Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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From the heart

The chance to serve others as Miss America draws Haleiwa's Jalee Fuselier to compete

By Steven Mark


Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier has all the characteristics of a pageant winner: a friendly personality, involvement in community service, a bright smile. But pageant competition wasn't something she envisioned for herself.

Cast your vote

Vote for Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier's video at
"My mom always told me I would never be in pageants because I always pursued a lot of musical theater and other fun things," said the 22-year-old international relations student at Hawaii Pacific University. "I didn't think about pageants until I was 17, and I entered Miss Hawaii's Outstanding Teen to get scholarships. ... It was my first pageant -- and I won."

Fuselier, who will be leaving Sunday for Las Vegas in hopes of becoming the third Miss Hawaii to be crowned Miss America, "spent that whole year doing service, tons of service, and loved it."

So while it took another four years for her to enter the Miss Hawaii pageant, she didn't skimp on her commitment to community service. The Haleiwa resident spent a summer on a church-sponsored trip building housing for orphans in Uganda. "We had to walk a mile to get water, ate termites, all kinds of good stuff," said Fuselier, a Louisiana native of Cajun ancestry (she says to pronounce her name as "fuchsia lei").

She also founded her own scholarship organization, Ready for the Real World, to benefit students who are active in community service. "I feel like it's something I'm able to give. We each have to find something we love and run with it," she said.

Fuselier draws inspiration from her family. Her sister has led a successful, independent life despite having cerebral palsy, and her father returned to college at age 40 to get a degree in pharmacy. Fuselier's mother is a cancer survivor.

"We had to go through a lot of Salvation Army Christmases and pancakes every night for dinner because it was the cheapest thing. So it wasn't always easy in our family, but I've seen how that hard work ... has paid off," she said.

Fuselier was first runner-up in the 2009 Miss Hawaii pageant, the only other pageant she entered before winning the title this year. Her record in pageants might indicate a natural affinity for pageantry, but Fuselier said there's a lot of work involved.

"I think the hardest thing is the preparation up until the point of the competition," she said. "You're hearing opinions, but you have to remember what's really right for you ... like prepping for the interview. Different people have different opinions on what to say, but you have to say what's coming from your heart."

The Miss America Pageant, which will be broadcast Jan. 15 on ABC, began in 1921. Other than the onstage interview, the contestants are judged in talent, swimsuit and evening gown categories. Fuselier will sing "Feeling Good" for the talent segment and wear an evening gown made by her grandmother.

Two Miss Hawaiis have been named Miss America previously, and both gained some notoriety afterward. Angela Baraquio, Miss America in 2001, emerged as a spokeswoman for Republican candidates and an anti-abortion advocate. Carolyn Sapp, the 1992 winner, later spoke out against domestic violence, with her own story of abuse being turned into a TV movie, and Walmart's treatment of female employees.

If selected Miss America, Fuselier said she will promote the Children's Miracle Network as her special cause. She plans to pursue graduate studies at HPU and a career in counseling, but isn't ruling out a more public presence.

"Anything's possible," she said.

She already has a bit of a ham actress in her, by the looks of a video in which she does a playful parody of "I Want to Be a Billionaire" while wearing a plastic grass skirt and playing the ukulele. Viewers who vote for the video, at, could help her in her quest to become Miss America. As many as four of the 15 finalists could be selected by the vote.

"They didn't even tell us what it was for," she said of the video.

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