Andria Elam is a consummate entertainer. Ranked internationally as a ballroom dancer, she also sings, works in musical theater, and applied all these talents into the pageant world. On Aug. 14, Elam was crowned Mrs. California United States 2021 and is heading to Las Vegas in October to compete in the Mrs. United States pageant.
Elam began competing in pageants when she was 18, becoming Miss Bonita in 1999. Since then, she has held the titles of Miss San Diego, Miss South Bay, Miss San Diego Cities USA, Miss California Galaxy, and Miss West Coast. Elam said that all of this has been part of a fantastic journey of her life from early childhood.
“I have been performing since I was 4-years old,” she said. “I started as a dancer and by the time I was in high school I decided that I wanted to perform and entertain professionally. I have been very blessed and fortunate over the years to have worked in musical theater, corporate events, and entertainment. I have performed at a variety of theme parks and had the opportunities to travel nationally and internationally as an entertainer. I have been doing ballroom for 20 years. I used to compete professionally in the International Latin Division.”
Elam found something unexpected when she began teaching ballroom dancing.
“I met my husband Jesse while we were in dancing,” she said. “He was one of my first students when I started teaching over 20 years ago. He is a firefighter for the city of San Diego. We live here in Bonita.”
Now, with her new title, Elam said she can use this platform for her passion as an advocate for thoroughbred racehorse aftercare.
“This is the next chapter in a racehorse’s life once it is retired from the tracks,” she said. “That can include time to decompress and relax after racetrack life, rehabilitation from any injuries they may have sustained, retraining into a new career, and finding them a new home and their forever families. I am currently in my fifth year as the grant viewer for After the Finish Line. We are a nationally recognized 501c (3) that awards monthly grants to organizations across the country that take the racehorses from the track and take them to the rehabilitation and retraining that they need to go on and enjoy the rest of their lives.”
Elam is an equestrian as well. Her off-track thoroughbred Cranky Jack has a new career as a show hunter.
“He loves to run and jump over things,” she said. “It is really neat to see what the thoroughbreds are doing one they are retired from the track.”
Elam said the ability of what these retired thoroughbreds can be trained in is incredible. She said as Mrs. California, she is focusing on advocating for equine-assisted therapy organizations that use off-track thoroughbreds in their programs.
“These former racehorses are going on having an impact and life changing connection with veterans, first responders, at-risk youth, and children and adults that have physical or emotional differences that are utilizing these therapies to have a better life,” she said. “It is incredible to see how horses can really bond with people and develop those relationships with people that need it the most.”
Elam, just beginning her journey as Mrs. California, said she recently just made her first trip to see firsthand an equine program at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.
“They have a Second Chances program there where the thoroughbreds work with the inmates to learn valuable trade skills so they can go out and get a job as a groom, working as an assistant trainer, and several different capacities in working with horses once they are paroled,” she said. “I am so excited to begin this journey. I am looking forward to travelling throughout our state, visiting more equine-assisted therapy and other aftercare organizations that are giving these racehorses a second chance.”
When Elam began participating in the Mrs. pageants, she was not sure how it would differ from competing in the Miss pageants.
“I have learned from the past couple of Mrs. pageants that I have been part of, that the women are just as driven, determined, intelligent, and kind, and are very passionate about a variety of causes,” she said. “I think that is a common thread throughout pageantry now. You have women that want to make a difference and leave a positive impact on their communities.”
She had sage advice for young women today.
“Identify the things in life that you are passionate about and pursue those with your whole heart. Time goes by so quickly and it is so important to surround yourself by the best people who will cheer you on and lift you up, and to do the things that you love the most in life,” she said.
Elam is also the director of the Miss Bonita and Miss Chula Vista pageants and said that she is seeking delegates now to hopefully crown new title holders before Bonitafest.
For more information about After the Finish Line, visit www.AfterTheFinishLine.org.