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Tony Long wondered if Wilson was ready to bring the Miss Wilson Scholarship Pageant back, but he didn’t have to wonder for long.
“I was involved in the pageant in the 1970s and ’80s and then let someone else take over, but I have still been judging local pageants across the state,” said Long, executive director of the Miss Wilson pageant. “The people at the state pageant kept asking me, ‘When are you going to bring Wilson back?’ and I thought well, it had been a while, but I didn’t know how the city would accept it. A lot of people have said they are glad to see it coming back.
“The Chamber of Commerce has worked with us as well as Wilson Downtown Development, and people have been supportive when I would go around and ask for donations for scholarships and grants,” Long said.
The first Miss Wilson Scholarship Pageant since 2008 will be held Saturday, Jan. 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the Edna Boykin Cultural Center. Tickets are $15 each and are available at Fringe Salon, Hilton’s Men’s and Ladies Fine Clothing, The Wilson Times, from the contestants and at the door the evening of the pageant.
One of Long’s goals in bringing back the Wilson pageant is to help change what some in the public think the pageant is about.
“A lot of people still have the mindset that it is a beauty pageant, that the winners ride in parades and cut ribbons, but that’s not it,” Long said. “They all have platforms, and that’s what they work on throughout the year. We are building young women to be leaders within the community and the state. A lot of the winners use their scholarship money to go back to school and get their master’s degrees.”
The 2018 pageant has seven Miss Wilson contestants, four Miss Teen Wilson contestants and 11 Carolina Princess participants. The Carolina Princess program started 17 years ago as a mentoring program. Each princess participant is mentored by a Miss Wilson or Miss Teen Wilson contestant, and the winners of those pageants mentor their Carolina Princess for the year of their reign.
Miss Wilson contestants are between the ages of 17 and 24. Carolina Princesses, who are between the ages of 6 and 12, perform at the Miss Wilson pageant but are not judged by the panel of judges.
“Outstanding Teen contestants are ages 13 to 16, and they are judged just like the Miss Wilson hopefuls to prepare them for going up into the Miss category,” Long said.
Miss Wilson contestants and their running platforms are Allison Bunn, 18, “Step Up to The Plate: Encouraging Community Involvement”; Kasie Webb, 18, “Agriculture Advocacy”; Jerenae Raeford, 23, “Embrace Your Place: Living Through Adversity, Dreaming Without Limitations”; Bryson Reavis, 20, “The Importance of Giving Blood”; Erica Denise Underwood, 19, “Boys & Girls Club of America”; Taylor Leigh Bowden, 23, “Deleting the ‘R’ Word”; and Emily Mitchell, 22, “Raising Mental Health Awareness.”
Miss Wilson Outstanding Teen contestants and their running platforms are: Cassie Scott, 14, “iClog — Inspiring Change in Lives of my Generation”; Mattingly Churakos, 15, “Suicide Prevention”; Emma Byrd, 15, “Spreading Kindness”; and Marissa Organ, 14, “No Dog Left Behind.”
In order to compete in the Miss Wilson pageants, contestants must complete a 21-page application as well as raise $100 for the Children’s Miracle Network. As per Miss America pageant rules, this money must be raised for every pageant in which they compete.
Contestants are accepted from Wilson County and seven counties around Wilson. Some North Carolina counties have their own pageants and some do not. Area pageants are held at different times so it is possible for contestants to compete in several different pageants.
“Wilson used to be a ‘closed’ pageant, only for Wilson County residents and students,” Long said, “but then there became more for young ladies to do, and pageant interest kind of dropped, so the Wilson pageant told state pageant they wanted to officially pull from other counties.”
The winner of the 2018 Miss Wilson pageant will go to the Miss North Carolina Pageant in June and will also make appearances around Wilson. Long will be the winner’s business manager, and pageant committee member Debbie Viverette will be her chaperon. She will have appearances lined up, work on interviews and what the judges suggested.
A total of seven people will serve as judges for the pageant, with one being a “novice” judge.
Judged categories are talent, swimsuit, evening gown with two onstage questions, and an interview, which is completed the afternoon of the pageant.
Master of ceremonies for the 2018 Miss Wilson Scholarship Pageant is Jill Suggs Howell, a former Miss Wilson.
Additional pageant entertainers include Arlie Honeycutt, Miss NC 2012, daughter of Beth Forbes Honeycutt, formerly of Wilson, who was crowned Miss Wilson in 1982; Coley Hunt Rhodes, a former Miss Wilson whose mother was also a Miss Wilson; Sharon Little Allen, a former Miss Wilson, will sing the national anthem; and 11-year-old Jennifer Hayden Pearson from Rocky Mount who was North Carolina Outstanding Teen Carolina Princess in 2013 and 2016.
Helping Long and Viverette on the pageant committee are Vickie Anning; Connie Blackwell; Bridgett Mooring Minges, the last crowned Miss Wilson in 2008; and Katie Wheeler, a former Miss Teen winner.
Barrett Wheeler Hildebrand, owner of Brand Performing Arts Center in Wilson, is directing choreography.