On June 17, 10 Ball State Students competed in the second stage of being crowned Miss America.
To compete in the Miss America pageant, women from ages 17 to 24 must start in at the local level - In Indiana, there are 34 local pageants held.
The pageants are either open to any girl who meets the guidelines or are specific for those who live, work or go to school in the counties within the pageant’s region. Winning a local pageant title earns you a spot in state level pageants.
At the beginning of the week, contestants arrive to begin preparations for the competition. Before competing, the women will visit pageant sponsors and places like Riley Children’s Hospital and the Boys and Girls Club.
Each contestant also forms a personal platform, an issue or organization that the contestant wishes to promote, bring awareness to and raise funds for during her title-holding year.
Throughout the week leading up to the pageant, there are a variety of different scholarships and awards that girls can win. The crown that Miss America wears has four points, standing for scholarship, success, style and service, and scholarships and awards are based on these points as well.
The competition itself has five phases: private interviews, talent, evening gown, onstage question and swimsuit or lifestyle and fitness. The private interviews last 10 minutes and are worth 25 percent of the contestants score. In the talent section, which makes up 30 percent of the score, contestants are given a maximum of 90 seconds to showcase a talent that they have.
The evening gown portion makes up 15 percent of the contestant’s score and is simply a modeling of a dress that represents each girl individually and makes them feel confident. One of the more controversial aspects of the pageant is the swimsuit or lifestyle and fitness section, which makes up only 10 percent of the score.
“The judges aren’t necessarily looking for the skinniest or most fit girl,” Lauren Butler, Ball State graduate, said. “They look for the girl who exudes the most confidence and looks like she’s having fun.”
Butler competed for Miss Indiana along with Chelsea Smith, Demie Johnson, Kayla Bruner, Kristen Davenport, Laura Merida, Madeline May, Samantha Johnson and Samantha Robbins. Abby Foster competed in and won the Miss Illinois title.
While she was drawn to Ball State for her pursuit in a degree in education, junior Abby Foster is from Illinois, which is why she was eligible to compete in the Miss Illinois pageant.
The elementary education major has been competing in pageants since she was 15 years old, but she still faced nerves when it came to the week-long pageant.
Comforted by the volunteers and her fellow contestants, Foster competed in the interview, evening gown, onstage question and talent and lifestyle, or swimwear, sections of the pageant and at the end of the week was crowned Miss Illinois.
“I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it,” Foster said. “I knew at that moment my life was really about to change.”
With her new title, Foster will be continuing to promote her platform, Youth Mentoring - The Building Blocks for Success, along with other activities and events.
“I get to spend the year serving others and that alone is worth it,” Foster said.
Competing in pageants has given Foster unique friendships and experiences, however some of the friends she made at the Ball State chapter of Delta Zeta were among those cheering her on during the competition.
As Chelsea Smith began her pageant career, she was simply looking forward to participating in the organization, but the recent Ball State graduate’s focus changed as she continued to compete.
“After competing for five years, my reason is different,” Smith said. “I know that Miss Indiana will give me a bigger voice and help me make the difference I want to make.”
Smith has been competing for five years and has advanced to the Miss Indiana pageant three times. This year she was crowned Miss Duneland and her platform is The Chase - Be a Dream Builder, which is aimed at encouraging children to achieve their dreams and to make healthy choices.
“While I love competing for Miss Indiana, the competition is not my favorite part,” Smith said. “It is the opportunities, the school visits, appearances and the ability to make an impact that is my favorite part.”
Because of Miss Indiana, Smith was given the opportunity to help the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and further her platform. She was able to host the Chase 5k Color Run/Walk, which raised $3,000 for the hospitals and earned her the Barbara Helm Miracle Maker Award.
“Look beyond the pageant itself, the women within the MAO are incredible and great mentors,” Smith said. “We are here because we do have a mission and it is to make some form of a difference.”
From her time competing in pageants, Smith has been able to gain friends and valuable skills, which is why she sees them as opportunities for all women.
“I would encourage every girl to compete,” Smith said. “It is not just about the crown and pretty dresses, it is the confidence one can gain from the experience. I can talk in front of entire schools and large crowds, I am not nervous walking into job interviews and I have confidence in who I am as a person.”
Smith was in the Top 11 of the Miss Indiana contestants and was the recipient of the People’s Choice award. This summer she hopes to find a job in broadcast meteorology and decide if she will take advantage of her final year of eligibility to compete for Miss Indiana next year.
Ball State graduate Demie Johnson has been competing in pageants since she was six years old. The current Miss Great Lakes’ platform is Cancer Awareness: Educate to Eliminate due to those in her family who have lost their lives to various forms of cancer.
Through promoting her platform she has been able further her knowledge on cancer and hopes to continue to educate others.
“I’ve always been very involved with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life because I’ve lost a lot of family to cancer,” Johnson said. “I wanted to do something a little extra to make the disease more relatable and less scary.”
Johnson feels that when it comes to the Miss America Organization, MAO, it is “first and foremost a service organization.”
“As titleholders, we are representatives of communities and we get the chance to interact with people all over the state while we promote causes we care about,” Johnson said.
Johnson says that in addition to providing a large number of scholarships to many young women, they also teach them how to carry themselves, prepare them to be successful in their future careers and introduce them to people that they would’ve otherwise not met.
“The women I compete with or have competed with in the past are some of my best friends,” Johnson said. “So many of them have really become like sisters to me over the years. We get each other, we all know that only one woman will walk away with the job of Miss Indiana and we’re all supportive and happy for whoever that woman is.”
When it came to competing, Johnson kept the mindset that each girl was there for the “job” of Miss America and that if she didn’t win, it was simply because she wasn’t currently the right person for that job.
Johnson did not make Top 11 this year, but she feels it is rewarding to be able to compete in the Miss Indiana pageant and supported her sorority sister Abby Foster as she won Miss Illinois.
Kayla Bruner graduated Ball State with a degree in legal studies. For the 2017 Miss Indiana Pageant, Bruner chose 4-H Youth Today, Leaders Tomorrow as her platform.
While she was unavailable for an interview, she received the title of Miss Central Indiana, allowing her to compete in the Miss Indiana pageant.
Up syndrome is what Ball State graduate Kristen Davenport’s family says her sister, Kia, has, because Down syndrome can’t keep Kia “down.”
Davenport has dedicated her platform and talent portion of the Miss Indiana contest to raise awareness for Down Syndrome. For the talent portion of the pageant, Davenport performed an original monologue that represents her day-to-day life with Kia.
While she won Miss Banks of the Wabash this year, Davenport has been competing in pageants since she was six months old. “
People have this perception that pageant girls are rude and catty and we aren’t,” Davenport said. “When I made top 11 on Saturday night and my best friend didn’t, she was cheering me on from the sidelines and helping me zip my dresses and fix my hair. That’s the picture you don’t see, we help each other, not bring each other down.”
Davenport enjoys being able to promote her platform and meet new people. After her success in the Miss Indiana pageant this year, she is looking forward to the future.
“When I won my preliminary title, Miss Banks of the Wabash, in December I made two goals: to make the top 11 and win preliminary Interview award,” Davenport said. “I won both. Next year I’m hoping to earn the job of Miss Indiana.”
Laura Merida promoted her platform, #PostThePositive, when she competed for Miss Indiana.
She graduated Ball State with a degree in fashion design and was crowned Miss Capital City this year.
Senior Visual Communication and Advertising major Lauren Butler has found a way to include something that she has a passion for and get something out of each pageant she has been in.
Her first time competing in a pageant was her senior year of high school.
“I had literally just given a speech at my high school commencement and left right afterwards to compete,” Butler said. “I was the youngest contestant that year, and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.”
As she continued to compete, however, she began to gain confidence in herself and is able to see how she has grown.
This year, she won the title of Miss Limberlost and was able to have a much more calm experience compared to her first pageant.
“The energy was really positive all week,” Butler said. “We had a really great group of girls that were all very encouraging and it really molded the experience to be a great one.”
The senior’s platform is a nonprofit organization that she founded herself called Art Cart. With Art Cart, Butler hopes to provide art supplies to children in children’s hospitals throughout Indiana.
“Each girl that is there has a purpose and a mission that she is determined to achieve, whether that be founding her own nonprofit, running her own business, or raising funds and awareness for amazing organizations.” Butler said.
While she was nervous about the onstage question portion of the competition, she feels that she is better for being part of the pageant and being pushed to do things that are a little out of her comfort zone, such as the onstage question.
“Pageants can often have a negative light shined on them, but there is a lot to be gained from pageants,” Butler said. “The interview skills and real-life skills you learn from competing as well as the scholarship money make the Miss America Organization what it is. I will graduate debt-free largely due to the Miss Indiana and Miss America Organization.”
With the 2017 Miss Indiana Pageant, Butler’s pageant days have come to a close and she is looking toward enjoying her senior year of college and then starting her career.
“Being Miss Limberlost was always my end goal because it’s my hometown title and I have achieved that,” Butler said. “I also don’t want to take the experience and scholarship money away from someone else. I have benefited a lot both financially and personally from competing and I want someone else to be able to experience that now.”
Miss Hoosier Heartland 2017 is Madeline May, Ball State telecommunications major.
While she was unavailable for an interview, her platform is Preventing College Costs Through Dual Credit.
Senior Telecommunications and Journalism major Samantha Johnson represented Ball State University at the Miss Indiana Pageant as Miss Ball State.
When competing for Miss Ball State, she wasn’t even thinking about the Miss Indiana competition, she simply wanted to serve and promote the university.
“Being Miss Ball State is the best job on campus, in my opinion,” Johnson said. “I get to spend the year promoting the place I call home and school. ... This campus has given so much to me over the past four years and now it was time for me to return the favor in the most fun way possible.”
After winning the title of Miss Ball State, Johnson was excited to move on to Miss Indiana and further represent her university and platform. CHAARG, Changing Health Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls, is the collegiate organization that Johnson decided to promote with her platform.
The organization’s goal is to encourage young women to treat their bodies the best they can and promote physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.
“Although my platform is ‘women's health and fitness,’ my message can be applied to anyone of any age,” Johnson said. “I was a Riley Kid when I was younger, so embracing the physically-active future the doctors at Riley gave me has inspired me to use my drive and passion to help encourage others.”
Another part of the competition that Johnson enjoyed was interacting with the other contestants. She was able to gain new ideas for her platform through discussion with the other girls and felt that each of them were “incredibly loving and encouraging.”
Although she did not win the title of Miss Indiana, Johnson said that each woman that competed deserved recognition for their hard work and would have made a great Miss Indiana. She also does not see the pageant as just a crown and a title.
“Yes, we want to be women of style and successful women in our communities, but we are also women who are dedicated to our education and service to others,” Johnson said.
Her favorite part of the competition are the onstage question and interview portions because of what they say about Miss Indiana and Miss America.
“It takes practice and skill to know that you, as an individual, are entitled to your own opinion, but also to know that you represent a wide variety of people with a wide variety of opinions,” Johnson said. “The interview and onstage question give us young women a great time to practice this skill.”
As she continues her year as Miss Ball State, she wants to encourage people to reach out to if they have an event for her to attend or if they want to talk about next year’s pageant.
Samantha Robbins, sophomore Visual Communications major, moved into her dorm at Ball State the same day she won the title of Miss White River.
While that was a busy day, she remains dedicated to her ultimate goal which is becoming Miss America.
Robbins has been competing in the Miss America Organization for five years and she says the titles she won doesn’t compare to the experiences that she has had.
“It has made a complete difference in my confidence and speaking skills,” Robbins says. “I owe so much of my ability to succeed and adapt to the situations and challenges I have come across while competing.”
Her platform for this year is Substance Abuse Prevention and after seeing the impact she has made in her freshman year she is looking forward to continue in her journey of promoting a healthy lifestyle.
While she still gets nervous for the private interview portion of the competition and she feels at ease during the others, her favorite part isn’t shared with the audience.
“My favorite part of the Miss Indiana pageant isn't what everyone sees on stage,” Robbins said. “It's the hours of rehearsals, touch ups, catered meal eating, crying, music blasting and laughing that I spend with my Miss Indiana sisters backstage.”
Because she still has five years of pageant eligibility ahead of her, Robbins is looking forward to what she has in the future of both her academic and pageant careers.