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Mirror-mirror, will I be the Fairest of the Fair?

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

By John Coffelt
Staff Writer

Photo provided -- Miss Teen Coffee County Andrea Fisher at the Miss Nursery Capital fundraiser pageant held in Warren County on Jan. 7.

All of the work – finding the perfect dress, the hair, the makeup, all just so – it all comes down to a few sweaty-hand moments before the judges.

For many of the girls who will take part in the in the Coffee County Fair Pageant, getting ready for those handful of moments on stage were months in the making.

“If they fall in love with your personality, then you will automatically look prettier…and that’s true with any situation in life.”

-2011 Fairest of the Fair Hillari Smithson

The current Fairest of the Fair Hillari Smithson is no stranger to the pageant community, with a Miss Manchester and several other sashes hanging in her closet. For her and the other girls of the pageant, the dress is crucial.

“That’s one thing that sets everyone apart. It shows your own tastes and personality,” Smithson said.

“It’s how the dress fits. If it fits well and I feel comfortable in it, that’s what gets my attention.”

Last year, hers was a hot-pink strapless, which she wore with her hair down with curls.

Last year’s Miss Teen Coffee County Andrea Fisher follows her mother, Jamie Fisher’s advice when looking for a gown, “You have to wear the dress; the dress can’t wear you.

“I make sure it’s something I’m comfortable in,” the teen said.

Her friend, 2009 Miss Teen Coffee County, Meghan Pittman said that when she’s found the right dress it just feels right.

“There’s no guessing about it.”

The dresses are expensive. For some finding that perfect dress means trips to Nashville and Cookeville and spending thousands of dollars. Others find theirs through friends and consignment.

The dresses must also be appropriate for the age group. As the girls get older, the dresses gain sophistication. Yet even in the Fairest of the Fair category for contestants as old as 20, high side splits and excessive cleavage are forbidden.

One thing is unvarying, swank moves over for gowns that accent the wearer’s natural beauty.

The day of, each girl has her own method of preparing.

For Smithson it’s a relatively simple affair

She does her own hair.

A pretty backed dress usually means hair up.

“I like wearing my hair down, personally, with any type of dress. It looks better on me,” she said.

Fisher usually gets ready with her friend.

“We don’t think about the pageant. We just focus on doing our hair or makeup – anything to keep our minds off of it.”

Pittman added, “We do a lot together. We feed off one another.”

The girls are required to arrive two hours before the pageant. Some get ready at the fairgrounds, others pin down the finishing touches.

All are nervous.

Pageant coach and former Fairest, Holly Jones said that getting the girls over their nerves where they can focus on their stage presence is very important.

“First impressions are most important.”

She works with her girls on their stage presence, interviewing skills and self-introductions.

“Confidence is a big mark,” she said. “It’s [important] to get them comfortable in front of the masses.”

What stands out with the fair pageant, and for many is the most intimidating part, is the interview.

“I’m always the most nervous about the interview. You want to impress [the judges] in two minutes, and that’s hard to do,” Smithson said.

“I think being yourself and talking to them like they’re just normal people helps,” she said. “It’s fun, but the most nerve-racking.”

For Fisher, not knowing what questions she will get makes her nervous. She researches possible interview questions to get a jump up on her answers.

So far the judges haven’t asked any of those questions.

“One of my questions last year was ‘If I didn’t live here where would you take me?’

“I always try to laugh and to get them to laugh with me,” she said.

Even though the interviews are tough, Pittman prefers those.

“You get to know the person. It’s not just looking at someone on stage and saying, oh, she’s pretty.”

Overall, It takes more than being pretty to take home the coveted sash and tiara.

Certified Miss Tennessee Pageant Judge Pauline Chadwick, who will be on the panel at this year’s pageant, said, “Beauty is the whole package – looks, brains and talent.

“I look for natural beauty and poise, [the] level of comfort of contestant being in front of judges and audience, good posture, and of course a natural smile, (not a tight-lipped one).”

Chadwick said that the contestants are rated for their individual merits.

“We do not compare one girl with an-other one. With that being said, we can only judge on what we can see. For example, if the contestant has hair down over her face or covering an eye, we are unable to see her completely.”

And overall fitness is more than being thin.

“We look for the healthy factor in contestants, not too thin and not too heavy, [as well as] good posture in a contestant. Rounded shoulders or a humped back is very unattractive.

Also she said, “Judges should not be able to see a contestant’s ribs through her outfit, nor should we see rolled skin.

“There is a term we judges refer to as, ‘back fat,’ and this occurs when an under garment is too tight causing bulges in the back.”

As for the interviews, Chadwick says, “How a contestant answers her question is just as important as accuracy in her answer.

“Judges look for her level of communication skills. The contestant should be poised, and comfortable in her speaking.  She should answer the question in the same manner she would if she were talking with a family member or best friend. Judges look for the comfort factor, eye contact, and, of course, a nice smile.”

Ten of the top will advance into the next round. Five of them will be chosen as finalists.

“Usually I don’t get the big hit of nerves til they’re calling the top ten and the top five,” Fisher said.

She can’t compete until next year when she’s eligible for the Fairest category. Meanwhile, she coaches young contestants, practicing her moves with her little debutants on the stage at the Manchester Rotary Amphitheater.

Just talking with Fisher about the pageant is like throwing a switch.

Walking across the room, Fisher’s normally good posture gets a bit straighter.

Shoulders back.

Determination plays on her features.

A snap turn and a toss of hair take on a moment of elegance and grace.

It’s a study of physical discipline.

“Pivot turns are really hard to learn,” she agrees.

In much the same way, the pageants hold a special magic for Smithson.

“Once you dress up and look the best you can look, then you automatically feel a little bit better about yourself,” she said.

“I think you can tell who brings their personality and just a little something more to the stage. You have to be confident to walk across the stage and not look fake and held back.” Smithson said.

“If they fall in love with your personality, then you will automatically look prettier…and that’s true with any situation in life.”

Lately, pageants have come under attack with criticisms of sexism and placing too heavy of an importance on contestants’ physical assets.

But to the girls that participate, and their parents, the pageants are for fun, rather than stress. It’s a bond for that crosses generations.

Jones said that the pageants were something that she and her mother enjoyed together, and now she experiences that bond with her niece.

Jamie Fisher said that much of the negative images of pageants aren’t common at local pageants.

“A lot of the girls like to do it for fun and support each other,” she said.

It’s about dressing up, said Smithson.

“I honesty like getting dressed up and looking pretty – that’s just a girl’s point of view,” she said. “I can say since I’ve done it so long, I can honestly say, it’s made me be a lady and not just a girl – a role model around the community.”

Jones, who has worked both sides of the pageant, explains that the perceptions many people have about pageants are false.

“It’s not what people think. Shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” shine a negative light on pageants. That’s not how it is. People forget that that is TV.”

She said that being in pageants has given her confidence, which has helped in all aspects of her life.

Without even realizing it, the girls gain attributes that are key to winning a pageant, being able to think on their feet, communicate well and give good first impressions. These are the same things that will aid the contestants in their collegiate and professional careers.

“At the end of the day it’s really about poise and personality,” Fisher said.

It’s important “to accent natural beauty and not overdo it,” added her mother.

For Smithson, “It starts with hair and makeup and getting ready and going.”