After weeks of hard work and plenty of talent display, Maryland native Kanika Lal, who now calls Los Angeles home, walked away as the winner of the coveted title of Zee TV’s reality show, “Made in America,” Oct. 12.

The show, which was filmed in Hollywood and featured six second-generation South Asian millennial women, was hosted by former Miss America Nina Davaluri.

“I was shocked after winning. I felt immediately humbled and a little confused, too,” Lal told India-West. “I seriously thought, ‘Really! Me?’ I wanted my hard work to be acknowledged and it was beautiful that it was. But it was also a reminder and an inspiration to tell so many younger girls that embracing your own strengths and weaknesses is what makes you a winner in everyday life.”

The Indian American actress, TV host and stand-up comic noted that being comfortable in one’s own skin and sharing that to the world is “what we want to see more of. It felt heartwarming that I was celebrated for being my unique self.”

“Shooting for the moon while working at your craft every single day with passion are the keys,” she reflected.

The audition process, according to the channel, drew in over 6,000 applicants.

Over a period of ten weeks, the six contestants honed their skills by participating in grueling sessions encompassing physical training, beauty and wardrobe styling, dietary training, and personal talent training, as well as acting classes from the New York Film Academy.

The show’s premise was to empower young South Asian women and help them discover more about themselves as they embark on a new journey filled with exciting opportunities. But the journey to the crown wasn’t an easy one as contestants had to sail through a series of challenges both mental and physical.

Lal explained that the energy around her kept her motivated throughout the pageant, and the belief that she is on her own and can do whatever she sets her sight on. “Staying positive and even trying to uplift the others around me by being honest and as passionate,” she told India-West

She added, “I also reminded myself why I’m there. It’s to not only work hard but have fun through it all and make the most. Otherwise, the time will be gone, and I’ll have nothing to remember it by. I was good to myself and tried to think as many positive/encouraging thoughts because at the end of the day, it’s up to us individually to be our own cheerleaders.”

The young women also participated in community outreach programs, alongside competing in challenges ranging from ‘Best Walk’ to ‘Best Wardrobe’ to ‘Best Swimwear’ and more.

A winner was chosen in each episode, and as the episodes went by, the number of contestants were whittled down from six to one.

Lal, whose family hails from New Delhi, India, confessed that she is by no means a pageant queen and never thought that she’d even star in a reality show.

“This was something different in its entirety. The weeks shooting this show was actual real life. With each ‘challenge’ or scene we had to face, I can honestly say the hardest competition in the room was myself. And it still is,” she wrote on Instagram. “You know that inner voice that trips us up and tells us ‘You look silly. You look fat. You sound stupid. You won’t make it?’ (If you don’t have that, lucky you). That is what I was competing with. It’s our best friend but also our worst enemy. And one of the greatest goals we can achieve is listening to the voice, but not letting it affect us.”

Lal, who studied broadcast journalism at Boston University, relocated to Los Angeles to pursue better opportunities. She worked as a reporter for some time with leading publications before beginning to flex her acting muscles in short films, Web-series, and some national commercials, including Wells Fargo and Chevrolet Volt. She can also be spotted performing stand-up comedy at various venues across the city.

Lal’s prizes included walking on the runway for Andre’ Aquinol Couture at New York Fashion Week, a one-year modeling contract with a top New York City modeling agency, and an acting course from the New York Film Academy. The channel had earlier announced that the winner will also get an opportunity to be cast in an upcoming Bollywood movie as well as in a Zee TV show in the U.S. 

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