How Mrs. Minnesota Holly Ernst Builds Confidence

by | Feb 2024

Holly Ernst

Photo: Joe Pier

Three-time Mrs. Minnesota title holder Holly Ernst coaches women through pageantry.

The platform of competition does so much to build confidence, poise and presence; and they’re all skills that are strengthened through work with a mentor. It’s not a surprise that Holly Ernst—competitor as a Teen, Miss and Mrs. contestant in all major pageant systems—has guided many women along the way to national and international competitions.

“Pageants today are very different, with a heavy emphasis on community service, public speaking, scholarship and also specialized talent,” Ernst says. “I have one client who said she has been offered a position after every job she has interviewed for, and she attributes that to the public speaking skills she learned from pageantry. Competing in pageants means embracing who you are.”

Ernst has coached girls and women of all ages to compete in, and win, pageants like Miss America, Miss USA, Ms. Teen USA, Mrs. American, Mrs. US and Mrs. International, through her business, Sparkle! with Holly Ernst, a competitive coaching practice.

Her coaching often helps women with the basics of competition and connecting with a cause that is important to them; crafting their message to share with the public; as well as building on the specific wishes of each client. “In this age of social media, most youth (and many adults) are woefully underprepared when it comes to manners and social graces,” she says. “A pageant girl will look you in the eye, shake your hand with a confident grip and say, ‘Hello.’” Her clients spend hours perfecting interview skills, volunteering and staying up to date on current events in order to present themselves with confidence in a competition.

Ernst, a three-time Mrs. Minnesota title holder, got her start when she was just 16 years old, taking second place in the Miss Junior Wisconsin competition. She’s gone on to compete and win in Miss Wisconsin World America pageant, Mrs. Minnesota United States and the Mrs. Minnesota International.

Holly Ernst wins her first pageant, Miss Junior Wisconsin 1989, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Holly Ernst wins her first pageant, Miss Junior Wisconsin 1989, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

While growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, Ernst experienced a false sense of security. During her time in high school, a classmate was abducted. Using her pageant platform, Ernst began traveling across Minnesota, teaching parents and children how to stay safe, as well as serving on the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center’s speaker’s bureau and board of directors. “We need to rethink the way we teach our kids about personal safety by providing them with the tools they need to get away from harm,” she says.

Now, her award-winning smile and educated understanding of the pageant competition has helped her develop her clients, such as Miss Minnesota USA 2015 Jessica Scheu Berkelman, who is a marketing manager for a well-known Minnesota healthcare company. Berkelman says working with Ernst taught her how to present with confidence to CEOs, executives and leaders across the country. “I was a tomboy when I was 15,” Berkelman says. “I grew up around brothers, and my dad is a former Minneapolis police officer and retired from the Army. But I didn’t know anything about how to present myself.” She says all of her friends were in dance or cheerleading or other sports, and she wanted to try something nobody else was doing at the time. “My dad was a little hesitant, but he came to watch me the first time I won,” she says. “He saw how confident and well-presented I was, and it was the start of us working together to bring attention to military vets. We had so much fun together visiting the V.A. Hospital and other organizations focused on lifting up former military servicemen and women.”

On the idea of failure, Ernst says, “[Failure is] not the opposite of success, it’s a huge part of it. Failure teaches you how to conduct yourself with grace and class; to be motivated by other’s doubts, to be a hard worker and be content with the outcome.”

Win or lose, there’s an important lesson Ernst feels passionate about teaching. “Only one woman will walk away with the crown. Women have enough going against them. I feel strongly about teaching women to support each other,” she says.

Berkelman says Ernst taught her to celebrate all of the things that makes her feel strong. “Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little makeup,” Berkelman says. And, she says, she’ll always keep her “tomboy” personality close at heart.

Sixteen years after Holly Ernst wins Mrs. Minnesota America, her daughter, Ava, wins Miss Minnesota Teen USA 2022.

Sixteen years after Holly Ernst wins Mrs. Minnesota America, her daughter, Ava, wins Miss Minnesota Teen USA 2022.

Sparkle! with Holly Ernst
Instagram: @sparklehollyernst


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