With their heads held high and confidence glowing, three young women crossed the stage July 22 attempting to earn the crowns of Miss and Junior Miss Florida Seminole Princess. After a night full of talent, congeniality and intellectuality, the 2017-18 titles went to , respectively, during the 60th annual Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant at the Hollywood headquarters auditorium.
Kailani described her win as an emotional experience that made her feel ecstatic for the future.
“There is no emotion to describe how I feel right now,” the new Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Princess said with tears in her eyes. “All of this hard work finally paid off.”
Emcee Wovoka Tommie, who is the older brother of the 2016-17 Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Princess Thomlynn Billie, explained that earning the title is more than a label.
“Whoever comes out here has to take on responsibility. They have to be on call, and sometimes they’ll even have to miss family events and that’s just one of the sacrifices they may have to make,” he said. “But it builds them up for the future. They’re future leaders.”
Brighton resident Camryn Thomas, 17, also competed for Junior Miss Florida Seminole. Although she didn’t win the title, she won an award for Best Essay, as well as a trophy for first runner-up. She said it was a fun experience and plans to continue playing softball at Lake Placid High School and will apply to the University of Florida to become an agriculture teacher.
Randee, 18, and Kailani, 17, won their titles after acing three components of the pageant: Clothing, talent and Seminole-related impromptu questions.
For the clothing contest, both young women sported traditional dresses. Kailani’s aunt created her dress, made of vibrant colors and unique patterns. Randee represented traditional medicinal colors with her dress, wearing red, white, black and yellow.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into these garments. You may see them and think, ‘Wow. That’s nice,’ but there’s more to them than that,” Emcee Tommie said. “You’re not going to go into a department store and find hundreds of them, and that’s the pride that these women take into the garments.”
For her talent, Kailani demonstrated her sewing skills and explained how she put the garments together as her younger sister modeled a modern traditional dress Kailani made for her, comprised of three rows of patchwork and a sheer cape.
Randee sang the traditional traveling song otherwise known as the spider song, which originated during the Seminole Wars. She explained that during that time, the women would stay behind when the men went off to fight. U.S. Army soldiers invaded their camps while the men were away and attacked them, so the women learned how to travel to various camps to protect themselves. They developed this song along the way.
Following the talent portion of the pageant, the contestants reached into a basket and each drew a question related to the Tribe and its history, culture, politics and traditions. Randee explained why the Tribe is known as the unconquered Seminoles and Kailani defined what it means to be a federally-recognized tribe.
The ladies’ answers, combined with their talents, clothing and interviews from earlier in the competition, ultimately led them to success.
“I was so nervous throughout the whole pageant, but now I feel relaxed. Everything went so smoothly. It was such a great competition,” Randee explained. “I’ve wanted this for four years and I finally got it. It’s been a stressful week, but everything paid off.”
Hollywood Board Representative Gordon O. Wareham had nothing but kind words and congratulations for the former and new Seminole Princesses.
“Each woman plays a part in our tribe and touches our lives in a certain way. Over this year, I watched Kirsten [Doney] grow to what it means to be Miss Seminole. I got to see Thomlynn do the same thing,” he said. “To the contestants, this is your night, this is your experience. Take this in and remember what this night is.”
Kailani is most looking forward to visiting the various reservations, helping younger children — particularly with education — and attending the Florida State University homecoming game. While Randee is also excited about traveling, she is most excited about competing in Miss Indian World next spring.
Most of all, the girls emphasized their newfound confidence. They explained that the pageant committee and pageant coaches helped them break out of their shells and the pageant experience is just the beginning. The newly crowned princesses encouraged those who did not win or those who want to compete in the future to keep trying and maintain positivity and composure.
“Keep on going and have confidence,” Kailani encouraged. “Never stop believing in yourself.”
Randee agreed, saying, “It was a nice learning experience seeing all of us from our first day and seeing us come out of our shells.”
Miss and Junior Miss Seminole Princesses of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma joined the festivities. Miss Seminole Nation Melissa Sanchez, 19, and Junior Miss Seminole Nation Shelby Factor, 17, attended the pageant community dinner and the pageant. They explained that having a support system is fundamental to success. Kirsten and Thomlynn went to Oklahoma to see them crowned last fall, and now, they are doing the same to continue building relationships.
“It’s great to support everybody through anything,” Sanchez explained. “You can do anything so long as you put your mind to it, and if you have a good support system behind you, it’s just great to have someone there to back you up.”
Factor said that holding the titles of Miss and Junior Miss Seminole Princesses are an honor that should be respected and appreciated.
“Being a Seminole Princess is staying involved with the tribe,” she said. “It’s important to carry on traditions and give girls a role model to look up to.”
Winning these titles is just another chapter in Randee and Kailani’s books, as they both plan to pursue higher education. Randee, who just graduated from Immokalee high school, plans to attend Barry University in the fall to study psychology and criminology. When Kailani graduates next year, she plans to leave Miami and attend the University of Hawaii to study fashion design.
The event ended with farewells from the outgoing princesses, Kirsten and Thomlynn. After watching recap videos for each young woman’s past year as tribal royalty, the two gave their final adieus and left inspiring and emotional words for their successors.
“It feels as if I was crowned just yesterday and this was an amazing opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone,” Kirsten said. “Carrying this title becomes a reflection of the young woman who holds it. What the job entails is determined on how high she is willing to let herself soar as an ambassador.”
After thanking her ‘mama’ for helping her stay fabulous and announcing she will return next year as a candidate for Miss Seminole Princess, Thomlynn joined in on the best regards, saying to the winners, “Go to as many places as possible. Go to show everyone that we are here, we are still standing and we are still growing.”