When Jacqueline Oraedu started doing pageants, she was 33 years old. She had limited pageantry experience, which included watching Miss America and Miss USA, and doing some local fashion shows when she was younger. She thought there was a long list of requirements for entering a pageant and so when she applied to compete, she did so on a whim, thinking they wouldn’t accept her.
She went on to win Ms. Woman Wisconsin United States 2017.
After the excitement of her first win, she went on to place 16th in the national competition.
“I didn’t know what I was doing or getting into,” she tells Madison365. “A lot of people who participate in pageants start when they’re young. I started when I was 33.”
Since her win in 2017, Oraedu has continued competing in non-traditional pageants, and was crowned the International Miss Wisconsin 2019 title in October 2018. When Oraedu was first getting into pageantry, she felt out of place because of her background and personality.
“I’m from Milwaukee, the hood,” she said. “I’m goofy and I wanted to be myself, so I didn’t fit into the pageant stereotype. I felt myself not knowing which way to go. When you find out other people have been doing this for years, you start questioning yourself.”
One way Oraedu was able to find herself was by highlighting the service she was doing at the time. Oraedu is involved in the Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals and acts as their communications co-chair. The Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals engages with young professionals who are part of the National Urban League movement toward achieving social and economic equality.
By highlighting her service, she was able to prepare and bring more representation to pageantry.
“I got involved because I hadn’t seen anyone who looked like me in pageantry or had my background, especially someone from Wisconsin,” she said.
Oraedu had her first child when she was a 17, went on to nursing school at Cardinal Stritch University, where she got her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees from. She then went to Marquette University to get her master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies. She is currently getting her doctorate degree in Medical Science online at A.T. Still University.
By the time she started competing, she had three children, and had gotten married and divorced. Oraedu wanted her background to be an inspiration for people who may not have fit the “ideal” stereotype of what a pageant person looked like.
“I want to be a representative of someone who is not from the ‘ideal,’ you can live some life and still be a positive role model,” she said. “I want to encourage and empower women, and let them know that you can be a mom, a divorcee, you can have a career, can serve your community and still have a story to tell through pageantry.”
Oraedu has been able to be a representative by participating in non-traditional pageants. She had aged out of pageants like Miss USA and Miss America, and found alternative pageants through her growing list of networks. Through those networks, Oraedu was exposed to pageant organizations that catered to women of all walks of life and didn’t limit requirements to certain attributes like Miss America or Miss USA did.
“Miss USA and Miss America are great pageants, but they’re not for everyone, which is okay,” she says. “I do believe, though, that I have a lot more to offer at 36 than I did at 28 and when you think about impacting lives of young women you need to have some experience. When we limit people to boxes and criteria, especially when you look at the images of these young and beautiful women, they just don’t look like the rest of society.”
With non-traditional pageants, Oraedu finds that there is space for anyone to participate and compete, especially ones that can align with personal goals and community engagement. For her, they gave her an opportunity to introduce pageantry to her community in an authentic way.
“People are always watching you even when you think they aren’t,” she said. “You gain so much by providing service and it can be a gift. People didn’t know or think about the different pageants that existed and know when they see me, they ask a lot of questions about it. I want all the little girls to believe they can do a pageant. You’re never too old, don’t limit yourself.”
Oraedu found a lot of support for her pageant journey in the form of donations. In turn, she took sponsorships from local store owners to help their business.
“A lot of people wanted to see me do well and I didn’t think that would be the case,” she said.
As for what’s next, while that may currently be unknown, Oraedu simply says she plans to “stay fly till she die.”