Miss Iowa's Outstanding Teen Caitlin Crome, of Bettendorf, represented the State of Iowa last week during the Miss America's Outstanding Teen pageant in Orlando, Florida. 

The competition ended Saturday, July 27, with the crowning of Payton May, from the State of Washington. She will represent the nation as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen for 2020.

Caitlin, 17, the daughter of Jennifer Crome and Christopher Crome, won Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in June in her first attempt to compete in the nationwide competition.

“It was very surreal,” Caitlin said in an interview before last week's pageant. “I started in this organization just hoping to gain new skills and challenge myself. I didn’t expect this to happen.”

Caitlin credits her friend, Emma Kate Wichman, also of Bettendorf and Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen for 2011, for getting her to consider the pageant.

Caitlin and Emma Kate grew up dancing together and Caitlin is friends with Emma Kate’s younger sister, Ally.

“We’re close to her family, and Emma Kate and her mom said we should look at this,” Caitlin said.

Caitlin, an incoming Pleasant Valley High School senior, said they considered the program for about a year before she gave it a try.

“I’ve only done two local pageants,” she said. “In October, I got first runner-up in the Miss Eastern Iowa pageant, and then I did Miss Greater Des Moines in December and won.”

Then in her first try for Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen, she won.

Her mother Jennifer Crome said she was shocked when Caitlin won. “I think I fell to my knees. Those 13 girls that competed this year were very impressive. It was really impressive to see the talent and the drive all these girls had.”

Participants in the Miss America program not only grow up quickly, but also grow as a person just as fast, Caitlin's mom has learned. 

“I look at her and think, ‘Where did she come from?’” Crome said. “Here’s a kid who was scared to talk to adults and didn’t have her own self-confidence. I could not believe she was up there on stage.”

Caitlin admits “a year ago there is no way you’d get me into a room full of adults and talk to them about any question they wanted to ask. I would have 110% refused. I would have been terrified.”

Crome said that Caitlin was the fifth contestant called for the final round back in June. “There were a couple of girls with amazing talent that presented themselves well. They got all the way down to the Top Two, and Grace (Sampson, first runner-up) is a very strong and intelligent girl.”

But Crome said her daughter had a goal. “She not only wanted to win, but to become a better person that supports women and performs community service. I’ve seen the growth in Caitlin as she sits in a room and talks to them about confidence and how she interacts with adults.”

Caitlin said she has been dancing competitively since age 7. She played softball from about age 8 through her sophomore year. Now her sport is dance, and she hopes to become a member of the University of Iowa Dance Team. She wants to major in sports management and journalism.

In Orlando, Caitlin competed against 50 other girls.

Ahead of the pageant, she said the judges “want the person who will be the best representative of our country. They will want to see that person as talented, driven and passionate about something, and who stands for something.

“Every girl down there, we have no idea what to expect,” Caitlin said. “Nobody goes more than once. It will be 50 teenagers and we got to go through this experience together, and to say that I’m a part of it is amazing.”

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