As Miss Louisiana 2015, April Nelson put quite a few miles on the loaner Ford Mustang that was one of the perks of pageant royalty. When Nelson places her crown on the head of the 2016 Miss Louisiana on Saturday night in Monroe, the Mustang may be gone, but not the long-distance driving.
On Sunday morning, Nelson will hit the road from La. to L.A.
“My mom and I are road-tripping out there,” Nelson said. “I’ll be performing — auditioning, at least — and being starving and poor. But I’ve always wanted to do that. Since I was young, I always wanted to perform for a living.”
Nelson, 24, spent most of her childhood in Mandeville, graduating from Fontainebleau High School in 2010 and Oklahoma City University in 2014, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in musical theater, which she also studied earlier at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
“This whole year, it’s like a massive internship for pretty much any job in the performance realm that I can think of,” she said. “The skills that I picked up this year will transfer into a lot of other jobs that can help me manage while I pursue that career.”
Nelson was third runner-up at the 2015 Miss America Pageant, the first Louisiana contestant to place so high since Katherine Putnam in 2009.
The blonde lyric soprano won the preliminary talent competition singing “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” She said that song was special to one of the children she befriended in her visits to the five Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in Louisiana (including Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge) as part of her Miss Louisiana responsibilities.
“He was excited that I was singing it, so it all fell together,” she said.
Nelson’s message as she toured the state emphasized volunteering, something she said her parents stressed when she was a child.
“I have been able to speak to kids all over the state about how the benefits of volunteering are exponentially greater for you than they are for the people you’re serving,” she said. “Obviously, you’re doing a good deed, but, at the end of the day, it has amazing health effects. It can combat depression. It can increase longevity. It can provide you a sense of community, a sense of purpose. You can discover your own talents and skills from volunteering.”
While Nelson enjoyed the opportunities to sing, including many national anthems at sporting events, the visits to children’s hospitals only reaffirmed the message she shared about volunteering.
“There are times in this year where it gets hard. It’s kind of a lonely job, and you’re traveling a lot,” she said. “I live out of my car, basically. My family lives in Michigan, now, so it can be really lonely. I found that the CMN hospitals … what I take when I’ve been there, where the kids are so excited and happy. You see them and think, ‘How in the world could you possibly be happy right now?’ … They’re in serious pain, but they’re completely positive. That’s where you step back and say, ‘I’ve got to reassess how I’m feeling today about my life and realize how extraordinarily blessed I am.’”