During her senior year of high school, Lianna Prill traveled a total of 16,000 miles around the country.
When she wasn’t studying for school or applying for college like her peers, Prill spent her weekends making appearances at pageants and speaking engagements as the reigning 2012 Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen. Now in her freshman year of college at the University of Nebraskan-Lincoln, Prill has already qualified to compete in the Miss Nebraska pageant in June 2014.
“I was one of those girls who admired Miss America, but I never wanted to get involved myself,” Prill, a double major in broadcast journalism and advertising and public relations, said. “I just didn’t think it was a possibility for me.”
Prill got her start in the pageant circuit during her junior year of high school at the suggestion of her parents after her mother was asked to judge a local pageant. Lianna Prill recalls it was her father, Scott Prill, who first encouraged her and her two sisters to enter in the final remaining preliminary pageant of the year.
“The girls were very enthused at the idea,” Scott said. “We’re not pageant parents at all, and they wanted to do it.”
Despite having just three weeks to prepare, Lianna Prill won her first pageant, qualifying her to compete in the Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen pageant. After winning the state competition, she advanced to compete at the national level. Prill said many of her competitors have more pageant experience, but the transition into the activity was an easy one.
“A lot of different experiences really prepared me for (pageants),” Lianna said. “A lot of people were really confused why I won right off the bat, but with dance experience and speech experience and even showing cattle growing up — that just morphed me into the person that I needed to be.”
Lianna Prill, 19, is now looking to continue her career with the Miss America Organization. In September, she won the title of Miss Crane Festival, making her eligible to compete in the Miss Nebraska pageant.
While Prill looks forward to the opportunity to showcase her singing talent and represent her state, she said she’s driven most by the opportunity to spread her platform of celiac disease awareness, a very personal cause.
For most of her childhood, Prill suffered from daily migraines and flu symptoms. After her father was diagnosed with celiac disease, Lianna decided to write a speech on the subject for her high school speech team. It wasn’t until she began researching the disease that she recognized the disease’s symptoms as her own.
Since her diagnosis, Prill has cut gluten and dairy out of her diet and is eager to spread the message of awareness.
“Now I’m a new woman,” Prill said. “All that stuff with being sick that I just wanted to forget about was actually part of a plan. I can’t wait to share that story and hopefully save some lives.”
In addition to school and pageant preparation, Prill also keeps busy working as an intern for National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, training restaurants and campuses across the country to go gluten free. Prill said that her pageant circuit is a starting point for many passionate and driven young women.
“Coming into it I thought that everyone was going to be stuck up and materialistic,” Lianna said. “I was really surprised. Everyone was very real. I think you find that in the Miss America system because it does have a talent portion, so that forces contestants to be a little more well-rounded.”
While Prill reports an overwhelming positive experience with pageants, she’s not oblivious to negative stigmas perpetuated by popular culture and shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras.
“That portrayal is very discouraging because being in the inside you don’t see that at all,” Prill said. “You see all the friendships you build, all the really awesome experiences that you get, and I feel like people don’t realize all the hard work and dedication that goes into pageants. You don’t have to just be a pretty face.”
The official areas of competition for the Miss America Organization are evening wear, talent, interview, onstage question, as well as lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit. The latter competition is one of Prill’s least favorites as she prepares for the Miss Nebraska pageant.
“I’m not a fan,” she said. “You just have to walk across the stage in swimwear, it’s probably thirty seconds at the most but it’s something I’m not comfortable with and I don’t feel like it’s as fitting. The Miss America Organization is the biggest scholarship provider for women in the world. And I just feel like that’s the oddball event, but it’s the price you pay for getting to do everything else that you love.”
The payoff for Prill comes during her favorite part of the pageant, the talent portion. Lianna Prill’s parents say that her singing ability sets her apart from other competitors.
“I try to be unbiased but I sit back there a lot of times in awe,” Scott Prill said. “When she sang at the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant in Orlando, they termed her ‘the Nebraska Adele.’”
Lianna Prill will be eligible to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska until the age of 24. While she dreams of introducing the state of Nebraska in the Miss America pageant, she’s also eager to see what other doors the pageant community may open up.
“Ideally, it would be awesome to win and I would love to before my time is up, but I also have to see what opportunities open up before I commit to competing every single year,” Lianna said. “You can’t plan everything.”