Carrying dress bags and lugging suitcases behind them, 30 young women made their way into the Singletary Center for the Arts on Tuesday and settled into the orchestra room as they transformed it into a makeshift dressing room.
Many of the contestants made multiple trips from the dressing room to a vehicle outside which had their competition wardrobe loaded into it. Several boasted about the workout the trip gave them and took the process in stride.
It is all a part of the long, tough week that leads to Saturday night’s final round, which culminates with the crowning of Miss Kentucky 2016. For some, the scholarship competition is fairly new. Others have been in the pageant world for years.
Serving as Miss Southeast Kentucky, Brooke Way, a native of Corbin, competes in the Miss Kentucky pageant for the first time this year.
Waiting for Tuesday’s rehearsals to get underway at the Singletary Center, Way said she knew she would need to compete for as many scholarships as she could looking to further her education.
“Going to my high school counselor’s office, they handed me a sheet of paper that was an application for a pageant, and I decided that would be a lot more fun than writing essays,” Way said.
Way will be judged against 29 others representing different areas and regions of the commonwealth.
While the winner isn’t crowned until Saturday, and preliminary competitions didn’t occur until Thursday and Friday, contestants faced a packed schedule throughout the week.
Sharing good will
On Monday, they arrived at Kentucky Children’s Hospital to meet and interact with patients.
Jacob Wohner, 7, was admitted on June 24, for a ruptured appendix. His parents and brother were with him in the room as was his stuffed dinosaur, named Batman, and a yet-to-be-named stuffed cat.
Jacob got a surprise visit from Clark Davis, Miss Kentucky 2015; Chapel Tinius, Miss Kentucky’s Outstanding Teen; and Allie Nault, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
The pageant winning trio chatted with Wohner about such things as SpongeBob SquarePants, which he had on in his room, the name of his stuffed cat and, finally, basketball.
Wohner had been a bit shy, given the attention. But the talk of basketball perked his interest as he plays the sport himself.
Tinius asked him if he could play for any team who he would want to play for?
“Kentucky,” he timidly responded. Echoes of agreement flooded the room.
Next door, Jace Henson, 3, worked on a door hanger craft with Miss Historic Stearns, Tyra Sengkhamyong, and another contestant.
Roxanne Rose, Jace’s grandmother, said she was shocked her grandson was interacting so well with the contestants because he’s on the autism spectrum and such behavior from him isn’t common.
Rose said she wasn’t aware the contestants were stopping by and that the visit was a wonderful surprise.
“Very nice that they take the time to do this and interact with patients at the hospital,” she said.
Sengkhamyong said, “I didn’t know if he would want to do anything, but once we started doing the craft and putting stickers on it, he was naming all of his animals ‘Charlie.’ He was so sweet.”
At Tuesday’s rehearsal, the competitorspracticed their opening numbers for Thursday and Friday’s preliminary rounds and for Saturday’s crowning event. Each tried to go through the program a few times in order to get the timing right for the real performance.
Before rehearsals began, Haley Taulbee, Miss Somerset Community College, used the time to steam wrinkles and creases out of her dress. Her dress had multiple layers, and she wanted to go ahead and get this out of way so she wouldn’t have to worry about it later.
Taulbee wasn’t interested in pageants initially, but when she competed in another pageant for a scholarship, she ended up falling in love with the idea.
“I decided to do a Miss Kentucky prelim and just so happened to win it.,” she said. “So, here I am.”
Taulbee said she’s come to realize looks have next to nothing to do with the competition. She sees the pageant as a way to give young women a platform for issues they care about.
Making a stand
Contestants must have a platform of some kind to promote.
Taulbee’s started her own cause called Instruments of Change. She said her vision for the organization has grown into utilizing music to bring people together in order to help different causes.
“Some of these girls don’t have anywhere to show off what they can do,” she said, “and I think it’s so cool to be able to show that girls can have ambition and talent and beauty and smarts and be so well-rounded.”
Way dubbed her platform #pinkpantsfriday, an idea spring from her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2013. Competing has allowed her to promote breast cancer awareness.
“I encourage people to do self exams every Friday and be reminded by wearing pink because catching cancer in its earliest stages and dear to my heart because of my mom,” she said.
Practicing for the big event
The dressing room cleared out and the contestants made their way to the stage to practice the opening number.
As the curtain opened they emerged, marching out in high heels and hitting their choreographed dance moves.
Jenna Day, Miss Kentucky 2013, and Lexie Watts, assistant to the choreographer, offered words of encouragement and advice from just off the end of the stage as the opening number played.
They went through the opening a second time and continued with the rest of the program.
Janelle Tomes, hostess chairwoman for Miss Kentucky, and Debi Sharp, hostess, sat a few rows back from the stage watching the rehearsal.
Tomes had competed in the pageant from 2005 to 2009, and Sharp had been a hostess with the pageant for six years. Sharp’s role was influenced by her niece, Heather French Henry, who was crowned Miss America 2000 — the only Miss Kentucky who has claimed the Miss America title.
Sharp and Tomes and others like them do whatever it takes to keep the show running. Sharp is also inspired by a sense of sisterhood that keeps her involvement and dedication with the pageants going.
“I have a very strong sense of sisterhood, and if I can do anything to help this next generation of women, instill confidence in them — anything to help them in their life’s path —that’s my goal,” Sharp said.
The days for the contestants and hostesses is packed from morning until night. Rehearsals are every day of the competition week and usually last roughly three hours. Tomes brought a blanket Tuesday in the event sleep got the better of her.
The long days, however, are also all part of carrying the title, according to Tomes. After winning the title, Miss Kentucky has a year of travel and appearances ahead of her, in addition to competing in the Miss America Pageant in September.
“They’re long days, but it’s good for them too,” she said. “We used to always talk, back in my years, if you can’t handle a week of going from morning to evening and keep yourself together, then you can’t be Miss Kentucky for a year.”