Miss Austin contestants announced

Published 2:05 pm Saturday, June 28, 2008

The academic, the athlete, the performer, the over-achiever: All have been, or could be, winners of the annual Miss Austin pageant, scheduled for July 1.

“The pageant really attracts all kinds because it emphasizes many types of talent,” Miss Austin coordinator Taylor Bliese said.

“Sometimes it can be surprising about who really gives it a try,” she added. “Nearly all of them have stuff under their belts already.”

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And therefore bust the stereotypical image of beauty pageant, an event still perceived as a competition of appearance, instead of one honoring skills, wit, confidence and, in this case, community service.

“You really get something out of it, instead of just a crown on your head,” Bliese said.

Set for 7 p.m. at Knowlton Auditorium, the Miss Austin pageant will feature 10 contestants this year, nearly double the entries from years past, according to Bliese.

Contestants this year include McKenzie Anderson, Jennifer Fischer, Samantha Johnson, Lauren Krusemark, Mandie Mickelson, Sigin Ojullu, Tasha Striker, Stacey Weber, Amanda Wichmann and Rebecca Wichmann.

Young local women, ages 16-20, will be judged on several elements, including talent, interview, evening gown and question and answer before one is crowned, and for the next year called to represent the city of Austin as an ambassador for local events and community service.

Not that each winner, which also receives more than $1,000 in scholarships, must be a polished spokesperson from the onset.

“A Miss Austin who is chosen isn’t ready-made out of the box,” Bliese said. “You can come out of your shell and be a better person after the experience.”

2007 queen Sara Larson said she was so impressed with her pageant experience last year — her first — that she plans to run for Miss Twin Cities in October.

Larson said she was initially skittish about entering the competition, though was drawn by the scholarship winnings and encouragement by parents and community members urging her to showcase her established performing talent.

“With those two things combined, I thought, ‘Why not?’” Larson said. “It turned out to be really fun.”

The Bethel College sophomore said it did take courage and practice to prepare herself well for the event, particularly in the question and answer portion and, in certain aspects, performance. Though Larson had been a regular among choral and acting groups, including Austinaires and choir, she wasn’t accustomed to being the solo stage presence.

“It was a stretch for me to do it just me and the piano,” she said.

As for her advice to this year’s contestants, Larson said key to a successful run is a poised approach.

“I think the number one thing they look for is just being self-assured and confident,” Larson said, adding, “It’s more about being comfortable and confident in who you are.”

Larson, who is working for 3M Corporation as a laboratory technician and hopes to graduate college with majors in chemistry and biochemistry, will return this year to assist with this weekend’s rehearsal and pass the title to a peer.

Other returning former Miss Austin’s including judges Tina Rosenthal, currently Miss Minnesota International, and Jean McDermott, whose daughter, Angie, won the 2008 Miss Minnesota pageant. Special guests include returning emcee Paul Pruitt, who serves as senior enrollment director at Minneapolis-based Capella University, and co-host Nicole King of KAAL-TV.

Miss Austin is no longer a part of the Miss America network, having pulled from the franchise two years ago for fear that new requirements would hinder recruitment for the local competition.

“We really felt that if we threw out something as a road block, we really wouldn’t have a pageant at all,” Bliese said.

The change also allowed them to remove the swimsuit portion of the competition, and permit more flexibility and less work for organizers and contestants. Bliese said, in addition, they’ve been able to introduce a Little Miss Austin, for girls ages 5-7, and a Junior Miss Austin, for pre-teens 8-10, both of whom will be crowned Tuesday.

“The pageant is really about the older girls … but the younger girls really add a fun spirit to the competition,” she said.

Tickets are $7 at the door.