The spotlight does not faze Grace Rodi. In fact, she embraces it.
The thrill of being on stage to play the piano, speak or just act as an outrageous character has long excited the Darien native.
Being on stage was quite natural for Grace, who enjoys and excels at playing piano and loves being on stage in plays with the Crystal Theatre in Norwalk.
“Everyone tells me I’m pretty funny. It’s nice to bring it on stage and put it in action,” she said. “I love being on stage, hearing the applause and being up there.”
Her latest walk on stage came with some nice accessories: a tiara and a sash.
Grace accomplished a major goal in her life two weeks ago when she was crowned Miss Connecticut Junior Teen by National American Miss.
Naturally, the 14-year-old Darien native was pleased with the win, but it took a bit for the news to sink in once she was crowned.
“It was really, really cool,” Grace said. “I remember standing there. It was sort of a moment of shock. It was pretty crazy up there. I think when you’re standing there you don’t expect it. It’s a big surprise.”
The win in the state pageant qualified Grace to participate in the National American Miss pageant at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. on Thanksgiving week.
It appeared to be a moment she was prepared for, however. She became interested in pageants more than three years ago. While her mother Nicole was a little antsy about Grace wanting to be a pageant queen, Grace was excited for the chance.
“I’ve always liked being on stage. I play piano. I like sports, but it’s never been my strong point,” said Grace, who graduated from Middlesex Middle School in June. “I wanted to put my focus on something I could really excel at.”
Nicole Rodi admitted to being apprehensive about having Grace in pageants, thinking it was nothing more than “feathers and tiaras.” But as she’s seen Grace become more poised and educated, she’s come around and has enjoyed the process.
“We’re excited. We’ve worked hard for this,” said Nicole, who helps her daughter prepare for pageants.
And so she’s now part of the pageant life, working on how to speak quickly and clearly and perfecting her talent in playing the piano in addition to walking the walk.
Grace said she learned from her first pageant that there’s much more to pageantry than just being a pretty face.
“I first saw it as being on stage, walking around and that’s it, but there’s a lot more than that,” she said. “I’ve really kind of perfected my interviewing skills. It takes more than getting on stage and smiling.”
While the general public may instinctively think of over-primped and catty princess wannabes when they hear about pageants, Grace said she is friendly with her fellow contestants and most of them just want to improve their skills, learn and enjoy being in a pageant.
“I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that there are so many people who share” those ideas, she said. “I’ve met a lot of people who are good friends.”
Down the line, Grace says she would like to participate in the Miss America pageant and become a good example to others. As Grace sees it, a pageant winner should be “someone people can look up to.” They should also be a woman who can light up a room, a trait Grace likes to think she has.
Right now, however, her energies are focused on preparing for her best showing in the National American Miss competition.
“It would be absolutely crazy if I won,” she said. “It would be so great.”