Meet Caitlin Tyson, the new queen

Bodden Town’s own model and actress, Caitlin Tyson, claimed the Miss Cayman Islands Universe crown earlier this month, edging out a competitive pool of six other aspiring queens. In addition to winning a $70,000 education scholarship, she will also represent the islands on the world stage this December at the Miss Universe pageant in Thailand.

Before getting swept up in the demanding schedule that comes with royalty, the 24-year-old stopped by the Cayman Compass studio to talk about her background and share plans for her reign as a cultural ambassador of the Cayman Islands.

Weekender: Tell us a little about yourself. Before winning the title, you were active as an actress and in the arts.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been involved with the arts. I’ve been in many productions here at the Prospect Play House with the Drama Society, also at the Harquail Theatre.

I’ve been in the Talent Expo of the Arts by The New Self-Help Community Foundation.

Also, I received my associate degree from UCCI in literary studies. Then I went on to pursue my acting degree at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

My mother is from Cayman and my father is American, so, I have a bit of a duality there. I was able to go and study in New York and begin working right away, so that was a blessing in itself.

I’ve been investing in the industry abroad for quite a while now and my heart has always been in Cayman. I wanted to start investing back home. That was one of the main reasons I decided to come back home and run for the position of Miss Cayman Islands Universe. Because I want to be an ambassador for my country and represent my country on an international stage.

Weekender: Tell us about the duality between Cayman and the United States.

I grew up in Bodden Town, in Beach Bay. I remember going down to the beach every single day with my brothers and my cousins. We had a little clubhouse in the bush that we would go and hide out in. Then I moved to Savannah and then to Newlands. So, it’s always been in that area. But I’ve always had fond memories of growing up in Bodden Town. It’s such a quiet district. It’s so beautiful and residential. I would ride my bike every day when I got home from school. I’d eat an apple by the beach by myself.

When I went to New York, actually it was the year of the blizzards. That was my first time ever being in snow like that. It was really intense. …

I really love Brooklyn because there is a large community of Caribbean people there, as well. So, you can say “good morning” to people on the street and they will not look at you like you are crazy. They say “good morning” back. It made me feel like I had a little piece of home there with me ….

Weekender: It sounds like you’ve always stayed attached to your Caribbean roots.

Definitely. On Easter, I made heavy cake for my entire class in acting school. They went crazy. They were like, “What is cassava? What is this? It’s so sweet.” They were asking me to bring them back rum cakes from home – and I did.

I love having a cultural exchange. I had seven French roommates at one time and we had a cultural night. They made some of their cuisine and I made mine. I made stewed chicken and rice and beans, and I finished with heavy cake, of course. …

I would always be blasting my soca music and my calypso. …

I just love sharing my culture with other people.

Weekender: What are some things that you’d like to communicate to the world about Cayman?

The world view of Cayman is very narrow. It’s just what they see in movies and what they hear in songs. They think it’s a place where you go to hide money. But we are a people that come from humble beginnings of seamen and fishing and turtling, and weaving thatch roofs – the rope industry was one of our largest industries. And now we have a thriving financial sector and a booming tourism industry.

So, what I’d want to communicate about the Cayman Islands is that we are a very humble people, a very innovative people, and we are confident. We love to go out during carnival and celebrate ourselves in all of our glory. We celebrate our culture and our heritage, and I want to show that pride everywhere I go.

Weekender: Now let’s switch gears to the competition. Tell me about what went in to getting ready for Miss Cayman.

We had a lot of training, getting us ready. It was a little over two months for us to get ready, so it was a short amount of time. … But we had training with the Toastmasters every week. They really kept us up-to-date with current affairs, what’s going on in Cayman and also worldwide, and public speaking, confidence building. So, the Toastmasters were such a huge help. That was one of my favorite parts, as well was meeting with them. …

We did runway training as well every week and also we did dance rehearsals to get ready for that big opening number. We did etiquette training with Sherryl Ebanks-Miller and that was an amazing experience too. She’s so wise. She has so much to offer and I was so honored to learn from her. …

So, it was a really compact amount of time but they filled our schedule with so much and we learned so much in that short period of time.

Weekender: Were there any areas that were a challenge for you or was it natural for you to step into that role?

There were a lot of challenges for me, especially the emotional challenges. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs – and I think that is just being human. Sometimes you are on top of the world and you are confident. Other times you are doubting yourself – Did I do this right? Did I look right?

That was the most challenging thing for me, but I try to put on a brave face and I really focus on one thing that I’m really confident about and I just pour love into that space and go out into the world. A lot of times that was my biggest thing, self-doubt. …

But what was really great for me was having the sisterhood, all of my pageant sisters. We were really there for each other. I think that is because it was such a short amount of time and we knew it was just us girls that were going to be going through this. We just banded together and really helped each other out when we were feeling down.

Also, my support system, my family is amazing. My mother was there for me every step of the way. She would call me every morning. We would talk every single day. And my boyfriend was there for me too to help me. …

Weekender: How did you feel the night of before the competition started?

The night of was surreal. Even the morning of [the pageant] because we started our interviews in the morning. I said to the girls, “Wait, are we doing our interview today?” Even though we are all fully dressed, I just could not wrap my head around it. I’m like, oh my goodness, the day is here, the day has come.

So, all day, I was just in this different world. I could not believe it. It was almost showtime and I was like, “Wait, is this it?” I think because I’m an actress, I’m used to having a few runs of the show. You have your dress rehearsal and then you maybe have three times that you go up and perform. But with this, it’s a competition. … So, everything you’ve been preparing for, this is when it all has to come together.

The night of [the competition] was just a surreal moment for me. I just started praying and started thinking of all the people who were supporting me, reaching out to me on social media and all of the people who love me and got me to this point. That really calmed me down. I do not remember the nerves really surfacing until I hit the stage.

Weekender: How was it, looking out on all those people?

Looking out into the audience and seeing so many people that I knew was the most nerve-racking part of the whole experience because I’m OK with performing for crowds of people that I do not know – I’ve had to do that many times – but looking out and seeing people that I love and making eye contact with everyone, that is when I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is happening.” I got kind of nervous but then I felt all the love. I saw the people with the banners and the fans. It just gave me such confidence seeing them out there. … So, I appreciated everyone coming out and supporting.

Weekender: How did it feel when they announced your name as the winner?

That moment was … I still cannot believe it. I still cannot wrap my head around it. I just keep saying that it was surreal, it was so surreal. You are standing up there next to a group of girls that are all beautiful, all intelligent, all have amazing personalities. So, you are just waiting; you do not know what’s going to happen.

When they called my number, I just paused because I was not sure if they’d called my number. But then I saw my family going crazy and that is when the tears just came. It was just this wave of relief but also gratitude. I felt so humbled. And after all of this time working toward this goal, such hard work, so many long hours, long days and long nights, and to finally win, it’s just surreal. … Right now I am just over the moon.

I’ve always looked up to the queens and now, for that to be me and to understand that a lot of girls and the whole community is going to be looking up to me, that is such a huge role to play.

To be an ambassador for the country is an important job that I take very seriously. I am so honored to be chosen to represent my country and to really be able to effect some positive change in Cayman.

Weekender: What are some of the priorities for you this year? What do you want to get out of this year?

I really want to get involved in the community and get involved with the youth, especially implementing the arts back into our school system on a larger scale.

I know how beneficial it was for me to be involved in the arts. It helped with my confidence. It helped me to be a team player. It helped with my public speaking. … With the youth, after-school programs are definitely something I want to be engaging in and also bringing life back to our public spaces, the library and the Town Hall. …

I want to know what’s going on and also to engage the young people and my generation to really get involved because we are the future of Cayman. We need to be ready to take the reins from those who came before us. I just want to honor the amazing men and women who came before us and allowed us to be in this position.

Mainly, I want to be of service to the Cayman Islands. So, if anyone has anything that is going on, feel free to send me a message on Instagram, to my website, to my Facebook page. Get in contact with me because I am here as your representative.

Weekender: In terms of young girls and women looking up to the queen, what are the values you think a queen should represent?

I think that a queen should be inclusive. I think that she should stand for everyone. I think she should use her voice to go out and make a difference.

We are all queens. I was a queen before I had this crown and so are you. Use your voice. Your voice matters, and be confident. Dream big. The sky is the limit. No one can tell you that your dreams do not matter. …

Really just practice self-love and share that with everyone that you meet. When you love yourself, you can freely share that love with other people.

Chase your dreams. You will be so much happier if you chase your dreams. And if you are ever thinking about entering the Miss Cayman Islands Universe pageant, definitely do so because it is so worthwhile. You will take these lessons with you anywhere you go.

Weekender: You will be the recipient of a $70,000 scholarship. What are the plans for that?

What I’d like to do is pursue my master’s degree in performing arts later on.

Right now, I would love to just focus on being Miss Cayman Islands to the best of my ability and after that, let this opportunity propel my career forward and see the amount of work I get and really build up my portfolio so that when I go back to school, I will have a beautiful body of work that will really help me.