One is a fourth generation Japanese American who is currently getting her PhD in Nutritional Science at the University of Washington.
The other is Korean, Japanese and Filipino American and leads an all-girl singing group MashUP.
Both are first runner-ups at the 2016 Miss Washington USA and Miss Washington Teen USA pageant. This is the state pageant qualifier to Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, which is part of the Miss Universe Organization and owned by WME | IMG. The pageant was held on October 17 and 18 at Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien with 34 contestants in the miss division and 27 in the teen division.
These ladies were judged in three categories that were evenly scored: evening gown, swimwear, and interview.
Kelsey Schmidt, 26, is a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center whose focus is to discover ways people can decrease their risk for chronic disease. She is currently researching the relationship of dairy consumption and metabolic health. Schmidt said, “One thing that is exciting about research is that every day is different and presents itself with its own set of learning opportunities.”
Schmidt, Miss Greater Bellevue USA, received the Miss Spirit Award, which was voted by the staff as a person who has a great attitude, is a team player, and is pleasant to be around. This is Schmidt’s third time competing in the USA pageant system and first time finishing in the top five. She said, “I have certainly grown from my experience and met some of the most incredible young woman.”
This is the Bellevue resident’s last year of eligibility. Contestants have to be under 27 years old to compete. However, Schmidt will be busy planning her upcoming wedding.
Stormy Keffeler, 23, is the new Miss Washington USA. Keffeler is the first former professional football player to win Miss Washington USA and will compete at Miss USA in 2016, which will air on FOX.
Keffeler said, “The first dream she could remember was being on stage at Miss USA.” The Sky Valley resident has been competing in pageants since she was six months old.
Keffeler played center and defensive end with the Seattle Mist for three seasons. Sports has always been part of Keffeler’s life. She played softball at Olympic College in Bremerton and varsity volleyball and basketball her freshman year of high school.
It’s no surprise that sports is one of Keffeler’s passions. According to Keffeler, “Sports provide children leadership skills, communication and discipline. As Miss Washington USA 2016, I’d like to get more kids from all income backgrounds involved in sports.”
Keffeler wants to break stereotypes and tell everyone that pageant gals come in all shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds. Keffeler is Native American, Spanish, German, Scottish, and Irish.
Keffeler also won Miss Photogenic voted by the public through online votes.
This is Keffeler’s third time competing for the job of Miss Washington USA. Her first year she made it into the semifinals, second year she was a non-finalist, and third year, she got the job.
Noelle Tapang, 16, is a junior and varsity cheerleader at Orting High School. Her ambition is to pursue a Doctorate in Pharmacology at Washington State University and travel the world. In addition, Noelle leads an all-girl harmonizing group, MashUP. Miss Orting Teen USA started the girl band after watching the film “Pitch Perfect.” Tapang said: “The positive message allowed me to see the potential within myself and inspire a few of my friends to go along with this idea. I am a believer in positive role models and empowerment because if you can see it, you can be it.”
Since the group formed a couple years ago, MashUP has opened for award-winning artist Lee Greenwood and Crystal Gayle and Hollywood Executive Producer Teddy Zee.
Furthermore, Tapang has fond memories of reading and enjoys being involved with Read Across America, an annual day that celebrates reading on March 2. Tapang said: “My Korean grandmother would often sing Korean melodies to me because she could not speak or read English, but I remember reading with my Lola (Filipino grandmother) and I never wanted the book to end. She unfortunately passed away when I was only six years old, yet I can still remember her voice, feel her comfort and see her.”
Although Tapang didn’t walk away with the crown this year, she learned a valuable life lesson. “Through this experience, I have learned to conquer my fear of failure,” she said. “There is no failure in pageantry because I have accumulated an arsenal of skills such as public speaking, leadership, self-confidence, a sacred heart for community service and a new awareness of my will power to achieve any goal I set for myself. Pageantry is not about the sparkly crown, it’s about pushing yourself to be the best version of you.”
Last year Tapang finished in the top five.
Claire Wright, 18, is the new Miss Washington Teen USA.
The bullying began for the honor roll student in elementary school, then again in middle school. Wright said: “Being bullied in middle school led me to pursue other activities and I participated in my first pageant where I gave a speech on being kind to others.” Through these activities, Wright was able to rebuild her self-esteem.
Today, the Fall City resident and Eastside Catholic High School student speaks at schools to promote kindness through Project Claire Bear. She informs students what bullying looks like and how bystanders and victims themselves can stand up to stop it.
Wright talks about Bully Bear, which has a heart stitched on the teddy bear. This reminds people to treat each other with love and respect.
Other Pan Asians to make the semifinals in the Miss division:
Aida Cardona, Miss Greater Puget Sound area
Geraldine “Gelly” Lirio, Miss Renton USA
Gen Saecho, Miss Greater Seattle USA
Jean Sun-Ahn, Miss North Seattle USA
Semifinalists in the Teen division:
Gurbani Gill, Miss Kent Teen USA
Loann Nguyen, Miss Kirkland Teen USA (Winner of Miss Congeniality and Academic Award)
Swarathmika Kakivaya, Miss Eastside Teen USA