Allison Nock tap dances in the talent segment of Miss Hendersonville in 2005. The pageant has resumed. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- The Miss Hendersonville Scholarship Pageant has returned after a seven-year absence, with Nov. 20 the extended deadline to apply to become a contestant.
The Miss America qualifier will be Jan. 28, 2017 in Flat Rock Playhouse, 5-8 p.m. There will be three pageants that evening including one for area teens, rotated in within a brisk three-hour paced event according to executive directors Jon Vance and Jeff Jones.
Rather than stage three separate pageants it makes sense to streamline and combine them. “We’re the only (N.C.) mountain preliminary” for Miss North Carolina then Miss America, with the Shelby pageant closest in this state, Jones said. “We decided to put on one big show.”
This bolsters entertainment in talent segments. Performers also are Forever Queens past winners such as Nicole Ledford ’07, a two-time National Showstopper dance champ, and Pat’s School of Dance in at least the grand finale dance number.
The umbrella non-profit group is called the Miss Asheville/Miss Blue Ridge Valley/Miss Hendersonville Scholarship Program. Scholarships are prizes. Contestants must finish applications by Nov. 20.
Miss Hendersonville is open to women ages 17-23 residing in Henderson County. Eight contestants have already applied as of Monday, Jones said. The last Miss Hendersonville pageant was in early 2010. The only Miss Hendersonville to go on to win Miss N.C. was Heather Walker in 1973.
Asheville and Blue Ridge contestants are in a combined sub-pageant, with each crowning a winner also advancing to the 80th Miss North Carolina Scholarship Pageant in June in Raleigh. The state winner competes in the 97th Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.
Fifteen women ages 17-23 have applied for Asheville/Blue Ridge, from as far as Morganton and Watauga County and with most from outside Buncombe County, Jones said. Both titles are open to women living, working or studying in any of the 17 western North Carolina counties. WNC can be their official residence.
Or they may be out-of-staters in school in this area with the reasoning they are here most of the year and (for collegians) for multiple years, Jones noted. Appalachian State and Western Carolina University students are among contestants, Jones said. “Asheville is the mountains’ capital, with a broader base,” he said. “There used to be a dozen preliminaries in the mountains.” In contrast, Jones said, “Miss Hendersonville will be a hometown girl” from Henderson County.
The third group is for Miss Outstanding Teen, for girls ages 13-16 living in WNC. The winner(s) can appear with the three adult winners at the Miss N.C. pageant. A half-dozen teen contestants are in from across WNC, including one from Henderson County, Jones said. He said there will be at least one (Blue Ridge Valley) teen title awarded, possibly more hinging on number of contestants and where they are from. There is an entrance fee, and fundraising requirement.
Each winner has a “fantastic year (2017) ahead, and opportunities to win scholarships for college,” Vance said.
Reigning queens are Miss Asheville Kahlani Jackson with a platform of “Primped and Polished,” Miss Blue Ridge Valley Jordan West (cancer awareness), Miss Asheville Outstanding Teen Logan Potts (steps in motion), Miss Blue Ridge Valley Teen Savannah Coffey (Coffey cakes/HLH). The current Miss America is Betty Cantrell.
A Blue Ridge Valley Court of Princesses of girls ages 4-12 is being recruited, to appear in the local pageant Jan. 28 and have a chance at the stage pageant if six or older. Each princess gets a tiara, sash and T-shirt. Organizers call it a good way to introduce girls to the pageantry and stage presence, and later in community service projects and social appearances with the queens.
By Nov. 20, contestants should get in paperwork to officially enter the local pageants. Mandatory contestant orientations start in January. These help prepare for the various segments.
All contestants compete in these categories: private interview, swimwear/lifestyle and fitness, 90-second talent, and evening wear.
Finally, onstage they answer two questions. One relates to the girl’s platform such as “cancer awareness, domestic abuse, dealing with Alzheimer’s,” Vance said. Contestants thus far have “powerful platforms.” The pageant emphasizes “education, intelligence and the pursuit of personal goals.”
The other question — randomly drawn — is typically on politics or pop culture. Before it was from the advance interview and thus predictable. Now, the “emphasis is thinking on the spot, and knowing about the world,” Vance said. “There are thought-provoking questions” such as about the outcome of the presidential election, gun rights and statewide HB2 trans-gender bathroom issue.
Questions for teen contestants are more “fun, dialed down,” Vance said. Yet there is a challenge. “These are our future ‘Miss’ contestants. They have to think on their feet. We might ask what plagues them in school daily. Which celebrity they’d enjoy visiting for an afternoon, and what they’d talk about.”
Miss America-affiliated pageants’ scoring increased the role of on-stage answers from five to 20 percent. Together with the private interview at 25 percent, “ 45 percent is based on the spoken word,” Vance said.
Vance and Jones do “pageant preps,” typically on Sundays starting six weeks ahead of the pageant, Vance said. “We want to raise the bar. We go over modeling, walking, talking…They develop growth, and friendships.”
Further, contestants are to be ready to do a community service project of their choice. Winners in one-year reigns also help raise funds in Miss America Organization charitable work for the Children’s Miracle Network.
Pageant proceeds go into the scholarship fund for Miss Hendersonville, Asheville and Blue Ridge Valley winners and runners-up. The pageant is an all-volunteer organization, with 25 Asheville/Blue Ridge committee members and 40 volunteers. Tiffany Blackwell has been business manager since 2013.
Vance and Jones took over Miss Asheville for the 2011 pageant, after volunteering for six years. They revived Miss Blue Ridge a year later, and now Miss Hendersonville starting for the 2017 title. In recent years, “we cranked out 20 contestants in two hours and 10 minutes,” Vance said. “Adding 10 (for Miss Hendersonville), we can do all 30 or so in three hours” on Jan. 28.
The organizers received a service award, in 2014. Jones grew up in Goldsboro, and first helped its pageant in 1995. He has lived in Asheville for 16 years, while working in Biltmore Estate’s retail shops.
“I love to see our young ladies learn, and grow from this experience and take life lessons,” Jones said. “They learn time management and to organize their busy lives, to network and volunteer in the community.”
Vance moved to Asheville at 11, from Belvedere, Ill. He is a hairstylist at his Lirica Salon and Spa in South Asheville. He has owned it since 2009, and done hair for 27 years. He does not work on contestants, referring them to other stylists. But Vance will work on and mentor the winners, if they wish.
“I’m involved in the journey — enjoying the personal growth of young ladies from our community,” he said of his reward. “Each contestant becomes a strong speaker, in an auditorium in front of hundreds of people.”
Allison Nock competed for Miss Hendersonville in 2005, when an Elon College freshman. The North Henderson High School alumnus now works as the Henderson County sheriff’s community relations media specialist. She said she gained most from the pageant’s interview segments, in dealing with issues spontaneously and publicly. Nock said the pageant “provides a great opportunity to show talents,” and she is happy it has resumed.
Vance said days are gone where only tall, thin blondes have a chance to win Miss America — let alone local pageants. “Contestants are so diverse. All races are welcome. Don’t figure ‘I’m only 5-4, I don’t fit in. You can be short or tall, with short or long hair.”
He said that, in contrast “Miss USA contestants are given modeling contracts. They break into acting. Whereas Miss America is the original, setting the standard to find the next dignitary — an ambassador for our community, state and country. She’s not a model, but the girl next door.”