Three Illinois State University students are headed to the Miss Illinois Scholarship Association pageant sponsored by the Miss America Organization. They will compete for the title of Miss Illinois 2014. If crowned, they will continue their journey to compete in Miss America.
Domanique Gerken, a junior sociology major, was crowned Miss Central DC Sweetheart in February and joined her pageant family under the direction of Sherri Winters. Her pageant sisters and competition include Miss Springfield, Falynn Lannert, a junior broadcast journalism major, and Miss Central Illinois, Kaitlyn Wehr, a sophomore theatre major.
The women will attend Spring Forum in May to meet the other Miss Illinois contestants, who will range in age from 17 to 24. In 2013, 32 women competed for the title.
“It’s more of a mental game than anything. I went through it two years ago, and I was physically prepared, and I was like, oh man, this takes a mental toll actually,” Lannert said.
The Miss Illinois competition is a weeklong event that includes 10-minute interviews with a panel of judges, talent showcasing, onstage pop-questions, swimsuit modeling and evening gown presentation. On the final night, the competition narrows down to the top-10 contestants.
Surprisingly, the girls said the toughest part of the competition might be the lack of communication with loved ones.
“You’re going through this really aggressive competition that is draining you mentally and physically. We only get to see our family for half an hour a night after each prelim. You have to find that core of who you are and be able to go back to that at night once you’re home. It can be mentally shaking,” Wehr said.
If crowned Miss Illinois 2014, the titleholder will commit solely to the organization for a year to represent Illinois as a service leader through appearances, interviews and volunteering in addition to preparing for the Miss America competition.
This lifestyle means dropping out of school for a year to travel the country and support the state platform “Distracted Driving.”
Gerken, Lannert and Wehr each support an individual platform at the state competition, including “Saving Animals, Changing Lives through animal rescue and therapy,” “Crisis Nursery Awareness to prevent child abuse and neglect” and “Encore! Celebrate the Arts to promote arts in the community,” respectively.
“Our goal is not to promote being beauty queens. We’re promoting being strong women and empowering others,” Lannert said.
The Miss Illinois Scholarship Association and Miss America Organization strongly value the four points of the crown: service, success, style and scholarship.
“Scholarship is the most important to me because I’m the first in my immediate family to go to college. Through this organization, by winning, you get a scholarship. So that helps a lot with school,” Gerken said.
Each of the women agreed that all four points are crucial for Miss America to embody, as she should be a well-rounded woman.
“I think service would be the most important just because you can have people that look good or are really intelligent and can succeed in education, but being able to give yourself to something and better the world around you is really saying something,” Wehr said.
All three contestants reinforced that Miss America isn’t about fulfilling criteria on a score sheet or wearing a crown, but about finding a genuine connection with people in the world and empowering them.
“You lose more than you win. It’s being able to accept that. It’s a subjective thing, you can’t go around changing who you are just to win a crown,” Wehr said.
“I’ve learned if you’re not enough without the crown, you’re not going to be enough with the crown.”