New Tampa’s Udeme Ikaiddi (pronounced Oo-DEM-ee A-Ky-dee) didn’t grow up in the world of beauty pageants. She grew up playing violin, reading books and hanging out with friends.
It wasn’t until she was in college that she ever considered entering one herself, and that was only after producing different pageants at the University of South Florida, like the Miss Africa USF event, and others.
At the age of 25, with some prodding from a friend, Udeme entered and won her first beauty pageant. A year later, she was named Miss New Tampa. In July, at the age of 26, she will vie for the title of Miss Florida in Coral Springs, although a date has not been set.
“It’s been a fun adventure,” she says.
Udeme, a Cross Creek resident and 2012 Wharton High graduate, didn’t win an actual pageant to earn the title of Miss New Tampa. While she has modeled and taken part in Tampa Bay and Orlando Fashion Week events and various bridal and wedding expos, she only had to apply to become a hometown delegate by sending in pictures and a resumé to the Miss Florida USA organization. She was one of many chosen to represent their area — there also is a Miss Brandon, Miss Riverview, Miss Hillsborough, and so on. “When we all come together in July, there will be roughly 100 girls (vying to be Miss Florida),” Udeme says.
The winner will be determined by the highest scores from three competitions: fitness (athletic wear/swimsuit), evening gown and interview. The winner will represent Florida at the Miss USA competition, and the winner there will represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe pageant.
It’s still all so new for Udeme.
“I literally just jumped into it when I was 25,” she says. “To me, it’s a really huge deal because my No. 1 goal is to go to Miss Universe and represent the United State of America, and this is like the first step. So, instead of just being super excited, there’s a lot of nerves, but also a lot of determination.”
Although she’s no shrinking violet herself, Udeme basically honed her pageant skills while producing them. She trained and conditioned participants by making them feel good about themselves, giving them confidence, and assuring them that public speaking was not so scary.
“I helped them find that confidence and that fire to step on the stage,” she says.
And now, she has ended up lighting her own fire.
Her first pageant was the Miss Akwibo USA pageant, which she won in 2019. Although she was born in Tallahassee, FL, Udeme is of African descent, with her parents coming to America in the 1980s from their birthplace in Akwa Ibom State, located in southern Nigeria. There is an annual convention in the U.S. for Akwa Ibom natives, which draws nearly 2,000 people. Udeme compares it to a convention of Florida natives being held in Germany.
The pageant is held during the convention. Her platform was “Live. Love. Learn.” It focused on preventing malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and promoting healthy life choices (“Live”), documenting Akwa Ibom traditions and culture online (“Love”) and educating Akwa Ibom youth (“Learn”).
As part of her duties as Miss Akwibo USA, Udeme visited Nigeria in 2019, met the Akwa Ibom governor and worked on projects related to her platform.
“It was such a humbling experience, I cannot stress that enough,” Udeme says. “It really made me see the good things I could do, and made me think about other ways to do even more with this platform.”
Udeme started to look into other opportunities, to see if pageants and the platform they afford might be something she’d like to spend more time pursuing. She says she was moved when she watched the 2019 Miss Universe pageant on YouTube, which was won by Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, as well as the Miss USA 2020 event, where Asya Branch, the first ever black contestant from Mississippi, earned the crown.
“I said, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do,’” Udeme says. “I was like, ‘These beautiful black women are so smart, so intelligent, so humble and so loving, I want to try and do this.’”
While she waits for her opportunity at the Miss Florida pageant, Udeme is pursuing her passion for hospitality and tourism. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from USF and may apply for the Master’s program. She also is a sales coordinator at the Hilton Tampa Downtown and owns her own event-planning business, Gifted Engagements, which she says is currently on hiatus, due to Covid-19.
In her role as Miss New Tampa, Udeme already has forged a collaboration with the Hillsborough branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She hopes that relationship is just the beginning.
“I’m really excited about July,” Udeme says. “Sure, the goal at the end of the day to is to win, 100 percent, but even now, if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t have been connected with NAMI (as Miss New Tampa). Even before Miss USA, I’ve accomplished something that warms my heart, and I just want to do more.”