As many of you know, at the end of 2016 I made some big life changes to prepare for a life-filled 2017. My vow was to have more work-life balance. I wanted the opportunity to say 'yes' to new and spontaneous experiences.
During this time period, I was approached to serve as a judge for the 2017 Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant. This pageant is a qualifying preliminary for the Miss Illinois and Miss America Pageant. I have never participated or have known any participants of this very exclusive world. I was very puzzled on how I was qualified to serve as a judge for a competition that I knew nothing about. I rarely remembered to catch a glimpse of the Miss America pageant on TV or social media. With an open mind, I decided to learn more about this opportunity to gain a new experience into a totally different world.
Kristen Conrad, a former college professor at Western Illinois University, is the Miss Macomb Board Vice President. I was fortunate to have her for a Fashion Merchandising course during my undergraduate studies and have kept in touch thanks to the power of social media. She reached out with such passion and shared that they needed a novice judge for the panel. There are many eligibility rules for serving as a judge for the Miss America Organization. One of the rules is that the judge’s panel needs a novice judge, which is someone who has never judged a Miss America Preliminary. That is where I come into this equation.
Prior to committing, I also spoke with Kathy Waters, President of the Miss Macomb Scholarship Organization and the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce. Both ladies did a great job of peaking my interest in this experience.
WHY JUDGE A PAGEANT?
- The Miss America Organization is NOT a beauty pageant. This was emphasized quite frequently. The Miss America Organization is the nations’ leading advocate for women’s education and the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States. In fact, the Miss Macomb Pageant provides one of the largest local preliminary scholarships in the Miss America system.
- The Miss Macomb Pageant is a preliminary to the Miss Illinois and Miss America Pageants.
- The Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant is a not-for-profit organization run entirely by volunteers.
After speaking with Kathy I thought, “How many people can say they served as a judge that helped determine the next Miss America?” Knowing that I wanted to live more new and spontaneous experiences in 2017, I committed to the 2017 Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant!
In my opinion, there was not a lot of preparation for the judges. Certainly the candidates had much more prep work to prepare for the big day. Prior to the pageant, we had to read and sign an affidavit. The affidavit went something like this:
You, your family, your cousin’s dog walker’s boyfriend cannot know the candidates, candidates parents, or candidates dog walker’s boyfriend’s sister. Basically, I could not know any of the candidates or anyone they knew.
Luckily not being a resident of Macomb or surrounding counties and having been graduated more than eight years ago, I was eligible to serve as a judge. We were asked to review the candidates’ resumes and platform essays prior to the interviews. I enjoyed the professionalism of the resumes and platform essays that helped shape my first impression of the candidates prior to meeting them.
THE JUDGES’ TIMELINE
The day was jammed packed with a judges’ orientation, candidate interviews, dinner with the Mayor, and the big on-stage pageant.
As an adult, I typically arrive early to professional meetings and obligations. The daytime events were all held at Macomb’s City Hall. I was the first to arrive and was greeted by Kathy Waters. She was bright eyed and bushy tailed (and possibly four cups of coffee deep). I also met the Co-Executive Directors of the pageant, Marta Ewen and Lana Markham. I was not positive who they were initially when I met them. However, these two ladies play a very important role in the continued success of the Miss Macomb Scholarship legacy.
THE JUDGES PANEL
Nancy Lee is a certified judge. Each judges’ panel requires one certified judge. She is a dominant stakeholder in the pageant world with more than 25 years volunteering. She is the Executive Director of the local Miss Blackhawk Valley Pageant held in East Moline.
Erin O’Connor was a WIU alumnus, theatre major, 2009 Miss Macomb, and 2010 Miss Illinois. My first impression of Erin was “this girl definitely has worn a crown in the past”. She was very bubbly, poised, and charming to have on the judges panel.
Curt Barker is the Chief of Police in Macomb. He was also a novice judge having no connection to the pageant world.
Rauna Brown is another staple in the pageant world. She was proudly Miss Macomb back in 1974. My first impression of Rauna was that she truly enjoys helping young females achieve great things through the Miss America mission of promoting scholastic achievement, healthy living, and community involvement.
Kristen was absolutely correct that I would be given all the information needed in the judges’ orientation. Meganne Trela, Director of Operations with Miss Illinois, led the orientation and was very thorough in her explanation of judges’ responsibilities. I cannot go into depth in regards to these details or about the candidates. However, I will share that if each preliminary pageant is ran as professional as the Miss Macomb preliminary than you certainly have gained my respect for pageants and the Miss America Organization.
IT’S NOT A BEAUTY PAGEANT
There was a lot of emphasis in orientation that Miss America is not a beauty pageant. I would guess that if I randomly asked “What is the Miss America Pageant?” to people on the street, that 7 out of 10 people* would reference Miss America as a beauty pageant. *That is certainly my opinion and not an actual result of a study.
I would honestly say that I was 1 of the 7 people who would have initially referenced Miss America as a beauty pageant. Watching Miss America on TV, all you see are beautiful women with great bodies strutting their stuff in bikinis and jaw dropping evening gowns. Sometimes you question, “What is the big differentiator between pretty girl number one and pretty girl number two?”
Being open to this new experience allowed me to learn that there is so much more than beauty to be crowned Miss America. Instead of hair, makeup, and the quality of the evening gown, it’s all about first impressions, confidence, poise, energy, charisma, intelligence, and personality. Ultimately the big question is “Would I be proud having this candidate represent my community or my state as a role model and leader?”
There are certain requirements for candidates to participate in the Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant that mostly revolve around geographic residency. The candidates may have competed before in a local county fair (which is a different pageant and judging system), may have competed in a different preliminary, or may have never competed before. For this pageant, there were girls who fell into each of these categories.
THE CANDIDATE INTERVIEWS
Again, I cannot share any details about this process. The purpose of the interview is to learn as much about the candidate from her platform and achievements to her perspectives on current events. In my opinion, the interview is one reason I would encourage someone to participate in a pageant. For most people, public speaking and social skills do not come easily. Most people would say they do not enjoy public speaking, interviewing, or being in front of an audience. These girls are one step ahead prepping for the interviewing experience.
THE MAYOR’S DINNER
It is tradition for Mayor Mike Inman and his wife to host the judges’ dinner prior to the pageant.
Jaryn Franklin, 2016 Miss Illinois, also was in attendance and performing at the pageant that evening. I did not watch last year’s Miss America pageant, but Jaryn was one part of the top 10 candidates who performed their talent on the Miss America stage. Jaryn is a local Quad Citian from East Moline.
LET THE SHOW BEGIN
As judges, we all had to arrive together and were not allowed to have any contact with the audience, parents, or candidates. This is taken very seriously, especially at the state and national level. If I needed to go to the bathroom, the bathrooms first had to be cleared out before I could enter.
We were escorted into the auditorium and sat right in front of the stage. As judges, we are advised not to interact or converse with our fellow judges during the pageant because people might think there was colluding happening. We were also not allowed to talk, laugh, applaud, or show any emotion while contestants were on stage.
Two former Miss Macomb crown holders emceed the show. The ladies and all the volunteers did a great job to support the candidates. Everything you expected was included in the show including an opening number, fitness/swimsuit, talent, eveningwear, and on-stage question. Scattered between these sections of the competition, the 2016 Miss Illinois, Miss Macomb, and Miss Macomb Outstanding Teen performed different vocal numbers.
During the pageant, I had no idea how my fellow judges were scoring each candidate. I was just as excited as the audience to hear the emcees announce the crowning of the 2017 Miss Macomb and Miss Macomb Outstanding Teen.
Welcome 2017 Miss Macomb Outstanding Teen Emily Jones. This was Emily’s first pageant.
Also, welcome 2017 Miss Macomb Angelique Niemann. Angelique was the 2016 Miss Quincy and recently finished her reign. She will be prepping for the Miss Illinois Pageant in June with hopes to wear the crown in the Miss America pageant in September.
In life, we all have passions. What gets us out of bed? What do we thrive on? For some people, the answer is promoting and supporting young women’s educational growth through pageants and the Miss America Organization.
The Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant was started almost 60 years ago by a passionate couple, Bob and Nancy Foote. They were Co-Executive Directors and it was very apparent that this was what got them up everyday. In honor of Nancy, who passed away in March 2016, there was a tribute at the beginning of the pageant. Although I did not know this couple, it was very apparent to see impact they had on hundreds of lives and how involved they were in the community. In 2016, Bob passed on the Co-Executive Director responsibilities to Marta and Lana. They had big shoes to fill and, in my opinion, I think they filled them with honor and poise.
There are long-standing traditions with the Miss America Organization, which has been around since 1921. Obviously there have also been modernizations based on the ever-changing world. I look forward to seeing the Miss America Organization continue to modernize and continue to support women’s education and future leaders.
Overall, I am so thankful that Kristen reached out to me and thought highly about my abilities to sit on such an extinguished judges panel. Timing is everything and I am so glad I was able to be open to new and spontaneous experiences. Although I cannot judge another preliminary pageant for three years, I would happily do it again. I know it certainly changed my perspective about the Miss America Organization and pageant world. If you get anything from my experience, I hope it is that not all pageants are beauty pageants. Pageants and the people involved make a very big impact in the future of our female leaders.