Jr. Miss event facing name, date changes

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

What is arguably Lincoln County’s most successful contest andscholarship program for young women is undergoing major changes toits name and timeframe while picking up three sister competitionsalong the way.

Lincoln County Junior Miss, a scholastic competition dating back to1959, will henceforth be known as Distinguished Young Woman ofLincoln County and will be held in early October, four monthsbefore the February date used annually for the old program.Expanded to two days and planned for Oct. 9 and 10 at SouthwestMississippi Community College, the contest will be joined bypageants for Miss Heartland, Miss Mid-South and Miss Metro Jackson,all three of which serve as preliminaries to the statewide MissMississippi and Miss Mississippi Outstanding Teen pageants. Allfour programs will combine over two days and see four winnerscrowned.

Brookhaven’s Lorin Lewis, pageant guru and longtime Junior Misscoordinator, said the local organization is following the lead ofits national parent.

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“When America’s Junior Miss changed, we decided it was time for usto change, too,” she said. “We need to bring in the other programsfor our Lincoln County youth. We sat down and really reevaluatedour program, our strengths and weaknesses.”

Lewis alluded to the fact the national Junior Miss program isexperiencing lean times and is changing to attract morecontestants. The program underwent a yearlong study by an outsideconsulting firm and decided to revamp its image by focusing more onthe scholastic and scholarship potential of the programs anddownplaying the beauty pageant mindset.

In fact, the word “pageant” may be part of the problem.Distinguished Young Woman will take on a slightly more serious andintellectual term.

“They needed to address the fact the program was not growing. Theydiscovered the reason they were not able to recruit as manycontestants is because the girls thought it was too much like apageant,” Lewis said. “They wanted to change the name to focus moreon the mission, and the mission is to become the premierscholarship program for America’s teenage girls.”

However, the program’s competition formula isn’t expected toundergo great changes, Lewis said. Girls who compete inDistinguished Young Woman of Lincoln County will continue testingthemselves at interview skills, knowledge of current events,academics and physical fitness – far more than smiling and lookingpretty onstage.

“It’s the total package,” Lewis said.

With such a makeover for the old and respected program, localorganizers also appear to be hedging their bets, which will resultin a three-fold increase of chances to succeed for local girls. Theaddition of the three sister programs will give Lincoln County’syoung women two additional pageants in which to compete – the MissMetro Jackson program will be the only pageant held on Oct. 9 and10 that will be off-limits to local girls.

Miss Heartland and Miss Mid-South contestants must be age 17-24 andat least a senior in high school, while Miss Heartland Teen andMiss Mid-South Teen require participants to be 13-17 and not yet intheir senior year of high school. Winners of either pageant will goon to participate in the Miss Mississippi and Miss MississippiOutstanding Teen programs.

Even with the image shift, the show will go on as always, but withconsiderably less time for local contestants to prepare. The moveto early October leaves local girls only seven weeks to arrangetheir attire, talent and platforms.

But Lewis said interested girls and their families shouldn’t bediscouraged.

“We are really cutting back on all the work that is involved – alot less rehearsals, a lot less work,” she said. “It is going to beminimal work and very simple. We’ll work with the girls to preparethem. We understand this year will be a small year, but we believewe’ll gain momentum.”

Information on the events, changes, coaching and application willbe made available at a program meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday at Bank ofBrookhaven. Anyone interested in competing in the revamped contestsshould attend.