Erica Collins from Cherry Hill, New Jersey was crowned Miss Plus America on Saturday July 31, 2004 in Monroe Louisiana. Miss Plus America is a fairly new competition and an exciting advance to beauty competitions. Why? Because most beauty pageants don't represent the majority of women, those being over size 12. We need to appreciate women in all their shapes and sizes but I think we have some making up to do with our large and lovelies. Miss Plus America is a good start.
Miss Collins took time out of her already busy schedule to answer a few questions. Please be sure to congratulate her on her win.
Moe: So, you're Miss Plus America. How does it feel? Has some of the excitement worn off?
Erica Collins: I feel fantastic. Winning the title of Miss Plus America was such a confirmation of the path I’ve chosen and the work that I’ve done. I understand that a beauty title means there is much work ahead, and I am still excited about promoting and leading the crusade for Plus Size Women.
Moe: The ceremonies were in Monroe, Louisiana. Were you able to do any site-seeing?
Erica Collins: Actually, I wasn’t able to site see because I was in optional competitions, therefore, my down time was spent preparing or resting. I am looking forward to going back next year to New Orleans.
Moe: Anything about Monroe stick out in your mind?
Erica Collins: The most interesting experience was the slow moving train across the main highway. In the north, trains move pretty quickly and lights flash with caution signs etc. In Monroe, the train calmly passes through town.
Moe: How many days were you there?
Erica Collins: 4 days with very little sleep, I got on the plane in Newark, NJ at 6:00am Thursday morning and arrived in Monroe, Louisiana at about 11am. Upon returning, I wore my crown on the way home from Monroe, Louisiana to NY but the flights took 16 hours to get home due to mechanical problems and a disgruntled passenger.
Moe: You wore your crown home?! Did it start lots of dialogue between you and passengers?
Erica Collins: Yes, many young girls were in awe and asked several questions wanting to be a beauty Queen. I woman yelled "It's about time!" in reference to being Miss Plus America
Moe: There are 4 categories you were required to compete in: Interview, Photogenic, Sportwear, and Evening Gown. Which was your favorite and why?
Erica Collins: Believe it or not, I enjoyed the Interview because it was challenging. It gave me the chance to express myself and to highlight my platform.
Moe: How did you prepare yourself for each event?
Erica Collins: Well, I have been modeling for over 10 years and performing since I was a child therefore, I am very comfortable on stage. So aside from shopping, I meditated and recited various Maya Angelou poems to myself. I did give a little more preparation for the "optionals" competition the day before the overall competition such as writing a commercial script and rehearsing a modeling routine.
Moe: Which event did you find the most difficult? Why?
Erica Collins: Honestly, I felt very comfortable in all the competitions. I guess the difficult part is holding a smile. I am from the North East/NY (joke).
Moe: How did you get into acting and modeling?
Erica Collins: I was discovered for Plus Size Modeling while in college at the George Washington University in D.C. The choreographer of the audition for our school fashion show stopped rehearsal and said, “I want everyone to watch Erica. She is the only Diva in here who knows how to walk”. At the time, I was the only plus size girl as well.
As for acting, I have been acting since elementary school and minored in college, but I didn’t become serious about it until 2 years ago. I received some training in NYC and applied to agencies. I have about 4-5 agents for both modeling and acting. This year, I was a featured extra on the set for “Stepford Wives” with Nicole Kidman.
Moe: Did you finish school?
Erica Collins: Yes, I have a BA in Sociology Minor in Theater/Dance and Concentration in Radio/TV from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Also, I have a certification in Multimedia Technologies from New York University.
Moe: How important is schooling to where you are right now?
Erica Collins: School is always important. I believe that we should think of ourselves as students for life. We should always expand our knowledge and upgrade our skills to keep up with the changing economy. I have plans to attend graduate school in the future.
Moe: What would you like to say to a young woman who is considering dropping out to devote her time to modeling?
Erica Collins: Modeling is a business, therefore you need an education. Also, I would share a story of a friend of mind who suffered a back injury and can no longer model. Education and having a plan B is the key to success in any field.
Moe: You're also an entrepreneur? What made you decide to become self employed? Any regrets?
Erica Collins: I took a good look at myself in the mirror after the dot com boom and dot com bust, 9-11 and the struggling economy. I felt that God had blessed me with many gifts, opportunities and experiences. Now it was time to teach others and share these gifts. I don’t have any regrets; I believe everything happens for a reason.
Moe: You've been a busy woman. You're an author? Tell us about your book and why you felt you had to write it?
Erica Collins: My first book is entitled, the “Plus Size Model’s Little Instruction Book Volume I. “Getting Started” The reason for the book stemmed from several people inquiring about ‘how to become a plus size model’ So, I decided to create an interactive book, and to give seminars/classes centered around the book. Many women have remarked that the affirmations have simply helped them in other professions as well.
Moe: Where is your book available?
Erica Collins: At present, it is available online. In the future, it should be available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Moe: Are there other books like this on the market? If so, why is your book better?
Erica Collins: Yes, there are several books for modeling and some for plus size modeling. My book is an interactive guide, a personal journal, an expense report with positive affirmations for your journey in becoming a plus size model.
Moe: One of your platforms as Miss Plus America is The Women's Alliance: A Bridge to Opportunity and Independence. Tell us about it. What is it and why you chose it?
Erica Collins: The Women's Alliance is a national organization of independent community-based members who provide professional attire, career skills training and related services to low-income women seeking employment. I choose this platform due to the effects of 9-11 and the economy. There is a great need to support women in entering and re-entering the workforce.
Moe: Your other platform is the WHO Foundation: Women Helping Others? Tell us about that one and why it's important to you?
Erica Collins: WHO compliments the Women’s Alliance. I believe that women are the backbone of the family. Healthy and successful mothers raise healthy and successful children. Women Helping Others' mission is to support grass-roots charities serving the overlooked needs of women and children throughout the nation. To that end, the WHO Foundation encourages women everywhere to help at the grass-roots level in their own communities.
Moe: Your title as Miss Plus America lasts for one year. What are some of your other responsibilities and how much time will you have to devote to them?
Erica Collins: As we speak my calendar is getting booked up, my main duty as Miss Plus America is to serve my title and platforms. I will be speaking with several businesses and groups to encourage their support for the Women’s Alliance and WHO Foundation. Also, I will be conducting free seminars to low-income women re-entering the workforce. I will participate in encouraging our youth, parades, and pageants and possibly attend the Miss America Pageant. Some individuals and stores have requested that I do book signings as well.
Moe: What are your plans for the future?
Erica Collins: Well right now, I am freelancing at HBO in NYC; reorganizing E.C. and Associates, L.L.C., auditioning for commercials/films and modeling. Aside from this, I will be traveling and speaking for my title as Miss Plus America.
Moe: What words of advice would you like to give to the young women out there interested in modeling or acting?
Erica Collins: Educate yourself on the industries. Look out for scams. Do not get discouraged, your time will come.
Moe: We hear a lot about agencies out there preying on young inexperienced girls with a desire to be models. Any advice on finding a legitimate agency to work with?
Erica Collins: It is best to check with the BBB Better Business Bureau. You can also ask to speak with other models that may have been affiliated with the company or group. Also, try to get a critique of your look. You may want to do local shows and start-up projects, if you are just starting out or if you have hit a dry spell in your career. Some may charge a small fee but you may meet designers, choreographers, filmmakers doing big projects.
Moe: Do you think competitions like MPA draw attention to us instead of blending us into society with everyone else?
Erica Collins: I don’t think plus size women blend into society. I think the entertainment and fashion industries ignore us. With the new statistics showing that 70-80% of American women are a size 12 or more. We can no longer be ignored. It also presents the question “Who does Miss America represent, the majority or the minority?”
Moe: Who were your role models growing up? How about now that you're older?
Erica Collins: Oprah Winfrey and my mother. Oprah was the first image of a positive, powerful and intelligent plus size black woman with such grace and poise. I’m still waiting to meet her. I did meet Stedman while in college at a Maya Angelou play. That’s the closest I’ve been thus far. (smile)
Moe: Any closing thoughts or comments to share with Bella's Large & Lovely readers?
Erica Collins: Take a negative and turn it into a positive by simply flipping the script. Don’t give up on your dreams and passions. To learn more about plus size modeling go to www.ECandAssociates.com.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We appreciate getting to know you better. All the best to you this coming year as Miss Plus America.
Interviewed byM. E. Wood
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