I have done pageants since I was 4 years old. As terrible as Toddlers & Tiaras have given the pageant world reputation, I am here to set the story straight. Not all pageants are like that. That is a very dramatized, small portion of what kind of pageants are out there! As long as I have been in the pageant industry, I have only seen one type of this kind of pageantry and we got the heck out of there! Natural pageants are a great way to build your resume, public speaking skills, confidence, and comfort zone.
I don’t want to brag, but I even got into judging. Okay, I love to brag about judging. I think it is an amazing feeling to crown the right girl and have a say in that decision. I have judged more than a few pageants, the best was a Miss American Organization Little Miss Pageant in 2013.
Here are my top tips and tricks:
If it is on your bio page/resume, be prepared to talk about it! If I see something on the bottom of your page that interests me or that we have in common, I will 9 times out of 10 ask you to talk about it. I have seen a judge ask a question about why a contestant enjoys playing with her cat in her free time. If you mention any kind of information at all, be ready to answer anything about it.
Be honest. Sounds pretty basic but don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. When I used to do pageants, I thought of the question as if it were coming from someone in the community, not from a judge. It is easy to get caught up in what you think a judge wants to hear, but they see right through that! Trust me.
Practice answering interview and stage questions. Have someone fire questions at you constantly. The more you hear a question (any kind of question) the quicker your response will be. Most judges give you a few seconds grace period, but if you can’t think of an answer in under 10 seconds, I would try to come to your rescue by giving a suggestion or skipping the question. If a five year old came up and asked you the same question in public, would you sit there until they moved on? No. You would take a second to compose yourself and answer as honestly as possible. Which is exactly what I want you to be able to do in front of a judge too.
The interview will not always make or break you. I have seen girls turn around and win pageants after answering one or two questions off in a pageant interview. However, that is the chance for a judge to see who you are. One of the only rare chances. And if you bomb it, you better be able to add up to the interview points in all the other categories. Check which part is weighted for more points. Usually the interview is one of the top weighted categories in natural pageants. I have seen it as high as 40%-60%. If something is worth that much, you have to realize that is what you want to practice and ace first. If anything is weighted 60% and you lose it, there is no coming back and winning it. Plain and simple. If the evening gown is worth 5% and the onstage question is worth 25%, well you do the math. A judge does not care if orange is your color as much as if you hit the onstage question.
After answering the onstage question or giving your introduction, for the love of God I do not care if every other girl on that stage says it: do not say thank you. Who are you thanking? That is not real life. You do not thank the little girl for asking you what your favorite part is. So do not say it to me. It sounds terrible and does not fit the situation. Just don’t do it.
There is not always a “right answer”. The pageant I help coordinate with my sister-in-law every year, we tell the girls this story every year: Amanda (my sister-in-law) and I were asked the same question both years we won (she won in 2009, I won in 2010) and we were asked the same question two years in a row-“Would you rather be Miss Newton County or Miss Congeniality?” Amanda answered one way and I answered the other. Amanda answered: “I would rather be Miss Newton County. I did not sign up for the Miss Congeniality pageant, I signed up to be Miss Newton County.” And she won. I answered “I would rather be Miss Congeniality. Miss Congeniality is voted upon by the six other girls I have been with for the last six weeks. I can come into this room and fool you all for three minutes, but I think those girls would know if I were being fake for six weeks.” And I won. So the same question can be answered both ways. This is true for almost every question asked. As long as you back up what you say with confidence, it doesn’t matter which way you go.
Get your shoes dyed. If I see a silver shoe under a pink dress, I will be looking at your feet instead of your face and composure. When I did pageants, there were two options: get the shoes dyed to match your dress or wear taupe (or flesh) colored shoes. Today, I think most judges have relaxed a bit on this, but it is just something that has stuck with me since I did pageants.
It’s easy to get caught up in spending a ton of money for a pageant, but borrow where you can. Natural pageants are easy to stay low-budget. When I was in high school, I would buy my prom dress based on pageant standards (there is a difference between a pageant gown and a prom dress). Think sparkles and a solid color. (Like shown below. Also, enlist in help with your hair and makeup instead of spending $50 getting someone else to do it. It will turn out just as lovely and you don’t need to be extremely fancy. Spend that $50 extra getting your shoes dyed, instead.
Do your research. A judge might not ask you what year 4-H started, but if someone sees you are a 10 year 4-H member and you can’t give basic facts, well let’s just say you won’t win that conversation. If the pageant director tells you this is a 4-H pageant, it would behoove you to take that extra step and learn the basics about 4-H (especially if you are a member of 4-H). If it is a Miss Indiana State Fair pageant, you better believe somebody will come up to you and ask you what your favorite building or memory is of the State Fair. And if you have no answer, well let’s face it, you might want to reconsider running for Miss Indiana State Fair.
Have fun. Another basic tip, but let’s be straightforward. I can tell the difference between someone who’s mom put her up to it and when someone truly wants to be in a pageant. If you go into the pageant with your goal to meet friends and learn something you didn’t know before: you will almost always succeed. If your goal is to win, well your crown won’t keep you smiling at night. (well it might the first few years), but the lifetime of friends I met judging and competing in pageants.
Take a step down and listen to what your coach or mentor is saying. There is always that one girl who thinks she knows it all (it was me one or two times) about pageants. Just because you won before does not mean you will win this one. If someone tells you that dress will not work or to correct your answer, she is usually just being honest and trying to help you win. I would never send someone into a pageant trying to sabotage them. Which is why I would tell you if your dress is trashy or if you say ‘like’ one more time I will make you start your answer over until you get it right. It is to make sure you don’t do that in front of the judges who matter. Not to make you look bad. There is always that girl who defies the advice and does it her way anyway, and guess what…she never wins.
A different set of judges will give you a different set of winners. Every pageant, there is going to be someone who does not win the title. That is the way it goes. Try to be respectful to the person who wins by showing class and taking it home to throw a fit. If you had won, you would want everyone to plaster a smile on their face so do the same courtesy to them. Each judge has a different opinion and looks for different things that are right and things that get marked down. I had three different judges with three very different opinions about my business suit: “it looks like a sack” “you wore it with class and sophistication” “do not wear that to state fair”. You get the point. ( I bought the suit off of Miss Pennsylvania, if anyone cares). Always remember just because you didn’t win, does not mean you are any less of a person. If you took your interview and skills into a job interview, it might have had a different outlook. This piece of advice humbles winners too going onto the next level of competition.