Six months of perfecting her interviewing skills and polishing her comedy routine will be put to the test this week when Alexis Wineman, 18, steps before the judges in her quest to become the first Miss America with autism.
The reigning Miss Montana, Wineman arrived in Las Vegas last week for the Miss America pageant with her parents and two sisters — one of them her twin — after a two-and-a-half-day drive from her hometown of Cut Bank, Mont. A week of interviews and competitions kicked off Monday ahead of the televised pageant Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
Wineman, who is one of the pageant’s 53 contestants, is hoping to be among 14 finalists on the telecast. In addition to wowing the judges, she’s also seeking public support in her bid to win the competition. One finalist will automatically be selected through an online vote going on now through Jan. 10.
“She so doesn’t want to let anybody down, and she so wants to make everybody proud,” said Wineman’s mother, Kimberley Butterworth, 50. “Her biggest thing is she wants to come home with no regrets.”
Diagnosed with autism at age 11, Wineman worked throughout high school to overcome challenges associated with the developmental disorder by joining the cheerleading squad, participating in theater and using coping skills like listening to music on her iPod.
In June, Wineman was crowned Miss Montana and she’s spent the last six months traveling the state to speak to some 6,000 students about her message of autism awareness. She’s also been busy learning to walk in heels and practicing Pilates to fit into her bikini for the swimsuit competition.
After making it to Las Vegas this month for the national pageant, Wineman was unavailable for an interview, but her mom said that the opportunity to share her platform — “Normal is Just a Dryer Setting‚ Living with Autism” — has been the most meaningful part of her experience as a beauty queen.
“The response she has received is just amazing. People seem to gravitate to her,” said Butterworth who indicated that her daughter now loves public appearances and plans to continue sharing her platform for years to come whether or not she’s crowned Miss America.
“I can remember her senior year in high school she said to me, ‘I don’t know what my purpose is,'” Butterworth said. “A few months after doing this, I asked her, ‘Do you think you’ve gotten your purpose?’ She said, ‘Yes I have.'”