State’s first outstanding teen, in ’05, in pageant

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When the 43 Miss Mississippi 2011 contestants walk the runway for the first time tonight, first-timer Natalie Wood might feel right at home.

The 20-year-old Oxford native who is competing as Miss Southland was — in 2005 — the first Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen and for four years since has been a senior dancer for the Miss Mississippi pageant.

“I actually auditioned to be a Miss Mississippi junior dancer that year. I had been a junior dancer before so I was going back in thinking I knew everyone and I’ll probably be able to dance with my friends again,” she said.

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“Mallory Graham, the choreographer, told me I was too tall,” — she was 5-foot-4. “I was devastated.”

Instead of dancing, Wood should enter a pageant, Graham suggested. Though she’d not previously thought of it, Wood took his advice, and tonight she will be on stage with the other 42 contestants and, Friday night, she with her full 5-foot-6-inches in height will dance for her part in the competition.

“My parents encouraged me to do it,” she said.

In 2005, Wood won the new Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen pageant and competed in Orlando for the national title in a contest in which she was second youngest.

“My biggest guidance going into the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant was the late Wayne and Miss Tammy Sutter,” she said of the pageant secretary, who died this year, and his wife. “They were the only ones who got to go from Vicksburg to support me, and they were just amazing throughout that whole experience.”

Wood today is studying broadcast journalism at the University of Mississippi, where she was among the top 10 in the 2010 Ole Miss Parade of Beauties and is an Ole Miss Rebelette and a member of Chi Omega sorority.

She is one of 13 past contestants in the Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen pageants in this year’s competition.

“We are proud of the program and how it has grown,” said producer Jaynie Fedell. “This year we have had our largest gift package, more than $60,000,” including $33,500 in scholarships from William Carey University and Hinds and Itawamba community colleges.

The pageant is a good feeder for the Miss Mississippi competition, Fedell said.