What does it take to be a pageant judge

Published 1:07 am Sunday, June 7, 2015

KEEN EYE: Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen judges watch a performance Friday during the second night of preliminary competition at City Auditorium.

KEEN EYE: Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen judges watch a performance Friday during the second night of preliminary competition at City Auditorium.

Judging the Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant is a job that brings in people from around the south, from former royalty to pageant veterans.

Judges Chairmen Jan Blackledge and Margie Heltzel select the panel of five judges for the pageant.

Blackledge said the judges always need to be from out of state because in Mississippi it’s likely a judge could have ties to a contestant.

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“We make friends when we travel to other states,” she said. “That’s kind of how we get judges is through making friends at out-of-state pageants.”

Blackledge said she knew all of this year’s judges from attending out-of-state pageants.

“For the teen pageant, I look for a couple of younger judges,” she said. “I’ve got a former Miss Alabama and Miss Louisiana. I also like to have some experienced ones.”

Experience is a key qualification, Blackledge said, adding she looks for a lot of previous judging experience.

“They’ve been directors and judged state pageants,” she said. “I usually try to get one or two former state title holders. They know enough about the pageant system to be qualified to judge.”

Heltzel said one of her jobs is to make the judges comfortable while they’re in town.

“One reason why I enjoy doing it so much is because I love Vicksburg, and it gives me a chance to show it off to people from other states,” she said. “I get to take them around town and take them to the best restaurants and the best places around town.”

Heltzel said her job is keeping the judges busy and entertained because they can’t interact with the contestants before competition.

“I record all the interviews so the girls have DVDs,” she said. “Anything the judges have to do, we’re there.”

The teen pageant is just a great part of the Miss America Organization, Blackledge said.

“It trains these teens to be interested in being in the Miss Mississippi Pageant,” she said. “This is a stepping stone. They get scholarship money and gifts just like the Miss Mississippi contestants do.”

Saturday night, the panel of judges will be scoring the girls on composite attributes (35 percent), lifestyle and fitness in sportswear (15 percent), talent (35 percent) and evening wear and on-stage question (15 percent).

This year’s judges hail from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

• Chandler Marie Champion of Leeds, Alabama was crowned Miss Alabama 2013. She attended the University of Alabama before graduating from the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Champion is currently a junior at the University of Alabama Birmingham, majoring in communications management and theatre arts. Champion spends time promoting her platform “Chandler’s Challenge,” by speaking to schools and organizations encouraging people to read every day.

• Thomas Collins, executive director of the Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen Organization, lives in El Dorado, Arkansas with his wife, Jan. He owns Studio 209 Salon, and he has had formal training in both piano and percussion. Collins is also the executive director for the Miss Ouachita River Scholarship Organization, and he has had three local titleholders go on to capture the title of Miss Arkansas.

• Jaden Leach, Miss Louisiana 2013, currently resides in Nashville, Tenn. after living in West Monroe, La. for 22 years, and she attended the Miss Louisiana pageant each year while growing up.

She won her first pageant, Miss University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she was the first freshman to win all four phases of competition. She was named the Louisiana Miracle Maker in 2012 and 2013, and she has raised a total of $40,000 for Children’s Miracle Network.

• Mal Matthews of Jackson, Tenn. has been involved with the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Pageant for 34 years. He has judged numerous state and local pageants in the Miss America Organization, including Miss Arkansas, Miss California, Miss Georgia, Miss Mississippi, Miss Missouri, Miss New Hampshire, Miss Oregon and Miss U.S. Virgin Islands. Matthews is an active member of Hurt’s Chapel C.M.E. Church and a lifetime member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

• Brent May of West Monroe, Louisiana is an educator who has been a part of the Miss Louisiana production for seven years. May received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Louisiana Tech University and his master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. In working with Miss Louisiana, May met his wife, Amanda Joseph May, the year she won the title.