But all that didn't prepare the Sikeston resident for the shock of being one of the top two contestants and becoming the first runner-up at the state pageant in Mexico, Mo. June 7-10.
"My goal was just to make it in the top 10," said the 19-year-old daughter of Linda Bell and Kenneth Bell of Sikeston. "I was really shocked I was put in that position when I didn't think I'd make it that far."
As Miss Missouri, Bell would have had to take off from a year of school at Missouri State University in Springfield, where she is studying marketing and sales, to travel around the state. During her tour, she would be promoting her platform "Raising Awareness for Cancer Education and Research."
"Everybody can relate to cancer," Bell said. She knows people who have been effected by cancer, and said she was quite involved in Relay For Life in Sikeston and on her college campus.
Although Bell didn't win the crown, she is still pleased with her finish. "It doesn't happen very often that a first year girl gets very far," Bell said.
Since the pageant is open to women ages 18-24, she still has plenty of time to try again. And as first runner-up, Bell will compete in the Sweetheart Pageant Labor Day weekend in Illinois, an option for all first alternates, to gain experience.
"It's all working toward the goal of being Miss America one day," she said. "I know it's every little girl's dream, but once you start working for it, it becomes reality."
Unfortunately, the work isn't all about just competing. There's a lot of behind the scenes work, too.
After Bell was crowned as Miss River City, representing a town outside of St. Louis, in November, she began preparing for the pageant, and kicked it into high gear after Christmas. "I was doing something every weekend second semester of school," she said.
A Kansas City voice coach helped prepare Bell for her talent, singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." She worked with the Miss River City board practicing for the 12-minute interviews, answering platform questions about herself and current events.
Bell also worked with a personal trainer in Springfield doing Pilates and watched her diet. "It was pretty much to tone up," she said.
The work paid off, and she tied with two other contestants to win the swimsuit preliminary. "When I heard there was a three-way tie, I thought 'one of these could be me,'" Bell said. "It was really exciting, especially to have worked so hard and diet."
And she couldn't wait to start eating the foods she had gone without for so long. "Sunday I ate everything possible, everything fattening," Bell said. "I had french fries the other day and I haven't had them in three months."
Bell also squashed the belief pageants are just about looks. Talent is worth 35 percent, interview is worth 30 percent, swimsuit is worth 20 percent and evening gown is worth 15 percent of the final score, she explained. And contestants must stay up-to-date on the news to answer some questions. "You have to form an opinion about current topics," Bell said. "Judges will try to contradict you."
Bell won $3,750 at the contest -- a $3,500 scholarship for being first runner-
up, $150 for winning the swimsuit preliminary and $100 just for attending the pageant -- but that doesn't come close to the amount of money she spent on her designer gown, swimsuit, lessons, gas and other necessities.
Her next run won't be as expensive, though. "Next year I'll use the same evening gown and stuff like that," Bell said.
Despite all the time and resources she had invested into the pageant, Bell said she never felt like she was missing out on anything. "I wanted to do this, it was my choice," she said.
Pictures and video clips of Bell from the pageant can be found at www.missmissouri.org.