• 52°

Miss Mississippi 2001: Preliminary competition begins Wednesday night

Miss Forest Nina Simmons practices a routine for the Miss Mississippi 2001 pageant at the Vicksburg Convention Center Tuesday. Behind Simmons, Miss Delta Melissa Pitts keeps up with the pom-pom routine. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[07/11/01] After two days of rehearsal and a lifetime of dreaming, one of 39 contestant’s road to Atlantic City and the Miss America Pageant begins Wednesday night with the first round of preliminary competition for the 2001 Miss Mississippi Pageant.

“I’ve never been disappointed in Mississippi contestants, and I’m certainly not now,” executive producer Pat Hopson told contestants during a break in Tuesday morning’s rehearsal. “You’re all so beautiful. I think I’m going to cry. It’s all so wonderful.”

On Tuesday, the contestants finished their last day of practice before the first public performance of this year’s pageant, titled “2001: A World Odyssey.”

“We’ve been rehearsing a lot,” Miss University Misty Rea said. “Everybody’s working as hard as they can, and it’s all coming together.”

“They have done an incredible job,” director and choreographer Mallory Graham said. “They’re doing things they’ve never dreamed they would have to do.”

This year’s theme, the brainchild of Graham and Hopson, will take the audience around the world with performances inspired by Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

Hopson, who also serves as the traveling companion for Miss Mississippi, said she got the idea for the show while in Disney World with Miss Mississippi 2000 Christy May.

“Christy had never been to Disney before, and she was like a kid in a candy store,” she said.

And while May was enjoying one of Disney’s parades, Hopson sat on a bench to rest, and that’s when she heard the song “You Bring Honor To Us All” being played in the parade.

“I thought, What a finale! What a tribute to someone who has been a great Miss Mississippi,'” Hopson said. “Then I talked to Mallory who had been doing work for ESPN and their halftime shows, so he had been working with cheerleaders and pom-poms. He said, I’ve been listening to some great African music that would be perfect for the show,’ and from that thread it grew into the world odyssey.”

For Graham and Hopson, who won two Emmy Awards two years ago for their pageant work, the challenge each year is to make the show bigger and better than the year before.

Graham, who is working on his 10th Miss Mississippi production, also used to stage the state pageants in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but he dropped them to handle the increasingly elaborate Miss Mississippi program.

“Mississippi has gotten so huge that it takes all that time and more,” he said. “It’s just so much. It’s like a Broadway production a major Broadway production.”

But, while the productions are complex, Graham says the contestants always come through by preparing themselves before they arrive and working diligently once they get here.

And as soon as this year’s pageant is over and the set is stripped down, Hopson and Graham will go back to the drawing board to cook up next year’s program.

“We’ll be hit with people asking us What are you going to do next year? What are you going to do to be bigger than this?'” Graham said. “This year we’ve got volcanoes going off on stage. We’ve got smoke and fire. What are we gonna do next? Land a helicopter on stage? I just don’t know.”