Shilah Phillips: The Life and Trials Of A Beauty Queen

By Kaillaby

Shilah Phillips embodies resilience. She learned the hard way that being on top requires guts, sacrifice, and determination. Although she is known for being the first African American to be crowned Miss Texas, Shilah’s first love is music naming Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey as her biggest inspirations. When asked, she’ll let you know that the success of her career in pageants is thanks to music. “ If it wasn’t for my music career, I don’t think my pageant career would’ve gone as well,” she explains. “I went to the Denver School of Performing Arts from the 6th – 12th grade; that was a special performing arts school for gifted and talented children, and I think that really helped me to become a wonderful performer and was able to help me have the talent that I have.” At the tender age of 4, Shilah began her career on stage with musical theatre, participating in local singing contests and church choirs in her hometown of Fresno, California. She continued to pursue music along the West coast, a passion that would introduce her to her manager (and mentor) lifetime achievement Grammy award winner Danny Seraphine. Under his guidance, Shilah moved to L. A straight out of high school where she juggled careers in acting and modeling while pursuing a record deal, a dream that would allow her to share the stage with Jennifer Hudson as a headliner for the National Lupus Foundation and most notably in the semi-finals of season 3’s American Idol.

By 2005, her parents convinced her to put her Hollywood dreams on hold and finish her degree at the world-famous University of North Texas Jazz Study. Just when it seemed like all hope of furthering her music career was lost, Shilah entered a contest that would change the course of her life forever: a local beauty pageant. From there, her career skyrocketed from pageantry to reality tv. The stress and pressure of performing on stage took a toll on her health and general well being, a topic she takes a lot more seriously these days after her battle with fibroids, a disease that affects 80% of women by age 50 “My health took a turn for the worse. I had got some fibroid tumors, and they grew out of control very quickly, and it was due to some things that could’ve been avoided had I been eating healthy and taking better care of myself by meditating and exercising harder and some things we usually take for granted. I decided after that, I wanted to totally change my life. I decided to really do better.”  Recently, Soul and Salsa caught up with Shilah to see how much better she’s been doing these days and to take a peek into the career of a pageant Queen.  

SoulandSalsa- First of all, I’d like to start off by saying your beauty is undeniable from your radiant smile to your long flowing hair; how do you maintain such beauty? Tell us about the products you use and the regimen you stick to.

SP- My hair definitely comes from my multi racial heritage. I definitely use products on my hair but it first comes from my background. I think people don’t know that I’m multi racial (African American, Native American, Caucasian, and Asian) which makes hair a little difficult to deal with [laughs] but it makes my hair very long. I’ve always used essential oils in my hair, like coconut oil and jojoba oil.  One thing that I use that helps my hair alot is apple cider vinegar. Also, African black soap to cleanse my scalp. As far as skin, I like to use natural products. When I was younger, my grandmother wanted me to use natural products on my skin and hair. She was really serious about that. She told me to use African Black Soap and it really cleared up my skin. I still use it. A lot of people are surprised to learn that African Black Soap is from Sierra Leone. I mostly stick to a vegan diet and it’s really important to me because I had some health problems but when I changed my diet around it really saved my life. It made me have healthier skin, my weight, my hair, everything. It made me into a new person and my health got way better. I was just a new person. 

SoulandSalsa-Now I want you to bring me back to the start of your career in pageants. What was that like? 

SP-I got into pageants on a dare. I was in college [University of North Texas Jazz Study] by this time. I was a starving college student, about 22 years old. My friend said “Shilah, you need to do something to up your career if you’re going to move back to LA. Because you’re down and out. You’re starving. Your career is dead. I think it’s time for you to enter a pageant or something.” She literally entered me into this pageant [Miss Plano Frisco] and I forgot about it! In a panic, I ended up auditioning at the last minute and they said “we think you have a chance to win”. I was like “I do!?”. They gave me instructions on what to bring, what to expect, and wished me luck. The next day, I arrived and I couldn’t believe how many girls showed up for this pageant! It must’ve been about 50 girls or something. These girls had amazing dresses and all these gowns and years of experience and I was totally intimidated. I was like I’m not winning anything, this is crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. There were girls with $3000 dresses, I’m like my car doesn’t even cost that much. I had a dress that I previously wore to the Grammys and my actual swimsuit that I actually wore at the pool but somehow I did win. The girls looked at me like “how did she win?! Where did she come from!?”.

SoulandSalsa-I’m happy that they saw through to you and your potential even back then in your first ever pageant. What were some challenges you faced when running for Miss Texas? 

SP- It was a live tv broadcast; that was very challenging. Luckily I had tv experience from being on American Idol. I wasn’t used to being on stage for a pageant. It was very intimidating. I really wanted to win that scholarship money. My mother got really sick, she got blood clots [while] going to Sierra Leone in her lung and she almost lost her life and the money for college was eaten up when she got that sick and my parents didn’t have the money for me to go to school so I needed to win that scholarship money. 

SoulandSalsaWhat was going through your mind the moment you were crowned the first African American Miss Texas?

SP-I was very focused. I was working with a woman, her name is Heather Bassham Sumlin. She was a mental management coach and she was working with me alot on mental toughness and I owe alot to her because she was preparing me. She was helping me to mentally visualize my goals and what I wanted to accomplish at the pageant. I credit her alot for my mental training. 

SoulandSalsa-Do you have any other mentors?

SP-When I was young my great grandmother, Bernestine Phillips. She’s someone who just spoke life into me and always believed in me. She’s passed away since then but she was my top fan and she was someone who believed in me so much and was always my biggest cheerleader and fan. She was someone who raised money for scholarships. She was a big Christian and she was there to watch me sing and always helped me to push my singing career. She always encouraged me to sing at church and pushed me to be the best singer I could be. She was also an educator, she had a private school. I loved her so much. 

SoulandSalsa-What can you tell us about being on the MTV reality show Pageant School 101.

SP-I don’t think I’ve done anything quite like that. That was a crazy experience. It was a surprise that we were gonna do that. They took us to the same hotel that they shot the Bachelor so we didn’t know we were gonna be shooting this show. They said something like “come, bring all this stuff” and we didn’t know what was happening until we got there. It was this big secret. And then when we got there we found out we were gonna be on a reality tv show. It was a total surprise. It was a big deal. Lots of publicity and recognition. Especially as we tried to transition after our titles back into reality once we all had to go back to college. I remember going back to school and people said “we thought you were taller”. I was just like, “I’m just trying to go to class”. 

SoulandSalsa-You were a semi-finalist in season 3’s American Idol; what was your take away from that show?

SP- It was very stressful. I was just 20 then. What they put you through, it’s like a really strong hazing process. You’re up really late at night and they were really putting you through the ringer. It was a lot of stress. It was a really good experience and I’m happy that I did it. Looking back, when you think of all the millions of kids that did it and considering how far I got, it was crazy to believe that I got so far. But when I was doing it, I didn’t think that I was doing very well because of the way they talk to you. Back then I didn’t have the kind of mental toughness to handle that, I didn’t know how to handle all of the pressure. I was someone that worked so hard so I didn’t know how to handle when they told me they don’t like me, I’m not good enough. Simon was so mean to me. He actually told me that he thought I should quit this and go do pageants. I took it so offensively. At 20, I didn’t have thick skin. People would tell me Shilah you don’t have thick skin. I was a young little suburban girl. They would tell me things like you’re not street smart. You don’t know about the street. You’re not urban. I didn’t understand what they meant. I was very confused. I didn’t know how to handle those types of criticisms. In my mind I always thought you worked hard and good things would come to you. I was very sheltered. The experience taught me I need to toughen up, get a little bit more street smart, and have thicker skin. 

SoulandSalsa-What are some of the most important words of advice you would give any young woman wanting to enter pageantry? 

SP-Definitely go for it! Find yourself a mentor to help you and don’t be afraid to go for your dreams. 

When she’s not touring the US with her band, The Groove Line Dallas or hosting private galleries for her visual art, Shilah likes to volunteer at local pageants in Texas including Miss DFW, MPFO, Miss Carolton, and Miss Cauliville. Shilah gives back to the community by donating scholarships and mentoring young women who are in search of guidance for their singing and modeling careers. Be sure to follow Shilah on Instagram for exclusive footage of her private art galleries (@shilahphillips) and head to for updates and booking inquiries.