The Next Miss California Might Be UCSB’s Kara Smoot, Master’s student in Music and Vocal Performance
If you don’t know Kara Smoot now, you probably will very soon. She’s a second year Master’s student in Music and Vocal Performance, Miss Ventura County for 2013, Miss Tarzana for 2014, and could be Miss California 2014. Oh, and did I also mention she can sing in eight different languages?
If there were just one phrase I could use to describe Kara, it would be hardworking. She’s been working hard ever since she was 14, when she got her first job at Chick-fil-A. She earned money to help her family and applied herself in school to earn scholarships for college. Her hard work paid off with a scholarship to Pepperdine University, where she earned a B.A. in Music.
It was also at Pepperdine that Kara turned her love for music into a passion for singing opera. Her passion paid off in yet another fellowship; this time to study music at UCSB. Now she’s set to graduate this June with a Master’s in Music and Vocal Performance. But instead of kicking back and enjoying her accomplishments, she’ll be competing to be the next Miss California, between June 24-28. Talk about busy.
When I met Kara in the Graduate Students Association lounge for this interview, she had just finished working with her interview coach for her Miss California competition. Over the course of the next hour, she told me all about her love of opera, about competing in pageants, and her life as a grad student.
How did you become interested in opera?
I joined chorus as an elective in middle school. When it came time for college, I had to make a choice. There were only two choices for vocal performance at Pepperdine: musical theater or opera. Originally, I thought I wanted to teach music or maybe become a choir director. But my experience with choir had exposed me to classics, so I felt more inclined to classical based performance: opera.
How many different languages do you sing in?
Seven to eight, not including English. I sing the four standard: English, Italian, German, and French. And some less standard, such as Czech, Russian, Spanish, and Latin.
What are your musical goals?
I want to become an international opera singer and perform with major opera companies. However, it’s extremely competitive. Right now, I’m transitioning from performing and studying at the university to auditioning for Young Artists Programs at different opera companies. In the Young Artists Programs, you get more coaching and training for performance, and you can make connections so you can be invited to sing for opera companies.
You also compete in beauty pageants. Are there any parallels to opera?
The work ethic. You need one to be a musician and a [pageant] title holder. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. You have to put the music or the organization above yourself. It [opera] has also given me the tools to be successful in pageantry. I’m able to work well under pressure.
You have to think on your feet. You can rehearse something forever and then something always goes wrong in performance and you need to be able to think on the spot. It’s the same for a title holder. Things go wrong and you have to bounce back in a split second.
How did you get started doing beauty pageants?
At Pepperdine, my best friend and sorority sister, Chrisy Alcaraz, competed in pageants. She enlightened me about what pageants were about. I got to see her process, her passion. It inspired me.
You competed for Miss California in 2013, when you were Miss Ventura County. What did you learn from that and what advice would you give to those competing?
It was a great experience. I would say: know what you have to do to prepare, take every day one step at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed preparing for a pageant. Try to enjoy the process. Absorb everything.
I understand you are competing again for Miss California as Miss Tarzana. What is your platform?
It’s called Voices for the Arts. I’m raising awareness for Arts education in schools. I work with socially and economic disadvantaged children, serving as a mentor, and teaching music and voice lessons. I work primarily at El Camino Elementary.
Let’s talk about your life as a graduate student now. What is the one thing that most people are surprised to find out about you?
That I managed to survive two years of grad school without caffeine.
What one piece of advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?
I was surprised by how much free time there is in grad school. I would tell a student to be careful and use their time to study and get work done.
You’re so busy. What is the your most favorite thing you do to relax?
Health and fitness. I take workout classes. I love reading books about health and nutrition. It’s also important to unplug from devices and to enjoy the outdoors. I’ve done outdoor boot camps and work out with my personal trainer, or run the stairs at SBCC. Most of the time though, I work at the Santa Barbara Athletic Club and Fit Buddha, off of State Street.
What is your biggest accomplishment in life and why?
Starting to work when I was 14. My parents were laid off in my teens and I had to apply myself in academics to be able to get a scholarship. I earned a scholarship to Pepperdine and was fully funded at UCSB.
Who was the biggest impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?
All of my music instructors from middle and high school who believed in me, fostered my music, and encouraged me. Also Louise Lofquist, who I worked with as an undergrad at Pepperdine, and my vocal coach here, Dr. Linda DiFiore.
What do you plan to do after graduate school?
Hopefully I’ll be Miss California 2014. If I win, I’ll prepare for the Miss America competition and to become Miss America 2015. Outside of pageants, I have engagements to sing with the Mediterranean Opera Studio in Sicily. Also, I’m training this summer at the Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, Germany. And I plan to keep working on learning new languages, learning new opera roles, and auditioning for Young Artists Programs.