Victory was extra sweet for Jonét Nichelle when she was crowned Miss Rhode Island USA.
Nichelle, a Connecticut native, has taken part in the competition six previous times and never heard her name called as the winner. Her perseverance and dedication paid off this time around, and she heads to Memphis this Saturday, on Halloween, as she continues her journey to becoming Miss USA.
“It was definitely a sense of relief, I’ll say that,” Nichelle said of her triumph. “I was very excited. My crowning video is pretty funny because I was very excited, you can tell from the video. I was proud of myself because it wasn’t an easy journey getting the crown and there were obviously moments and times where I was like, ‘All right, I’ve had enough of that, I’m going to do something else.’”
She started dancing at just 2 years old, entering the competitive arena at three years later. She said she participated in dance events almost every weekend until she was 18, while also attending a performing arts high school in Connecticut and dancing there every day.
“So that was really cool, but my senior year of high school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to dance in college or what I wanted to do but I also ran track,” Nichelle, 25, said. “I ended up getting a scholarship to Post University for athletics, and I decided not to continue dancing while I was in college, and I only picked up dancing again once I was cheering.”
Nichelle’s travels have taken her to some other big stages along the way. A few years ago, she tried out for the New England Patriots cheerleading squad while she was a senior at Post. She was cut just before the boot camp portion of the program, but she wouldn’t remain on the sidelines for long.
“I got cut right before boot camp, so that was another moment of defeat, but I had so much fun, I was like, ‘Mom, I think I want to do it again,’” Nichelle said. “‘Yeah, sure, we’ll do it again, you’ll know what to expect next year.’ So I tried out the following year and I made the team, and that’s when I ended up moving out here to Rhode Island.”
She even went to Super Bowl LIII and cheered on the Patriots en route to their most recent championship win against the Los Angeles Rams. It was after that trip when Nichelle began thinking of giving the Miss USA scene another try.
“I was cheering for the New England Patriots. I wasn’t sure if I was going to compete, or if I was going to keep cheering, but when we got back from the Super Bowl, I decided that I was going to try and compete again because it was something that was very heavy in my mind so I decided I was going to give it another try and I ended up winning,” Nichelle said.
Nichelle said the food and late hours at most businesses and restaurants are some of her favorite traits of the state, even if the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the latter.
“Everything is open so late, it’s kind of difficult now with [coronavirus] and all that, the hours are a little bit different,” Nichelle said. “Everything is so close and our state’s very diverse also.”
She said she’s been in the gym nonstop preparing for the final showdown in Tennessee, working with a local nutrition and fitness sponsor, as well as PageantPrep in Warwick. She’s been practicing interview skills and stage presentation.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it a chase for the crown unlike any other.
“It’s completely different now, because a majority of everything is being done virtually, so I’ve spent a lot of time on Zoom and Skype and Google Meet and whatever else,” Nichelle said. “That’s been very interesting, but I will say that they are working really hard to make sure that myself and other contestants, staff, everyone who’s involved is healthy, not only while we’re there, but after we’re there, before we get there. Hopefully everyone remains healthy and safe.”
Nichelle works full-time as a juvenile corrections officer, while also volunteering at a local halfway house. She previously worked at a mental health hospital as well, where one of her coworkers advised that she would be “really good” at the juvenile facility.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to be a nurse initially, but then I realized that I was very much so not fond of needles and get really woozy at the sight of blood,” Nichelle said. “I decided that that path was not ideal for me, but I do enjoy helping people. I said, ‘OK, what would be kind of the next best thing?’ So social work was the next closest thing to nursing for me.”
Six months in the academy later, and Nichelle graduated third in her class. She said she hopes her story of overcoming numerous obstacles in life can help inspire others.
“I know how easy it is to feel like you can give up and not pursue your dreams, and it’s something I’m really proud of so whenever I get that opportunity to talk about my story and my journey, especially as an advocate and a survivor of a domestic violence relationship, I definitely try to use my platform and my voice as much as possible,” Nichelle said.