Brainerd High School graduate Rebecca Yeh has come a long way in a short time since earning her diploma in 2011.
Yeh was named Miss Brainerd Lakes in 2011, Miss Northwest in July of 2012 and then Miss Minnesota in June of 2013.
On Sunday Yeh, 20, the daughter of Tim and Kathy Yeh of Nisswa, will compete for the title of Miss America in Atlantic City, N.J.
Wednesday night Yeh improved her chances for the crown when she won the preliminary talent competition at the Miss America pageant with her violin performance. Yeh, who has played violin since she was 4, performed “Scherzo and Tarantella” by Henri Wieniawski. Yeh received a $2,000 scholarship from the win.
Her father,Tim Yeh, in an email said, “This does not guarantee Rebecca will make it to the finals Sunday evening, Sept. 15. However, the odds are about 65 percent based on previous Miss America competitions.”
Yeh is the first Miss Minnesota to win a preliminary talent competition since Gretchen Carlson earned the honor in 1989, when she also won the Miss America title.
Brainerd lakes area residents may watch the Miss America pageant as it’s broadcast live at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Yeh is competing against 52 other girls from the United States, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Yeh has had to wake up and be ready by 5 a.m. for the past eight days with washed, wet hair before makeup for photo shoots for ABC’s 20/20 program, Entertainment Tonight and other TV programs. She’s gone to bed around midnight each night after rehearsals and public appearances to prepare for the pageant.
“I can’t believe it is here,” Yeh said referring to the Miss America pageant after arriving in Atlantic City on Sept. 3. Yeh took time to talk with the Dispatch via telephone. “It will be very interesting.”
Yeh said all the women are paired in twos and they share two rooms and a suite. Her roommate is Miss Alabama.
“All the girls are sweet,” said Yeh. “Everyone comes into this wanting to be Miss America. I would love to be the winner ... I will do my best and I will have no regrets coming home.”
Yeh decided to participate in the local Miss America competitions after high school graduation for several reasons. She wanted to spread her wings more as a violinist and support her older brother, Phillip, who has autism, and build awareness in the community about the condition.
“I want to be a role model for young women and this was a way for me to grow as a person and give back to the community in some way,” said Yeh.
Yeh’s pageant days began with winning the 2011 Miss Brainerd title. Yeh then competed for Miss Minnesota in June of 2012, where she took runner-up. The next month she won the Miss Northwest title. When she competed for Miss Minnesota the second time around this past June, she had a better grasp of what the judges wanted.
“After high school you want to figure out who you are and you start to develop your own opinions and ideas,” said Yeh. “I feel these first two years of competing I have a much better idea ... I have gained many communication skills and I am better at speaking in public appearances.”
Yeh said during the Miss Minnesota competitions, the contestants often felt like they have to be like someone else, like the previous Miss Minnesota. Yeh said that is not true.
“They want you to be your best, to stand up for yourself and to express your values and contribute them,” said Yeh. “I have found myself doing this.
“It’s not a beauty pageant, it’s an opportunity to gain communication skills and build your self-confidence. This has been something that has positively impacted my life.”
Yeh — who took a year off at Ohio Northern University where she is majoring in pharmacy during her role as Miss Minnesota — said she may consider changing her college plans as she has changed personally and has fallen in love with Minnesota.
“This year will help me decide where I want to be,” said Yeh.
While competing in the pageants, Yeh’s choice of talent was easy. Yeh has played the violin since she was 4.
Tim Yeh said, “Rebecca’s success as a violinist in pageant competitions was not merely because she was talented. She really had to sustain a consistent, long-term habit of practice and study with some demanding teachers, make many sacrifices and push herself harder than she knew. Driving to the Twin Cities six hours every week year-round for seven years and practicing three to four hours daily is not an easy task for any young person.”
In high school, Yeh was a member of the Brainerd High School Chamber Orchestra, a three-year concertmaster of the Chamber Orchestra; concertmaster of the Minnesota All State Orchestra; winner of local, state and national awards and contests; and she performed in string trios and quartets.
Yeh’s platform also came easily to her as she feels strongly about raising awareness on autism, a condition that her brother has.
“He (her brother) has been a huge inspiration to me,” Yeh said. “He has been through a lot of challenges, but he has meaningful relationships and people say they (people with autism) can’t do this. People with autism are breaking through those challenges. Everyone with autism is different and it takes a special communication.”
Yeh said there are so many children who are diagnosed with autism in today’s world and she wants people to know what the early signs of it is, among other important information on autism.
Yeh’s parents are proud of their daughter.
“Kathy and I view this year as Miss Minnesota as just one year in Rebecca’s maturation as a young woman irrespective of the outcome of the Miss America Pageant competition,” Tim Yeh said. “This year will be successful if her outcome 10 or more years from now is considered a successful culmination of this and other years to come.”
Tim Yeh said, “If there is a secret about Rebecca that people might like to know is Rebecca is very honest with herself, authentic and humble. Some people have characterized her as an introvert, but she is anything but that. Rebecca tells it as it is and doesn’t embellish things whether it is herself or others.”
Rebecca Yeh and her parents thank all the people who have supported her, including her teachers, coaches and others in the Brainerd-Baxter community.