More than the makeup

courtney dancing
Courtney Pellend dancing to “Fight Song.” Courtney says this song and dance symbolize her journey in overcoming health problems over the past year and fighting to build herself back up.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “pageant?” Do you picture Hollywood diva-supermodels and episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras, or do you see the image of positive and empowering girls working towards a greater good? Maybe you have no opinion either way. Three teen girls from North Platte High School are getting a heavy education in pageants now that they’re participating in the Miss America program. Juniors Courtney Pelland and Emma Young began their pageant careers last year, and junior Emma Wilkinson just competed in her second pageant.

All three girls said that their initial interest in pageants was sparked as kids by the Miss Nebraska “Little Sister” program. The program pairs an older contestant with a younger girl, and acts a guide through the pageant process. “When I saw my big sister up on that stage, I knew I wanted to be there someday,” said Young.

Each girl said they’ve overcome significant challenges to be in pageants. “I’ve wanted to do pageants since I was 5. It took me 10 years to work up enough confidence, and I’m still working to maintain that confidence,” said Pelland. Wilkinson said her toughest task is talking in front of the audience for the on-stage question portion. “You have to be able to talk off the top of your head by having an idea of what they may ask you and exactly how to respond,” she said.

Pageants require a lot of preparation. Pelland and Wilkinson are both coached by Becky Wagner, a former Miss Nebraska. They said they spend 30 minutes to an hour practicing their talents several times a week. In addition to talent practice, they must run over interview questions, do mock interviews, figure out hair and makeup for pageant day, and perfect their pageant walk. “There’s a huge difference between a pageant walk and a normal walk,” said Pelland. Young has a different coach and spends about 30 minutes per day on her talent and 15 minutes on her walk. “As pageant day gets closer, I spend much longer practicing. Some days it can take up to several hours,” Young said.

A common concern between all three girls is the misconception of pageants among their peers. “People think pageants are just about beauty,” said Pelland. “What most people don’t realize is that the Miss America program is very beneficial in many other ways, including helping contestants gain scholarships for college.” Wilkinson said, “For me, it’s more about my platform than beauty.” Wilkinson wants to work with youth to end stereotypes. “I’m really excited to go to schools and talk to the kids,” she said.
Young said the meaning behind pageants extends far past how you look. She said Miss America is based primarily on community service and scholastic achievements. In order to be involved with these pageants, you have to do a private interview, provide a copy of your transcript, maintain good grades, and be very active in your community.

Emma Young and Courtney Pelland pose with fellow pageant contestants

Participating in pageants is something Young, Wilkinson, and Pelland do for enjoyment and growth as individuals. “Being a part of the Miss America program has made me a lot more outgoing and helped me to grow into a better person in general,” said Wilkinson. “Through pageants, I have gained confidence, friendships, and powerful speaking skills that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life,” Pelland said.