Monica Day, Miss Ohio USA 2008 - Present Tense

We almost missed our interview with Miss Ohio USA 2008 when we couldn’t spot our cover girl in the lounge at Latitude 41. Having seen her earlier in the day as the traffic and entertainment reporter for WCMH Channel 4, she caught us off-guard by sitting incognito in a newsboy hat and sipping on hot tea. A quick hit on her phone called out the confusion. The interview began there and was as relaxing as the chamomile Day was enjoying.

A native of Palm Beach, Florida, Day visited the Buckeye State often in her younger days, but didn’t officially call Columbus home until she was in junior high. Now the 25-year-old, who was crowned Miss Ohio USA in December, will take a Las Vegas stage in April to compete for the crown. But, in between her personal appearances, daily gym visits, pageant preparations, opening a restaurant with her grandfather and, oh yeah, trying to get some sleep, Day joined us for our annual Miss Ohio USA cover and filled us in on what it’s like to start your day at 3:30 a.m.


What was the first thing that went through your mind when they announced you were Miss Ohio USA 2008?

Really, it was a blur. It’s a shock when you are standing up there. I had been in the Top 15 before and I’ve never been the type of person who gets very nervous. This time I was standing on stage and I had the same feeling. Not worried. Not nervous. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, I’ll go to work on Monday. Once I was in the Top 5, they either like you or they don’t. They kept calling people out and I was like, “Oh, I may actually win this thing.”


It’s been awhile since someone from Greater Columbus has won the title. What do you think you brought this year that was different?

It’s nice to be able to win, especially for the Capital. I’ve gone to school here, worked here, and I’m an Ohio State fan, you know. Those are the main things that changed for me. Right now, I’m really focused on being healthy. There have been years in the past where I’ve decided I wanted to lose weight for the pageant and tried to crash diet or tried one of those Hollywood diets, and it doesn’t work. Even losing weight in the past, I wasn’t really fit. This year I was focused on really giving it everything I had, being fit and making sure I had that aesthetic. As far as personality or onstage presence, I’m sure being a reporter and being on television constantly has helped me a lot. There is nothing consciously I’ve changed.


You were Miss Teen Columbus as well, but what made you get involved in pageants in the first place?

When I was two or three, my grandmother put me in the Sunburst Pageant when we lived in Florida. It’s pageant world down there. My mom is not a pageant person. She likes them, but she’s not a stage mom. My grandma likes the pageants a lot. She likes all the glitz and rhinestones and so I made it to the National level and my grandmother couldn’t be there so my mom had to take me. They were interviewing me and I was like two years old. My mom was like, “we’re not doing this anymore.” I didn’t do another pageant until high school. I had always done theater; my mom always pushed me in that direction as opposed to modeling. She didn’t want me to be that conscious of how I looked, especially at a young age or feel forced into that. My grandparents were the same way. They wanted me to focus on things I could control. So I got really tan one summer and I was at a car show and the Hawaiian Tropic pageant people came up and asked me if I wanted to be in their teen pageant. They had spokes-models for their Just for Kids line. So I entered that, won, and from there another pageant director saw me and asked me if I wanted to be in the Cinderella Scholarship pageant. I tried that and went on to Teen USA. This was all in the matter of a year. No experience. I had no idea what I was doing. I got a “pageant coach” and was Top 5 at Miss Teen Ohio, and at 17 entered into the Miss America program for two years.


With major networks not carrying some of the other pageants, do you think public interest is lacking?

Obviously, Miss USA and Miss Universe are two of the top rated shows when they are on NBC and they bring ratings. In different countries, they have bigger ratings than they do here. Miss USA has a pretty solid foundation on network. Obviously Miss America has hit some bumps and they tried a different route. It’s a tough situation because for so long they were the pageant that was every little girl’s dream. Miss USA was too, but it was always Miss America you heard first. There came a point where Miss USA and Donald Trump taking it over, surpassed Miss America. Now it seems like they are changing and trying to evolve. At the same time, I hope they don’t lose what once made them great to make themselves something else. A lot of time in businesses you lose your brand and you are lost. You made so many changes and it’s over. Luckily, Miss USA is ok.


Are there any particular organizations you want to support during your reign?

I’ve made a lot of appearances already as Miss Ohio and for the station, so it’s tough sometimes to say who I’m making appearances for. I hope to continue working with organizations I’ve worked for in the past, like Goodwill of Columbus. I’ve done a lot of events for them, recently the Career Closet, which provides clothing for women who are starting out again. I think that’s a great cause, because these women are going to interviews and want something nice to feel better. There is also Fairy Good Mothers. Charles Penzone teamed up with these folks and for my send-off party, I’m teaming up with them. They provide prom dresses for girls who can’t necessarily afford a prom dress. Worthington Square Mall will open its doors two weekends in April to donate prom dresses and pageant dresses. There are dresses you buy for things that you will never wear again. I think that is a great thing you can do. You can drop them off at Charles Penzone Salons too. Every girl should be able to go to prom. I’m also meeting with the James Cancer Foundation to talk about volunteering there.


Are you planning on taking a hiatus from the station while you are Miss Ohio USA?

Just for the two and a half weeks I’ll be in Las Vegas for the pageant and, if I win, I’ll take a longer hiatus. I’m burning up all my vacation days to go.


How long have you lived in Columbus?

Sixteen years. I went to Whitehall and graduated from Whitehall. I think I was 9 when I moved here.


One of the locations for your cover shoot is The Top Steakhouse, which we hear was also the location of your first job. Tell us about that.

My grandfather is Bill Sapp, and he and his partner Lee Henry opened The Top and had the Kahiki and The Wine Cellar. He’s also just opened Bexley Bistro across from The Top, so I’ve also been opening a restaurant. They wanted to get out of the restaurant business and now they are back in. My grandfather is in there and helping. It’s a mix of Italian, American and French cuisine. It’s actually everything he likes. They should just call it Bill Sapp’s favorite food. It’s everything that he’s ever wanted in a restaurant. There are a few things from his old places. Anyway, I was a coat check girl at The Top at 10 years old. I used to make $150 a night. It’s also where I first started playing the piano and singing. I learned how to play there and used to get up and sing.


How are you juggling your responsibilities at Channel 4 and as Miss Ohio USA?

I wake up at 3:30 a.m., I go in at 4:30 a.m., and we’re on air at 5. I get off between 9 and 10 because we do the cut-ins. At night, I do 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. I also do the Blitz’s morning show on Thursdays, so I go in and hang out. I was just looking at my schedule the other day and it’s crazy.


Do you go home and sleep?

I used to, but now I’m doing appearances and I’ve got the gym. There is a lot to pack in to those few hours in between. Laundry isn’t happening very often and my bills are all automated at this point.


How long have you been on the air now?

Two years.


How did you land your position at Channel 4?

I was working with a local talent agency and the owner called me with an audition for a Channel 4 traffic reporter. A lot of stations across the country were doing that. They were really looking for someone local, but with personality. They were willing to try the audition process and it worked out well for me. It was tough learning how to get all of the information. There was a big learning curve for a while there.


But your job title is traffic and entertainment reporter?

It started as traffic, mornings only. At the time I was still doing event planning and marketing for Buca di Beppo and traveling between the two Columbus stores, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit. I was being pulled in ten different directions with no assistant, and was already behind simply trying to keep up. I did that for a year. This past May I left Buca, and the station offered me full time so I started doing split shifts. The entertainment reporting came about six months in. I picked up one segment, then another, and now I do four segments.


How involved are you in the writing of those segments?

I do DVD releases and movie releases, which are all at my discretion. The movie companies send their press releases and I go through and pick the big releases. The Mixing It Up segment is the first one I did and it’s all about where to go in Columbus. The demographic is 18-34 and I write all the segments myself. For traffic, those segments are more dependent on me and my actual personality.


What do you love most about your current job at Channel 4?

I love the appearances. I’ve had a lot of people in my life help me in different areas. I guess you could say I’ve had a very colorful background. My childhood was not the norm. I had a great childhood, but it was definitely very different. There were a lot of people who played role in me growing up. And it’s not that my grandparents weren’t great or that my mom wasn’t loving, but there were times when other people had to play into that. After-school programs and teachers were huge for me. I graduated my senior year in high school alone. My parents had gotten a divorce and moved. My dad went back to Georgia and my mom went to North Carolina. My grandparents were here in town, but I was living in an apartment. There were a lot of times when I needed some guidance or if I was sick, I needed a teacher to say, “Go to the doctor.” One thing I really like about the station and the pageant is it gives me opportunity to help out. Although I wasn’t living on the streets or anything as serious as that, I can relate a lot to kids who need that extra help or don’t have all those advantages. It opens the doors to actually do something and give back to all those people who helped me. I’ve lucked into a lot. I work very hard, but I got a lot of opportunities along the way that I sometimes just go, “How did I end up on Channel 4? How did I end up on a 32 market, on-air with no experience and no college degree?” There is luck and fate and a lot that plays into it. For me not to try to give those opportunities to someone else would just be a crime. Channel 4 and Miss Ohio give me the opportunity to do that. Sometimes it’s hard to be sick and be on-air and go to an appearance, but that’s what you do because you were given a great opportunity. I love the fact that people invite me into their homes every day. That says something. There isn’t a lot of glamour that goes into it. Three in the morning with rollers and cake make-up is not glamorous. There has got to be more than, “I’m on TV!” to make me get up and go to work.


What was your worst on-air faux pas?

I’ve had tons, they are hilarious. I DVR the shows and it was good the first few months to have it because it was so bad. One time I said, “On 315 there is a ramp, well there are a lot of ramps, but there is one that has an accident…” It’s like, what is coming out of my mouth?!


As a journalist, what is the worst question you can ask someone in an interview?

There are certain things that you just don’t talk about. It’s politics, sex and religion. It makes me cringe when people are like, “Tell me about your sex life?” Whose business is that? “Who are you voting for?” First of all, who cares who Susan Sarandon is voting for. Love her. Love Bull Durham. But, why don’t we talk about the issues but not who is voting for who. Those things, I don’t even want to touch on.


I hear you like to do impersonations. Who do you do?

I’ve always been kind of goofy, so I’ve always kind of done impersonations. I’ve emceed pageants and been asked to do Tina Turner to open the show. I’ve done full on Thunderdome wig and shimmer dress and I’ve gone out and danced around. I go to Elvis week every year, and have done so for the past 15-16 years.


Catch Monica Day on NBC weekdays starting at 5 a.m. for your daily traffic report and then on April 11th as she takes the stage for the 57th annual Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada.