Clark County teens have dominated the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition over the past few years.
Vancouver native Payton May won the national Outstanding Teen competition — the Miss America pageant for teens age 18 and younger — in 2019, and Camas teen Morgan Greco nabbed the national title earlier this year.
Now, a Washougal teen is hoping she might follow in their footsteps.
Washougal High School junior Tia Williams will represent Clark County in the Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen competition after being crowned Miss Clark County’s Outstanding Teen on Nov. 13.
Washougal voice coach Diana Larson approached Williams about entering the 2023 Miss Clark County’s Outstanding Teen competition earlier this year, but said the Washougal teen wasn’t immediately sold on the idea.
“It was an internal struggle for her, I would say,” said Larson, Williams’ voice coach. “There were heated discussions. I can remember her saying, ‘I don’t really know if I should do this.’”
Williams’ doubts eventually subsided.
onNov. 13, she competed with other local teens at the Ridgefield Performing Arts Center, and walked away with the Miss Clark County’s Outstanding Teen title, a $1,500 scholarship, $2,000 in prizes and a chance to compete on the state — and possibly national — level for even more scholarship money.
“I was definitely just very shocked because I have never done any sort of pageant or anything with the Miss America organization before and many other girls had been with it for a while,” Williams said. “I was very grateful as well because it’s a big honor.”
The ceremony, which also crowned Vanessa Munson (Battle Ground) as Miss Clark County, Kayla Sousa (Vancouver) as Miss Greater Vancouver, and Maddie Wallingford (Vancouver) as Miss Greater Vancouver’s Outstanding Teen, is put on by the Miss Clark County Scholarship Organization , a nonprofit that raises money for scholarships and other prizes, and serves as is a preliminary competition for the Miss Washington, Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen, Miss America, and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen events.
Williams will represent Clark County at the Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen competition in 2023.
“That will definitely be much bigger. It’s a little scary, but I’m excited to do it,” she said.
Williams was “an amazing success,” said Sheri Backous, the executive director of the Miss Clark County Scholarship Organization.
“She came to the organization with a genuine personality and gift of being a beautiful vocalist,” Backous said.
Judges gave points to the candidates based on five categories — private interview, lifestyle and wellness (fitness), talent, evening gown and on-stage question.
Williams modeled a red sequined dress, selected specifically for her by Backous; and sang Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.” During the interview portion of the competition, Williams discussed her community volunteer work, experience with Larson’s Soundstage after-school performing arts club in Washougal, her weight training class and her interest in cooking.
Williams said her favorite part of the competition was the talent portion.
“I love to sing; probably the main reason I (entered the competition) is because it was another chance to perform and sing,” Williams said. “I had other songs in mind, and it turned out that another girl was doing my original choice, and I was happy to let her have the song. So then I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’”
When “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” popped into her head one day during a walk, Williams realized she had her competition song.
“I figured it’s fun, something to engage with the audience,” she said.
Larson said Williams “just nailed it in every category.”
“I was blown away,” Larson said.
“(Williams) is humble, talented, cares about other people and is an incredible role model,” Larson added. “I really enjoy working with her. There are only a certain number of kids that I would work with on this kind of thing, and I just knew that she would be the kind of person (that would succeed).”
Larson convinced Williams to enter the competition earlier this year, believing her student’s talents and personality would shine bright in a pageant-style competition.
“I didn’t even know about it until a few months before, when Diana told me about it,” Williams said.
Though she was initially skeptical, Williams said she eventually came around to the idea of competing in the Outstanding Teen event after realizing she had “created a bubble” around herself during the COVID-19 pandemic, and was ready for a new challenge – even if the idea was, at first, “pretty scary.”
Williams said she told herself: “This is scary, but you got it. It’s a new challenge. Just go do it and it’ll be great no matter what.”
Williams has been taking voice lessons from Larson since 2018.
“Her growth has been phenomenal,” Larson said of the Washougal teen. “Her voice has got this really warm, rich, beautiful sound to it. Her vocal ability (has really improved). People can sing and (listeners) can say, ‘Oh, that’s a pretty voice.’ But with Tia, it’s like you’re getting a beautiful voice and an experience. She takes you on a little trip, a little journey, when she sings.”
Even more importantly, Larson said, Williams has a palpable stage presence
“She’s confident. I think (she used to have) lots of doubts in herself, and I’ve watched her overcome any fear, even singing in front of an audience. That doubt is gone. She knows what she’s doing,” Larson said.
“I have improved because I think I used to sing a little nasally before I met Diana, and she got rid of that, helped me fix that,” Williams said. “And she’s helped me a lot with my confidence. When I first met her, I was really scared to do a lot of things, and she has kind of broken me out of my shell, in a manner of speaking.”
Williams said she has loved singing since she was a little girl.
“My dad sang around the house all the time, and since that’s what I always saw him doing, I started to do it,” she said. “And then as I got a little older, I did youth theater, and I really enjoyed doing that. (My interest) kind of grew as I got older, and then in seventh grade, I joined Soundstage, which is where I met Diana. I eventually started taking lessons, and it’s just grown from there.”
Williams, the vice president of the Washougal High School choir club, has sung “The Star Spangled Banner” at several local events, including the Clark County Fair. She also has performed at The Grotto in Portland; and, earlier in 2022, recorded a “virtual concert” of popular Disney songs for children in Portland’s Ronald McDonald House.
Though her future plans are still “up in the air,” Williams said she may gravitate toward a career that can combine her love of singing with her faith.
“Something that has always sounded interesting to me is to be music worship leader at a church because I love to sing in my youth group’s band,” Williams said.