texas has] the biggest [state] pageant, the biggest prizes, and great sponsors and support. But lately, we haven’t cracked the top-five. We’ve gone from winning to not getting to the top, so there’s more pressure. I’m not letting the pressure get to me. I’m using it to make me work harder. I’m a big woman with a lot of love. It’s all about how you handle it.
HTexas How can a regular person relate to Miss Texas?
CS: I’m a regular person. I make mistakes. I am not perfect and can talk about it. I have weight problems that are the opposite of many others. I can’t keep weight on and it’s a problem. If I mess up on something, I can laugh about it. I’m not some glamour girl who walks on stage and wins every pageant. It took me five years to win. I work hard just like everyone else in life.
See Crystle Stewart compete at the Miss USA Pageant live, April 11 on NBC (check local listings).