Kristen Morgan is crowned Miss Hendersonville, in 2010 which was the last pageant before its resumption. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- When Kristen Lee Morgan looks in the mirror, she sees a person with seven years of good fortune in reigning that long as a local pageant winner and gaining life skills.
She has remained Miss Hendersonville for seven years — since winning the title in 2010 with a blend of wit, charm and dance talent. That was the last time the pageant was held, until it renews this Saturday night, Jan. 28, as part of a three-pageant, sold-out bonanza in Flat Rock Playhouse. Morgan has the longest reportedly-known tenure ever as a Miss Hendersonville.
Morgan, 27, will crown her successor as Miss Hendersonville. A Miss Asheville, Miss Blue Ridge Valley (BRV) and teen winners for both Hendersonville and BRV will be chosen.
“I’m thrilled” Miss Hendersonville is resuming, she said. “I grew tremendously, in skills that have made me what I am. Most important are commitment and dedication. You have to give 100 percent. I do so to both of my jobs. Whether it’s a small project or large competitive (dance) class, you want to get the best out of it.”
The Henderson County Chamber of Commerce project manager organizes golf and bowling benefit tourneys; she consults with an events committee. Also since 2012, she has been a dance instructor and role model to youth at Releve Performing Arts in Hendersonville.
Morgan won the talent portion in 2010, for her lyrical dance. “I grew up dancing,” she explained. “That was the easiest part of the pageant. As soon as I stepped onto stage, I could let go. So, I felt no pressure. I did what I do best.”
She credits her victory in part to boldly utilizing humor, when answering the off-stage question in front of judges. She rode a motorcycle back then, and had just recovered from a mild injury from an accident. Her question was about the issue of a mandatory helmet law for drivers and passengers. She said how she supported it.
She then noted her crash, and jested “I must have worn more makeup on my leg than my face,” to cover up scrape marks. The quip clicked. “The judges laughed.”
Above all, she suggests that contestants act naturally, to better relax and come across as “genuine.” In her case, “I am very bubbly” and she let that shine through.
Contestants had an unplanned test of stage presence and poise in the spotlight, due to a long and mostly silent delay. This was as judges conferred at length, then accountants re-tabulated scores by hand for the main and/or teen titles. Morgan wondered if “they might be changing their minds.” A close outcome loomed as preliminaries were split between Morgan (talent, congeniality) and Kayla Yingst (swimsuit, scholastic).
Mercifully, the curtain was finally drawn. Contestants were out of sight of the crowd. The girls promptly sat on the floor, to rest aching feet and stressed minds. “We were dying, standing on four-inch heels,” Morgan said right after the pageant.
Teen winners were announced, then Miss Hendersonville runners-up. The first runner-up was Yingst. Morgan was proclaimed the victor, then crowned by predecessor Ciara Newman.
Morgan received local training to compete for Miss North Carolina. She recalls tips for elegantly “carrying myself in the evening gown, and showing more (sassy) ‘attitude’ in the swimsuit” segment.
Mission issues are critical. Morgan’s platform slogan for dealing with learning disabilities was “Teach us in a way that will Reach us.”
As Miss Hendersonville, she received a $1,000 college scholarship and many merchant prizes. Morgan won the pageant while midway into her East Carolina University studies. She earned a degree in English and also communications with focus on broadcasting in 2012.
She is among several Miss Hendersonville winners from East Henderson High School, graduating in 2006. She was on East’s elite Dance Team, which currently includes her cousin Taylor Vaughn. Vaughn, a senior, is a Releve competitive dancer. At age 9, she was among Morgan’s “princess” assistants.
Another princess in 2010, Kaitlyn Burns, also dances with Releve. Burns and Katelyn Ledbetter, who trains with Pat’s School of Dance, are sole contestants for Miss Hendersonville’s Outstanding Teen this Saturday with a friendly dance studio rivalry as a backstory. Rival local high schools also gain bragging rights. Yingst is a West Henderson alumnus.
Kristen, as Wayne and “Robbie” Morgan’s sole child, grew up at Lake Summit in Zirconia in southern Henderson County. Kristen said as a “tomboy,” she rode a motorcycle and a dirt bike as a teen. Childhood friends such as Cameron Sproles recalled her “outdoing the boys” in sports. She played basketball and volleyball in middle school.
She veered toward pageantry at age 10, as a “Carolina Princess” shadowing then-Miss Asheville Kerra Cooper Johnson. Morgan said “being on stage sparked my interest.”
In her first year as Miss Hendersonville, she felt awkward as part of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. She, teen queen Courtney Laughter and princesses “all had to dress as clovers. It was silly. But that memory was exceeded by many beautiful times.”
Her life normalized more for her senior year of college, and arranged appearances lessened over time. But Morgan still has her crown. Pageant winners buy their crowns, wearing them at pageants as a “Forever Queen.”
She said she got a kick out of the occasional recognition and “perk, such as a free meal. I was the very last Miss Hendersonville — for a while. Many people remembered me.” Still slender, she looks similar seven years later.
Kristen Morgan realizes her impact as a role model for youth, after seven years. Four years into her reign, a girl who was six in 2010 told Morgan at a Releve recital about sharing a moment with her on stage afterward in ’10. “She said, ‘Hey you were Miss Hendersonville. I have this picture with you. You even signed it.’ That shows how much of an impression you can leave on someone.”
In turn, she said, “I felt very honored and touched that she was super excited to visit.”
Kristen Morgan performs a lyrical dance, as she wins the talent segment in 2010. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
She mostly teaches Releve’s preschoolers ages 2-5, and helps instruct level one competitive youths ages 5-10. “We teach love of dance first” for youngest students, she said. “They’re excited about class. It starts with the environment. They know they’re loved. They start loving themselves more. They become confident. That radiates on stage, and in life.”
Releve owner Jamie Osteen describes Morgan as an energetic encourager. “You have to nurture the kids, to come with you. She does. Often kids are scared” away from parents. “As a coach, she encourages them to go outside their comfort zones; to feel good about yourself, be free, and release energy.”
Morgan said she gives “constructive criticism, but praise as well for an uplifting environment. At events, I want them to be excited to go on stage, and to give 100 percent. It boils down to the dedication and work ethic we teach them in the classroom. They’ll leave that on stage.”
Morgan offers extra cultural mentoring, being a decade elder than teen scholarship pageant contestants. The biggest cultural difference from 2010 to now, she noted, is the meteoric rise in teens’ use of cell “smart” phones to scan the Internet, chat and for messaging. She observed once Releve breaks begin, many students pick up their phones
She echoes pageant organizers’ caution for contestants and pageant winners to restrain content of their Facebook and other public social media postings. Pageant judges like prospective employers can check such postings to help gauge maturity level, core values and personality.
Kristen Morgan is shown days before concluding her seven-year reign. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Morgan chuckles how she sparingly used social media. Now a trivia answer, My Space was the main outlet in her days at East and East Carolina. She liked how it was useful for attaching music clips of favorite bands.
“Now there’s Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter.” Facebook began at Harvard in 2004, and two years later let people age 13 and older be registered users. Further, her cell phone was no “smart” phone and was mainly for calling her parents to get her from sporting practices.
She quipped she’ll rib the next Miss Hendersonville, for having “big shoes to fill. Since I’ve held this title for seven years.” She looks forward to crowning her successor, to see that young lady’s glowing smile, and to start the next “reign of love, hope and change.”