NATCHITOCHES — Stages have always been a second home for Northwestern State student Jourdan Waddell.
Waddell fell in love with performing, starting at three years old when her mother enrolled Jourdan in dance classes.
The Slidell native entered the Miss Northwestern – Lady of the Bracelet Pageant on a whim last year, and Waddell was on the A.A. Fredericks Auditorium stage as the runner-up when winner Erica Jarlock’s name was called.
But Saturday on that same stage, all eyes were on Waddell as the LOB crown was placed on her head, cementing the pageant fever she caught one year ago and her place as Miss Northwestern-Lady of the Bracelet.
“It was so exciting. I wanted this title more than I’ve wanted any other preliminary title,” Waddell said. “I was so nervous leading up to the pageant in the week of practices, but I worked really hard, especially on the private interview.
“Last year, the LOB was my first-ever pageant, and I had never thought about doing pageants before then. I just went into it as a fun experience.”
That fun experience starting shifting into a serious hobby when a judge approached Waddell after the 2017 LOB event, encouraging her to contend for her hometown Miss St. Tammany Heritage/Miss Slidell pageant, which she won.
Waddell hired a pageant director following the win as she ramped up her preparation for Miss Louisiana this past June.
To her pleasant surprise, Waddell’s name was called in the Top 10 of Miss Louisiana in her first statewide pageant and only third pageant of her career.
That feeling turned to more of a nervous fear when Waddell was still standing on the stage in the Top 5, finishing as the fourth runner-up.
“The Top 10 was my goal even though I couldn’t expect anything with this being my first (Miss Louisiana),” Waddell said. “When I (made the Top 10), I was thinking, ‘Ok, this was good, I don’t need any more.’
“When I made the Top 5, I honestly was kind of afraid. I didn’t expect to be so close to becoming Miss Louisiana, and I felt unprepared at that point. I’m a 20-year-old standing next to women two-to-four years older. My parents were even frightened, telling me they weren’t ready for me to do all that.”
Waddell won’t have that same fear as she aims at the Miss Louisiana crown this year.
The junior psychology major will have the backing of current Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway, a Northwestern State graduate who finished third runner-up at the Miss America pageant earlier this month.
“Just being from NSU, all of us had common ground, and I grew super, super close to Holli’,” Waddell said. “You find people that know what they are doing and learn the ropes from them throughout the (practice) week, and I observed her and how she went through rehearsals (at 2017 Miss Louisiana).
“I would talk to her at events and sit next to her at dinner, and she’s a really great person. Holli’ has shown that’s she gotten a great education here and great training as member of the theatre department here. Having Holli’ do so well shows that somebody from little ol’ Natchitoches can do great things.”
Waddell’s attention won’t solely be focused on the Miss Louisiana crown.
Her underlying passion is dancing, and she’ll perform for her first time in the 2018 Christmas Gala for the first time.
Waddell dreams of being on the Radio City Music Hall stage as a member of the legendary Radio City Rockettes dance company.
“I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and multiple auditions — it’s not going to happen the first time,” Waddell said. “Dance is the goal really, even though I’m a psychology major.
“I love to perform and entertain people. When I go on stage, I don’t feel like the same person as I am talking to you right now. It’s a feeling that I get when the audience is drawn in, they want to get something out of your performance, and they want a story. Performance is my skill, not necessarily dance. Performing is that feeling you get when people are watching you.”
Her long days of dancing at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an academy at which Waddell trained after a half-day at high school in Slidell, has prepared her for that stage along with her dance instruction at NSU.
After her dancing career, Waddell’s long-term career goal is to obtain a doctorate in psychology and start her own private practice.
Psychology is playing an active role in her pageant platform “Stomping the Mental Health Stigma.”
After suffering unexplainable physical symptoms as a child, Waddell was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder in high school.
“I would have these stomach aches as a child, and I had these constant doctor visits and nothing would come up,” Waddell said. “Nobody thought I might have had something else going on psychologically.
“I had really hard time adjusting in my freshman year of college and became a totally different person. I barely ate anything. I didn’t sleep. I lost 20 pounds my first semester. If it wasn’t for someone bringing me to the counselor’s office, I wouldn’t be here at NSU right now.”
Waddell wants to encourage others who may be suffering in silence to seek help.
“Our counselor’s office is amazing, and I ended up working there as a student worker,” Waddell said. “I want to educate other people about the signs and symptoms of mental illness just in case they are struggling or they may notice somebody else who needs help.
“The stigma is the worst part about it. If someone goes to counseling, other people automatically assume they are crazy or psychotic — and the words they use make that person feel even worse than they already do. They don’t want to get help at that point because don’t want to be seen as a burden or as somebody that people can’t work with.”
Waddell found her footing in Natchitoches and is an active member in Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, the Alpha Lamda Delta honor society and the National Society of Leadership and Success.
She feels like she’s found a family at NSU, becoming more aware of another family tie she didn’t know she had.
Waddell’s cousin Chris Waddell has a crest on the football field at Turpin Stadium after he collapsed in a light football workout in 2004. Chris suffered from Kawasaki Syndrome, a condition that can result in rapid aging of the heart. The football team participates in “Chris Waddell Day,” a service day in which the team visits multiple elementary schools in the area.
“I was little when Chris passed, and I had no clue when I came here that this was the school where it happened and where his crest was,” Jourdan said. “It just made everything clear about why I came here.
“I felt like I was supposed to come here for a reason. Now my family loves it here. This is my second family now.”