Tara Lipinski on judging Miss America: 'I feel like I can relate'

When the 2018 Miss America competition airs on Sunday night, sitting among the judges will be a woman who is very used to being judged: figure skater Tara Lipinski, an Olympic gold medalist who has evolved into a sports commentator and style icon. Lipinski (who was a Miss Universe judge in 2013) will join others including singer Jordin Sparks, People magazine editor Jess Cagle, and actress Molly Sims in choosing the successor to Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields.

“For someone who’s grown up in competition and knows what these young women are going through — probably so many exciting emotions but also such nervousness — I feel like I can relate,” Lipinski, 35, tells Yahoo Beauty in the days leading up to the big pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. Here’s what else the newly married L.A. dweller had to say.

What does Miss America mean to you?

Growing up, my mom and I loved watching Miss America. It was such an event and tradition for us for so long, so to be able to partake is even better. But what the Miss America organization does every year and what the young woman’s next year looks like, all the community service, is the best part of it.

Yahoo Beauty: How do you think the competition differs from what you’re used to in the world of figure skating?

Tara Lipinski: It’s probably completely different. The competition aspect is the same, but from I can tell, these women are friends — they’re supporters, they’re working together, and I think that’s what’s really beautiful about Miss America. Olympics gymnasts have always had that great team aspect to the sport, and skating is just jumping onboard now. But [with] an individual sport like skating, it’s hard to navigate and know who your friends are and step outside your small circle of supporters. With Miss America, I see young women sticking together and supporting each other and empowering each other.

Why is figure skating filled with so much drama?

I think it’s because it’s a sport where you’re an individual, and the Olympic Games are the prime event, and it’s once every four years, so a lot has to go into it with your age, timing, injuries — there’s just this perfect storm that needs to happen, and obviously only one person wins, and ice is slippery, and in the span of four minutes you’re pretty much done. So there’s so much riding on the line and so much pressure. I think it’s hard for skaters not to look around them and see who their competition is. But I do see a huge shift in skating just with the [new] team event [which started in Sochi]. It was really fun to see the skaters rooting for each other.

You married sports producer Todd Kapostasy in June. Congratulations! How does married life feel different?

It doesn’t really feel different at all, which is crazy. Although the day we got married I thought going into it, “I’m not going to feel this huge change,” but the ceremony had such an impact on me, and I was so emotional! And it still is different to hear “Mrs.” instead of “miss” and saying he’s my “husband.” I stumble over it every time still, because it’s not in my vocabulary. But we’ve been happy. We went on a long honeymoon, we had such a good time, and the wedding and all the hype is exciting. But just coming home and knowing you’re in it together forever feels even better in a way.

You are BFFs with fellow figure skater and commentator partner in crime Johnny Weir, who recently gave a beautiful toast at your wedding as your “bridesman.” What makes your friendship so special?

You come from a sport where you’re so focused on yourself you don’t know who to trust or let in — and somehow, magically, in this second phase of our careers we found each other and became a team. It is magical! Just the fact that I get to work with someone that I trust so much, that I know so much, that I know makes me better, is just this, like, cocoon of happiness where we’re sitting perched over the ice together.

Johnny has said about your connection: “I’m a gay dude, and she’s a girl. That is, through nature, the strongest bond that you’ll have aside from your mother.” What do you think of that?

It’s interesting. I feel like we have so many things in common — obviously our childhood and growing up in the sport and understanding each other on this deep, deep level that I don’t think many people would get coming from outside the sport. Looking back, I knew him, but never really hung out with him, and when we met it was such an instant connection. We kind of look at our work in the same way, and when we’re done working we always laugh. So gay guy, girl? It’s beyond that.

The 2018 Miss America Competition airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.

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