Winning the title of Grand Champion at the 2012 Creative Decorating Competition, as well as earning a medal in every category, is a far cry from last year's outcome for Rachel Vaughn of The Cakery in Dayton, OH. "Last year was a complete disaster," she says.

On the other hand, she wouldn't hold the title today if hadn't been for that disaster. "At last year's judging, I stayed and listened to the critiques. And I learned that what I thought was working didn't matter. I took the judges' criticisms to heart, and I really learned from it."

One thing she learned from last year was time management, and this time she came into the competition organized, practiced and ready to get down to business. The preparation served her well, earning her not only the Grand Champion title, but also first place medals in the sculpted and wedding cake categories, second place in floral and fondant cakes, and third place in the custom category.

Even with a successful run, Vaughn still learned valuable lessons -- like making sure to listen to all the details and directions. "I know I could have placed higher in some categories if I had listened better. They have a lot of specific instructions, and I just missed some of them."

Still, Vaughn walked away with more than accolades. "I made a lot of friends this year. There was a lot of camaraderie," she says.