|P a g e a n t N e w s B u r e a u|
Sunlight in Vermont
Soft-spoken Jennifer Ripley comes from Vermont, a state that's famous for its dazzling autumns and winters. But she likes the summer. "I just get tired of being cold," she says. When she heard that Shreveport is exceptionally hot and humid in August, she was overjoyed.
During the summertime, she works as a lifeguard and teaches young children how to swim. With all the hours she spends around the pool, the swimsuit part of the Miss Teen USA competition doesn't faze her. "Wearing a bikini in front of billions of people is a little nerve-racking," she admits, "but I can handle it." She uses Hawaiian Tropic products and says she would consider being in a Hawaiian Tropic pageant -- when she's a few years older.
|Speaking of Hawaii, that's the state where Ms. Ripley hopes to be spending a lot of time starting next year. She graduates from high school in 2000, and her college of choice is Hawaii Pacific University. If you think the weather in the Aloha State has a lot to do with her plans, you are right. Summer and more summer. |
Vermont is mostly rural, and Ms. Ripley would like to "explore the bigger cities of the world," seeing how other people live. Paris is at the top of her list, but she's attracted by the vibrancy of all big cities.
There's one special place, halfway around the world, that she's determined to visit. For a special reason. "My dad passed away a year ago," she says, her voice growing even softer than usual. "He always talked about going to Australia. He dreamed about us moving to Australia. I want to go there, I want to see it." She thinks about her father every day, and whatever she finds in Australia, we suspect it will always be special for her.
When her travels are through and Ms. Ripley has her medical degree, she plans to go home for good and open a practice as a pediatrician. "I love kids, and Vermont is a good place to raise a family." Warm weather isn't everything.
Her mother calls her "a regular Elly May," a nature-loving tomboy. Starla Smith is from south Alabama, where agriculture is king, and she likes country life. She adores horses and has worked at a horse farm, helping the little children who come to take pony rides.
|She also has a flair for sports. She took all-tournament honors in girls' softball, and she earned a black belt in karate. Even though she competed for a few beauty titles as a very young girl, she eventually chose "T-ball over pageants," high school cheerleading over modeling. |
But in her late teens, Ms. Smith was lured back into the pageant whirl. The National Peanut Festival, held near her home, is not only a celebration of one of the world's most nutritious foods. It's also a scene of stiff competition among the local beauties. Ms. Smith loves to compete, and once she was back on the pageant stage, she was determined to be a success.
As she was preparing for the Miss Alabama Teen USA Pageant, she had more on her mind than just swimsuit and interview.
Her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. As he was dying, he remained her biggest fan, encouraging her never to give up. She never did. Two weeks after his death, she won the crown.
Starla Smith has come a long way. She had never even flown until she won her state title, but now she is on the brink of joining the pageant jet set. When she signs her name these days, she puts a flourish instead of a dot over the letter "i." It's a tiny mark, but it looks remarkably like a star.
Is it a fluke, or is it fate?
Keely Wright wasn't crowned in front of a pageant audience. She got the news that she was Miss Georgia Teen USA from a phone call. The caller had shocking news Jane Kim, who had edged out Ms. Wright for the state title eight months earlier, had just been declared ineligible.
"I'm a queen by default," laughs Ms. Wright. "I got here by luck." The modesty seems sincere, but this girl with photogenic eyes doesn't look an accidental contender. She looks a bit like Cinderella, who wasn't even supposed to go to the ball, but wound up with the prince. If the shoe fits . . .
|Ms. Wright has already held one national title, Miss Teen Sunburst USA, and she frequently does modeling assignments around the Atlanta area. (In her "day" job, she's a singing-and-dancing waitress in a seafood restaurant.) She's a third-generation bathing beauty Her mother is a former swimsuit model, and her grandmother was a former pageant contender in South Carolina. |
Her grandmother was also her best friend, just like a kind-hearted fairy godmother, and Ms. Wright still grieves over her death in 1994. "We used to watch pageants together on television," she recalls wistfully. "She would see a contestant, and she would say, "You've got her beat, girl. You could win this pageant.' " Miss Teen USA was just a living-room dream for an old woman and the young girl who idolized her. Now it's a reality for one of them.
If you believe in destiny, you might note that Keely Wright and Jane Kim were born just one day apart, Ms. Wright was born Aug. 21, 1981, in suburban Atlanta. Ms. Kim arrived Aug. 22 in Taegu, South Korea. And since Korean time is half a day ahead of the eastern United States, they may indeed have been born on the same day. Taegu and Atlanta are sister cities. And the paths of these two beautiful girls eventually crossed in a way that made pageant history. But of course, we're not superstitious. Not much.
Photo courtesy of Keely Wright
A 'passion' for pageants
Kristin Jeanne Marie Thurston is only 17, but she has already worked as a reporter on a presidential campaign. People who know American politics can probably guess her home state. Yes, she's from New Hampshire.
"I was a writer for my high school paper," she says. "I was there when Sen. Bob Smith announced his candidacy for president."
The Honorable Mr. Smith is considered a long shot for the White House. But if he's half as competitive as Ms. Thurston, he may soon be buckling his seat belt aboard Air Force One.
In five years of pageant competition, she has won four state titles, beginning with Miss New Hampshire National Pre-Teen. "Pageants are a passion for me," she says. "They're like a holiday."
She takes competition seriously, but she's not stuffy about being a beauty queen. She once volunteered for a fund-raiser, letting people pay to throw pies into her face.To her surprise, one of her high school teachers stepped forward, handed over his money and delivered the dessert with a smile. "He didn't hit me hard," she explains. "He actually liked me."
Ms. Thurston will have to miss the next few New England winters. She'll be moving to swimsuit country in late 1999, beginning classes at the University of Tampa.
Her long-range plans include "definitely more pageants" and a career in entertainment television.
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