illustration of Jamee McAdoo
Kasten Searles

Likely, Little Rock Central High School graduate Jamee McAdoo landed on our readers’ radar for Best Local Actor/Actress because of her starring role in a 2021 Arkansas-made film called “Shattered Dreams,” but her performance experience has, primarily, been as a poet.

McAdoo has published a volume of her own poems; recorded an album of original songs with The Writeous, a poetry collective her family founded; and she was crowned in 2019 as the state’s first Miss Heritage Outstanding Teen Pageant, a division of the Miss Arkansas and Miss America pageants. Now, McAdoo is a rising junior at Jackson State University majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in speech communications and an emphasis in multimedia journalism and, though she’s not yet sure exactly where that degree will lead her, she knows her own voice, and she knows her strengths: communicating, organizing, leading, writing and connecting with people. 

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You are known for many things, but one of those is the way in which you fuse song, spoken word and activism. When you’re writing a song or a poem, what’s most important to you?

My parents exposed my brother and I to the value of the arts and the importance of expression at a very young age, so using my poetry/writing as an outlet and a platform to express my thoughts on various topics came naturally. The most important thing to me when writing, speaking publicly or performing my art, is definitely authenticity. I encourage myself to truly open up and explore many ideas with my writing, without focusing on the feedback I could receive but more so evaluating how I personally feel about the piece. 

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You had no pageant experience before entering (and winning) the Miss Heritage Outstanding Teen Pageant, a division of the Miss Arkansas and Miss America pageants. You say on your website that you wore “a different natural hairstyle every day onstage in competition despite being told it wasn’t ‘pageant hair.’ ” Can you talk a little bit about that? idea of “pageant hair,” and why it was important for you to approach your hairstyles in the way that you did? 

Being the only Black teen contestant out of 39 in the 2019 Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen Pageant, I faced many challenges alone. This was my first time participating in (and winning) a preliminary pageant for the Miss Arkansas System and I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was familiar with the standard that is expected in the system and was fully prepared to remain authentically me despite not coming from that world. Throughout obstacles of not having “pageant hair,” having a very unique talent during the Talent portion of the pageant (original spoken-word poetry), and being the only person of color competing, I knew how important it was to stay true to who I am. Every day of on-stage competitions, I had a different natural hair style — bantu knots, an Afro, twists, etc. I got a lot of attention for bringing a new, fresh, genuine energy to the competition and I was overwhelmed with support and love. It was something so special about me seeing younger Black girls looking up to me, feeling empowered to see representation in a beauty pageant. I won every night of competitions for my category (Best Talent, Best Interview, Best Evening Gown/On-Stage Question, Best Fitness) and third runner up overall! This experience was just one example of how I approach new things in life. I know the biases and inequities that I will inevitably face, but I know that if I tackle everything authentically and gracefully, I will always leave my mark.

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