Michelle Papandrea has a gift: She's surprisingly lucky when it comes to entering or applying for contests.
Sure, it's not exactly being able to paint like Picasso or do long division in your head, but it's served Papandrea pretty well lately.
Last year, she filled out an application for the Miss Illinois USA pageant and was chosen for the competition, even though she'd never been in a pageant before. And recently, Papandrea, 19, entered and won a contest sponsored by tanning lotion company Supre Tan. The prize? A VIP meet-and-greet with one of the company's pitchwomen, Jersey Shore's Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.
"I love Jersey Shore," Papandrea, a Lincoln-Way East High School grad and a sophomore at Chicago's Roosevelt University, wrote in an e-mail. "I watch it with my roommates every Thursday night. It's a tradition now. Also, Snooki is just so entertaining, so I cannot wait to meet her!"
To enter the contest, Papandrea, whose father owns Parmesan's Wood Stone Pizza in Frankfort, had to submit a photo of herself dressed up Jersey Shore-style and posing with a bottle of her lotion. After a preliminary round, she was chosen the winner by Snooki herself.
As the winner, Papandrea will attend an event with Snooki in March (the exact date hasn't been determined) at Ultimate Exposure, the Chicago tanning salon where Papandrea works. The appearance is a public affair, but Papandrea said she'll receive the celebrity treatment.
"I get about 30 minutes of VIP time with her, and I have been trying to think about what I would talk about with her, and I have no idea," she said. "I do know that I'm going to ask her why she picked my photo out of the other 24 contestants. ... I'm also going to ask her if she likes all of the fame she's gotten from being on the show. I honestly think I'm just going to go with the flow. I know she will make me feel comfortable! I'm really excited."
Of course, not everyone would find spending face time with Snooki to be a prize. Jersey Shore has its host of detractors, and the reality TV star is known for her crude, boorish and drunken behavior. But Papandrea appreciates how Snooki stays true to herself.
"I really like how she doesn't care about what anyone thinks of her," she said. "I know she does some crazy stuff on Jersey Shore and gets a lot of criticism for it, but she's not afraid to stand her ground and stick up for herself. She does that a lot on Twitter, and I do admire her for that. Plus, have you seen her tan? I love it!"
YOUR TURN: What should Papandrea ask Snooki when they meet? Share your suggestions in our comments section.