Disappointed, But Never Discouraged: Ashley Callingbull Talks Miss World Canada, ‘Blackstone’ and Beyond
On May 13, at the RiverRock Casino Resort in Richmond BC, the Miss World Canada competition took place. Despite a strong performance, Ashley Callingbull of the Enoch Cree Nation was eliminated in the semifinal round. It was a tough loss, and not for the usual reasons, but Callingbull is already gearing up for the next challenges in her career, which may include another season on the acclaimed drama Blackstone, television hosting, and a run at Miss Universe Canada 2013.
You're an experienced pageant contestant -- can you give us some background on your career?
This was my first attempt at the Miss World Canada contest (and yes, you can compete more than once). Before I entered Miss World I competed at Miss Universe Canada and placed Second Runner Up, and because of my high placement I was sent to three international pageants to gain more experience. I represented our nation as "Miss Canada" at pageants in China, Germany and Barbados. The more experience the better.
You tweeted a lot about working out before the competition — what were your goals for your body, and how did you go about it? Were you where you wanted to be by the time of the competition?
My trainer had me alternate between phases of muscle building (strength) and conditioning (endurance). When I started training last summer and into the fall my trainer and I spent a significant amount of time on building muscle, as I needed a strong base. In the late fall and into the winter I started conditioning. When the new year came I alternated frequently between the two cycles, four to six weeks for each. In the last conditioning cycle my trainer encouraged me to increase the amount of cardio I was doing in my spare time. My trainer also liked to focus a great deal on developing the muscles in the back with lots of pull-ups since it is something women tend to forget in their workouts. She also made me do push-ups from the toes as the excercise catches so many muscle groups -- chest, core, stabililzers, legs. I worked very hard every day making sure I was in the best shape of my life. I was physically ready for Miss World Canada and now that the pageant is over I am still working with my trainer to perfect my fitness so I will be feeling and looking good for when I film in the summer.
On May 8 you told your Facebook fans you were at the airport leaving for Vancouver and the competition. Can you take us through the events of the week?
I left to Vancouver, BC, for the Miss World Canada Pageant on May 8th. When I arrived, the first day consisted of press conferences, photo shoots and dinner. During the week all the delegates had rehearsals, dinner events, interviews, a fashion show and appearances to attend. In my off time, which was very late in the night or very early in the morning, I would go to the gym for some cardio. Preliminaries happened two days before the finals where all the delegates had to showcase physical fitness in swimwear, national costume, interviews and talent which is optional. For national costume I wore my jingle dress regalia to represent my culture, and for talent I sang a round dance song and played the hand drum. And then Finals night, and the big show!
Are you friends with the other women who do these competitions? Were there any other contestants you were looking forward to seeing at this one?
I have met so many wonderful women through pageants, and definitely made some lifelong friends, but I had never met any of the girls who were competing at Miss World Canada. But I had been communicating with a fellow First Nations lady named Kelly Nootchtai who would be competing also. We have been in contact for a while and I was really excited to finally meet the genuine girl I got to know before the pageant. We had a lot of laughs, and time to hang out which was really nice.
On Saturday you posted that you had interviews and preliminaries -- when did you find out you'd made the top 10?
After preliminaries, your score from swimsuit, national costume, interviews and extra points for talent are added up and that determines who made the top 10. But you don't find out until finals night. After that, you compete in Evening Gown and do the question/answer portion to make top five.
You made a controversial, or perhaps one might say just honest, statement on Facebook about the competition and the winner — basically saying that the competition was not fair and "You can't beat a girl who is best friends with all the judges." It is not easy to come out and say things like that — what made you decide to speak so frankly?
I was in shock at the time but I was also being very honest. I have never experienced that type of corrupt work from a pageant before. The night before finals the Director of Miss World Canada addressed the issue regarding the contestant who knew all the judges. After the Director spoke the contestant did admit that she was friends with the judges, but nothing was changed and the judges stayed the same. There were so many girls who were hurt, worked so hard and raised so much money to be there. At that instant, all their dreams were crushed. Some of the contestants decided to quit and head home because we all knew the outcome before Finals even began. I kept quiet, praying and hoping that something would be changed, yet it wasn't. I found out I was at the top of my game and had the highest scores of the whole pageant but didn't make it past Top 10. I know this was a bad choice on the Miss World Canada organization's part, but they had a new Director who had never organized a pageant, ever. I'm not sure if he knew politics shouldn't be involved in that way and I hope the company will prosper in a fair way for the ladies who decide to participate next year. I took this as another obstacle I must face and learned from it. I know I did my utmost best and had my family's support, so I'm happy to move on to bigger and better things. It was definitely an experience and it made me stronger.
Also on Facebook, you mentioned that your fans were a bit ambivalent about this pageant, because their ultimate goal for you is Miss Universe Canada. Miss Universe Canada 2012 happened the weekend after Miss Wold Canada 2012 -- so should we expect to see you in the Miss Universe Canada field in 2013?
I am honestly amazed with the amount of fans I have in the pageant world. The pageant world is huge and such a big deal to many people. All my fans would write to me, make blogs, forums and say things like "I hope Ashley doesn't win Miss World Canada because she's meant for Miss Universe". I had many fans tell me they hoped I'd lose so I can particpate in Miss Universe Canada again and win that title. I competed in as many pageants as I could after Miss Universe so I could gain experience, so when the time came to go back and compete at Miss Universe Canada again I'd be ready to win it. I'm not making this an official statement -- but yes, you may see me at Miss Universe Canada 2013.
Meanwhile, onward and upward with Blackstone, right? While you were in Vancouver for the pageant, Blackstone was winning Alberta Film and Television Awards. Are you filming episodes for a new season?
I was so happy to hear that Blackstone is still winning awards and making an impact. It is such an honor for me to be apart of an incredible series that has so much talent. We are not filming a new season right now -- the pattern from the previous seasons is we'd usually film them in the summer and it would air the following January.
And what's the plan, in general — you've got these two things, pageants and acting going on, do you plan to phase out pageants at some point?
Acting is my main passion and always will be. Pageants are a way for me to have a voice, the whole idea is bigger than me. I love the fact that it gives me a title that people will respect and I can use it to work with and influence youth to follow their passions. I have school, acting, pageants and my workshops I do with youth. I'm a busy lady but I always make time for all my passions.
Apart from Blackstone and -- perhaps -- Miss World Canada 2013, what's in your future?
I have been approached to host a television series about historic sites that would involve me traveling to different parts of the world. I'm also getting involved with cartoon and anime work. I am still traveling internationally, speaking at different conferences, workshops and galas -- speaking to youth and sharing the story of my hard struggles, self esteem and victories in my young life. I just got a volunteer position at the Stollery Children's Hospital as the Youth Representative for the Stollery Family Centered Care Network, which would involve me working with families whose children are cared for in the NICU. That's something I have personal experience with -- my late sister was cared for in the NICU, which led me to pursue the position.