Megan Nelson, 22, will contend for the Miss Missouri USA crown, and Danielle Harper, 17, and Mykah Bryan, 17, will compete against 79 teens for the Miss Missouri Teen USA title. Nelson, who only began competing in pageants in August, admitted she is nervous about competing against 62 other girls Friday, Saturday and Sunday. "It's a big prize on the line, and I've been trying to get in shape and I've been running and making sure I'm keeping up with the news," Nelson said.
Bryan, who isn't new to the pageant circuit, also admitted she was nervous about this weekend's pageant.
"This is the big one," Bryan said.
The winners in "Miss" and "Teen" competitions will advance to the NBC-
Contestants will spend Friday rehearsing for the weekend's events and attending an opening banquet at the Convention Center.
A presentation show will be held Saturday evening when the judges get their first look at each contestant in the evening gown and swimsuit competitions. Personal interviews will be done the following morning, and these three categories are scored equally to narrow the field down to 10-15 semifinalists in the two age divisions.
The main event is Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. pre-show followed by the 7 p.m. competition.
All contestants of the pageants, which are produced by Vanbros and Associates of Overland Park, Kan., already receive a hefty scholarship to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Nelson said. In addition, if any of the contestants make it in the top 16, the scholarship increases. The amount is determined by how high the contestants place, she said.
Both Harper and Bryan are seniors at Sikeston Senior High School.
Harper has been competing in pageants for about three years. During that time she has received two interview awards and four photo awards.
"I'm really shy and this helps me come out of my shell," Harper said about competing.
When Bryan was a little girl, she said her mom put her in a few pageants. Then when she was 14, she got back into competing and has been doing it steadily ever since.
Meeting the girls and finding friendships is why Bryan said she likes to compete in the pageants.
"The more pageants you do, the more you meet people," Bryan said.
Nelson said she started competing because she thought it would be "something neat to do.
"I had the same weekly schedule and I was free on Saturdays. So when a friend of mine suggested being in pageants, I decided to try it," said Nelson, a business education major at Southeast Missouri State University.
Once she kept advancing in pageants, Nelson said she just kept competing. She even won the title of Miss Semo District Fair this year.
Nelson admitted like many people she always thought the only pageants were "pretty pageants." She now realizes the importance pageants place on the interview, speaking skills and knowledge level.
Winning the Miss Missouri USA title is not just a crown, Nelson said.
"A lot of people don't realize that," Nelson said. "And it's not just about your face and your body."
It's a job, Nelson said.
"There is a job description involved with winning the crown," Nelson said. "The judges pick who they think will be able to do the job and do it well."
Most importantly, Harper said, is to just have fun with it.
"Be yourself," Harper advised. "Don't be someone you're not. They want you to be you."