Zee TV’s “Made in America” brought together 6 beautiful and talented young South Asian women who took on the challenges of pageant life, led by their mentor and the show’s host, Nina Davuluri. Young Ameena Sheriff was one of the contestants on the show who won over fans with her simple and sweet demeanor. India.com had a chance to get to know this beauty queen better, check out our interview with her!

Q: Tell us how you felt when you found out you’ve been selected as a contestant for MIA?
Ameena: When I found out I was a contestant on Made in America, I was beyond excited. I had so many emotions going through my mind. I was definitely nervous, I’ve never done anything like this before, but I knew that it was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wanted to go for it. Everyone in my family was so supportive. They all encouraged me to go for it because not everyone can get an opportunity like this. I am so thankful that my family is my biggest support system and they encourage me to shoot for the stars and be the best I can.

Q: What was your big personal goal when starting MIA? Were you able to achieve it by the end of the journey?
Ameena: My personal goal on Made in America was to be myself. I wanted to make sure that when I watched the show, I could see the real me through the screen. I also wanted to boost my confidence level. No one is perfect in this world. You shouldn’t have to feel like you must look or act a certain way just because everyone else does. Everyone is different, and that is okay. Being yourself and loving who you are is all a part of your journey and throughout that journey, you will find the perfect “YOU.”

Q: How has your life changed since MIA?

Ameena: My life after Made in America has changed because I was able to gain more confidence in myself. Before I could be myself around my family and close friends but after the show, I feel as if I can do any and everything without lacking confidence and being shy. I can see myself growing and being more outgoing and trying new things and I love that about myself. I was able to gain the confidence and join a try out for a Bollywood fusion dance team at the University of Minnesota! I was so excited when I found out I made MN Junoon and I can’t wait to perform. I’m so happy that I have gained confidence in myself because I am a fun, quirky and bubbly person and that is what makes me who I am today.

Q: What is one takeaway you’ve learned from being a contestant on the show, and from Nina Davuluri?

Ameena: One take away I learned as being a contestant on the show was that it shouldn’t matter what you look like, everyone should be treated the same. Something you see in Bollywood is that they tend to have majority fair-skinned actors and actresses. Unlike in Hollywood, they are very open and don’t look for the color of your skin. An example would be Mindy Kailing, who is a South Asian woman with a dark complexion and she was able to get her own TV show. In the end, it all boils down to each industry knowing what they’re looking for and there isn’t much one can do. We hold the key to our own success and it’s up to us to push forward to make our dreams come true.

One take away I learned from Nina, is it doesn’t matter how young you are if you want something in life you should go for it. Even though I was the youngest on the show, it shouldn’t matter because if I want to pursue goals in life I should go for it. She also advised me that if we have a goal in mind you will have to make sacrifices. There will be parties that you won’t be able to attend and friends you won’t be able to hang out with, but that’s okay because you are sacrificing these things for yourself and your goals. Q: What is one challenge you experienced during the show that made you a better contestant?

Q: What is one challenge you experienced during the show that made you a better contestant?
Ameena: One challenge that made me a better contestant was the boot camp challenge. I knew that I really pushed myself to the max to get through that challenge and let me tell you, it was not easy at all! When coach Scott told said how much the sandbags weighted. I was in shock! I was thinking to myself like how am I going to do this, I can barely lift 40 pounds. I was literally the crying emoji. I was so proud of myself for getting through all the obstacles. I didn’t know I was capable of finishing such a tough workout! I learned the saying “You can do anything you set your mind to” is actually true.

Q: Share a special memory you will always cherish from the show
Ameena:The one special memory I will always cherish is winning my first challenge, which was the photoshoot challenge! I can’t even describe how happy I was. That moment of feeling like you have accomplished something that you were fighting for is the best feeling ever. Winning this challenge hit the heart because print modelling is something I would love to do in the future so, it meant that much more. Watching the episode and seeing how happy I was brought tears to my eyes. I felt every single emotion again just looking at myself through the tv. Winning this challenge gave me hope and confidence for the rest of the competition and life in general. Life is made up of different opportunities and it’s up to you to grab those opportunities and fly because opportunities truly are a blessing in disguise.

Q: What is in store for the future? Will you continue to pursue modelling and/or acting?

Ameena: In the future, I would absolutely love pursuing modelling and acting. I think one of my strengths is print modelling. I find it so much fun to be in front of the camera. I would love to be in some acting roles and commercials. I think being in front of a camera gives you a rush. It is so much fun and I absolutely love it.

Q: What is one difference you’d like to make for your community post MIA?
Ameena: I would like to have my West Indian community more involved in participating in these types of events. The West Indian community feels as if they aren’t accepted, due to the fact that the Indian community does not consider them true “Desis.” Even though we all originated from the same country. So, getting my community on the map would mean a lot to me. Being a part of this show, I got a lot of support from my community from around the world. My West Indian community is proud to have me, as a Guyanese representative. I hope by me being a part of this show it will encourage more West Indians to pursue their dreams and always shoot for the stars.

Q: Why do you think MIA is an important television show today in the current landscape of limited representation or stereotypical representation of South Asian America?
Ameena: Made in America is an important television show in today’s society, it gives recognition the South Asian-American community. Not many South Asians, let alone South Asian women, are being represented today. A show like Made in America could gain the audience of many people around the world and showcase women that aren’t seen on television very often and that is what I love about it.

Q: How do you handle straddling two cultures, especially in such an intense political climate?
Ameena: Out of all the girls I’d say I have a unique side because I am not only straddling two cultures but I am straddling three: American, West Indian and Indian. These cultures are what make me who I am today. I absolutely love having all these different sides of me. It makes me feel like I am different from a lot of people and being different is the best, in my opinion. I’d say growing up it was hard to me to find a good way to straddle my cultures because I went to a predominately Caucasian school. I didn’t want to be an “outsider” at school, but as I grew up, I learned that it’s okay to be myself. It’s okay to be different because that makes me original and not many people are like me and that’s more than okay. Being original makes you stand out compared to the others who surround you. Don’t be afraid of being yourself because that’s what makes you who you are.

Q: How do you think you represented your culture? Were you nervous at perpetuating any stereotypes or were you aware of your participation as being pioneering?
Ameena: Well, I wasn’t able to represent my culture. There wasn’t much an opportunity for me to represent my Indian and West Indian culture. I can say that one way I represented my culture was by being modest. The way I dressed and acted on the show was how I wanted to be known. Being a South Asian Muslim girl, I was taught to dress appropriately and give yourself a good image because it does matter in the future.

Q: What was your highest high and lowest low during MIA?
Ameena: My highest high was winning the photoshoot challenge because that meant so much to me. My lowest low was when we had the life coach come in and speak to us. We spoke about the area in which we struggled in the most which was hard for me because I knew I was lacking confidence. What made this experience hard for me was I know I was capable of more in the show but I found it difficult to speak up. Some of the girls on the show are way more experienced than I was and it was hard to get a word in at some points. I did struggle a lot trying to be on the same level with the other girls but looking back I had no reason to. Being myself was good enough.