Emma Pelett is an accomplished actress, businesswoman, world traveler and philanthropist- all by the age of 26. She is also Miss Oregon USA. Born and raised in Portland, Emma balances her time between business and pleasure and can always be found setting a goal and then working to achieve it.
Not only did Emma compete in the Miss USA pageant, but she also became an ambassador for the organization-which has opened many doors for her on behalf of the things she is deeply passionate about.
A woman of many talents, ambitions and skills, Emma shed some light on what it’s like to not only be Miss Oregon, but a driven and hard working woman as well.
What are some of your favorite things about Portland?
Wow! Where do I start? The Shakespeare Garden—only flowers and plants that Shakespeare wrote about are planted in the garden. Peninsula Park, the people who ride unicycles down Burnside, the gritty inner Eastside where I’ve spent most of my life, getting lost in Powell’s Books, the cherry blossoms in spring, and the food culture. I fall in love with my hometown everyday, because it is always growing, evolving and showing me something new. But everything I’ve said once came from the imagination of a member of the community and our community is what I love most.
Can you tell me a little about the company your family owns?
There are two parts of the family business. City Liquidators Furniture Warehouse, founded in 1977, which is like the Powell’s Books of furniture stores—we have everything. I’m the accessories and housewares buyer for the store. As a buyer I get to travel the world for the unique and unusual and bring it back to Portland to sell in the store.
The other part of the family business is Pelett Properties; we are owner operators of commercial and industrial flex real estate. I manage our buildings and head up tenant curation but my focus is on redeveloping some of our industrial Eastside holdings. I’ve always loved working in real estate because of the human component. The people are who make this industry great. Each of our tenants are creating or producing something that they believe makes the world a better place and that excites and invigorates me daily.
What sparked your interest in the Miss USA pageant?
It was one of my oldest childhood dreams. When I was little I watched Lynnae Benson, a close family friend, compete for Miss Washington. After she was crowned I thought “wow a real princess comes to our house for my birthday.” As I grew up the dream was always in the back of my mind. Every year my mom and I watched the Miss USA pageant. In 2008 something changed for me. I remember watching Candice Crawford, Miss Oklahoma USA, thinking she was so elegant and graceful and secretly hoped I too would one day walk that stage. The following year I signed up and competed in my first beauty pageant, Miss Oregon USA. In 2009 I placed as second runner up. Coming so close to achieving my dream of representing Oregon just fanned the flame. I wanted to be Miss Oregon, and I’m not one to give up on going after what my heart desires.
How did it feel to be Miss Oregon?
It is overwhelmingly amazing and surreal! It’s opened the doors for opportunities to work with so many passionate organizations, each dedicated to serving people with diverse needs. I’ve worked with The Union Gospel Mission, Girls Inc., Abby’s Closet, The Ronald McDonald House, The Bald Faced Truth, the Oregon Food Bank, Serendipity Center and Go Red this year. I’ve also travelled to NYC, Baton Rouge, China and the Bahamas as an ambassador of the Miss USA organization.
Describe the process for preparing for Miss USA.
When you throw down a big challenge for yourself, you have to be prepared for the growing pains that come with getting stronger. As I got closer to achieving my goal, the attention to every detail was amplified. Anyone who has ever chased and/or caught a dream, whether it be representing your state in in front of millions of people on live TV, playing in the World Cup, getting your degree, mastering an art, or summiting a mountain whose peak is often veiled by clouds knows of the hard work, time and dedication it takes in order prepare physically, emotionally and mentally. It was a process that could not have been achieved without the support of my family and friends, because while the weight of competing fell upon my shoulders, they each lightened the load with love and encouragement.
Prepping for the national competition is lots of hard work and it takes a big team. I worked out with my amazing trainer Chris at the Multnomah Athletic Club several times a week when I wasn’t hitting the gym solo. I took dance lessons because of the Miss USA opening dance number. I worked weekly with my interview coach Jeremy Monlux on how to effectively tell the judges who I am and what I’m about in the few minutes we have during the interview portion of the competition. I worked for hours on end with my beautiful friend and stylist Julie Morse to pick out two weeks worth of outfits for the competition. I traveled to New York to work with walking coach Lu Sierra to perfect my pageant walk and poses. I met with designers from all over the country to select a dress for the big day and went with Michael Costello. Michael designed a beautiful one of a kind beautiful hot pink gown for me.
What is the hardest part about competing in pageants?
Much like anything one sets out to win, the hardest part is not having things work out exactly the way you hoped for.
Describe your fashion style
Boho Chic when I play, and trendy casual at the office.
Who is/are your style icon(s)?
Blake Lively and Princess Kate Middleton are two of many.
What are some of your future goals?
To foster the community that is incubating on the inner Eastside by developing spaces that inspire creativity, to continue my philanthropic work, to keep travelling and have a family when the time is right.
Tell me a little about your experience with modeling and acting?
I began filming TV commercials for our family’s store City Liquidators when I was about six months old and have loved being in-front of the camera ever since. I’ve filmed over 100 commercials. I’m a commercial and print model represented by Option Model and Media.
What is the most rewarding thing about competing in Miss USA?
The transformation process prior to, during and after the experience rewarded me with a better understanding of myself, and the love that I am blessed to have in my life. While standing on stage, taking in each detail of the moment–the bright lights, the cameras at every angle, the celebrity judges and hosts, the amazingly talented production crew and so many faces in the crowd all looking at the 51 hopeful women whose lives were about to change one way or another, I kept smiling even when my name wasn’t called as a finalist. My dreams were dashed on international television with over 20 million viewers watching. I hadn’t achieved my goal, or what I considered success. I wasn’t “perfect” and then in the amount of time that felt like forever but was more like the blink of an eye, it was all over. I walked off stage to see some of my family and friends standing there, loving and supporting me despite my less than “perfect” performance. They had supported me throughout the road to Miss USA but most importantly in my time of need. To know that I have that kind of love in my life gives me the courage to keep dreaming, and to be given the gift exploring places that my imagination may take me is a reward that has to price tag.
How has your family inspired you in your career?
My dad has inspired my love for real estate. When I was little we would go on Sunday morning drives to see what was for sale and what might be a potential listing. He taught me that real estate is the silent partner of thousands of successful men.
My mom has encouraged my creative side and to pursue my modeling and acting endeavors. I work with my brother and sister too–working with my family has taught me that hard work always wins out, and a team with cohesive goals can accomplish anything.
What does it mean to you to be a woman?
Being a woman is much more than shaving my legs, putting on makeup and wearing a dress. My womanhood, much like myself, is in a constant state of evolution. Several things that seem to always ring true for me are intuition, perceptiveness and my ability to empathize.
What is the biggest misconception you believe people have about beauty pageants?
I get asked that a lot and I don’t ever know how to answer it. I say that because I try to be mindful in not generalizing people all together—in doing so, I may fall into the category of people that make misconceptions without having the opportunity to know them.
Tell me something most people would not know about you
On my last first date, I was given glass slipper that was a perfect fit by a man who works for a secret agency. Something less fantastical might be that I speak fluent French.
Did you go to college?
Yes. PSU—Told you RCTID! I have a BA in communications, and I minored in psychology.
What do you love most about what you do?
Creating and providing spaces for people to fulfill their dreams in.
How do you balance your work life with your personal life?
By surrounding myself with people who inspire me to love the way that I live. A wise woman once told me that when I truly love the way that I’m living, my heart would be filled with happiness and my life would sound of laughter. They are unmistakable and measurable characteristics of joy. And in finding joy, one finds balance.
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Cake – all kinds, I don’t discriminate, wine, sleeping in, traveling the world solo.
Did you always want to do beauty pageants?
I didn’t want to compete in beauty pageants and didn’t start until I was in college. I just wanted to have the opportunity to be Miss Oregon. The pageant was the path.
What is a piece of advice you would give to women who are considering entering a beauty pageant?
Take the time to get to know yourself before you compete. It really helped me to write in a journal every single day. It is a reminder that the person in the mirror is who you are at a moment in time, and like the perfect nature of all living things, we are forever changing as the seasons and growing in time. The work that goes into transforming yourself into the way you want to look, act and be perceived as should not take away from feeling like the brave woman you were when you set out upon a journey to be judged.
What has your proudest moment been?
Not giving up on a dream.
If you weren’t competing/ acting what would you ideally dream of doing?
Exactly what I am doing—Working with my family’s companies and building upon what my parents have taught me about business. We lived on the west side, and I went to school and worked on the east side. I witnessed the transformation of my hometown from a unique perspective on opposite sides of the Willamette. Because of our business, I have a lot of interest in topics like zoning, local politics and civil issues. I want to preserve the rich heritage of the city that I love at the same time while I want to watch it flourish as a global influence of medical research, education founded in sustainable foresight, a place where innovators and creators call home and people share ideas with the potential to affect change in real ways. Trailblazing is our DNA, and I hope that today’s pioneers will continue to progress the way people live in the world.
Do you have any regrets?
I don’t have regrets because I don’t have a time machine. My friend Steve has a DeLorean, but the flux capacitor isn’t working. I can’t change the past and don’t waste my time wishing I could. Time is something you have to take, make and spend doing things that fill you with happiness. Regrets don’t fall into the happiness realm, and like I said, I spend my time creating spaces. Just think of the costs of lost opportunities if I spent my time wishing I could go back and do things differently.
Have you ever considered relocating anywhere else?
I’ve lived in Cape Town, South Africa; Paris, France; and Seattle, Washington; but Portland will always feel like home to me. Every day I dream about losing myself in a state of perpetual travel… I’m not ready just yet, but when I do, follow my journey on Instagram @jetsetpelett to see where I might be in the great big world.
What are the best places you have travelled to?
Well I’m at 36 countries and counting. They’ve each added something valuable to the person I am and hope to become. I always say that I’m a different every time I return from a journey and in keeping with that mentality, they all are too magical to pick a favorite.
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your career?
My dad, Walt Pelett. He is a treasure of a human being. They don’t make them like him anymore. Working with him side-by-side has taught me everything I know about business.
Emma Wearing Local Designers
Photography by Levy Moroshan