Miss Alabama pageant includes several UA students, grads

Miss Alabama pageant includes several UA students, grads

Jessica Procter, a sophomore at the University, was awarded third runner-up at the Miss Alabama pageant on Saturday.  Courtesy of Miss Alabama

Mary Catherine Hodges

A group of women gowned in long, white dresses paraded onto the stage as the 2015 Miss Alabama pageant came to a close at Samford University’s Wright Center Saturday night.

There wasn’t a breath to be spared in the audience as the families, friends, coaches and fans of these young women sat in nervous anticipation to see who would be crowned the next Miss Alabama.

Deep exhalations of nervous tension swept through the auditorium and then, a roar from the crowd as the winners were announced.

Miss Alabama 2015, Megan McGuffin.

Brianna Kinsey was awarded first runner-up; Hayley Barber second runner-up; Jessica Procter third runner-up; and Rachel Persall fourth runner-up.

McGuffin, a 22-year-old native of Ozark, Alabama, an Auburn graduate and Miss Phenix City, was crowned and pinned by 2014 and now-former Miss Alabama, Caitlin Burnell, a symbolic tradition of passing on the duties of Miss Alabama to the new winner.

McGuffin will be awarded a $10,000 scholarship in addition to any other scholarships obtained during preliminary rounds. She will travel across Alabama to promote her philanthropy platform “Healthy is the New Skinny” and will begin training to represent Alabama in the Miss America competition, hosted in Atlantic City, New Jersey, this September.

For many, the scholarship money earned while competing in the pageant will be enough to pay off debts and college tuition. In the preliminary rounds alone, the Miss Alabama Organization awarded $100,000 worth of scholarship money to contestants. 

Megan Smith, a senior majoring in economics and political science, said the scholarship money she’s earned throughout her involvement in Miss America will pay for the entirety of her tuition.

“The Miss America Organization is all about recognizing young women for their scholastic achievements, and each contestant at Miss Alabama actually has a separate ‘scholarship interview’ where they talk with a panel of postsecondary administrators from across the state regarding their financial need in pursuing their education,” Smith said. “Each and every contestant in Miss Alabama receives scholarship money, regardless of their performance during pageant week.”

The crowning ceremony began with the announcement of the top-12 semifinalists. This was the first year that more than 10 girls have been selected to compete in the final round of judging in Miss Alabama.

The 12 semifinalists were then deliberated in a final swimsuit, talent and evening gown round, resulting in a selection of the five finalists – McGuffin, Kinsey, Barber, Procter and Parsell – who then answered interview questions about their philanthropy platforms.

The contestants are judged over the span of four days, including private interviews with the judging panel. An evaluation from the interview, talent, onstage question, lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit) and evening gown portions combine to form the contestants total score.

“It’s not about the dress or the hair – it’s all about being relatable and just being real,” Smith said. “Judges are looking for someone who can empathize with, and empower all people she serves, not just the pageant community.”

McGuffin started her mission, “Healthy is the New Skinny” at Auburn University after seeing fellow dancers go to extremes to be “ballet skinny.” She plans to combat anorexia and bulimia and promote positive body images among men and women during her reign as Miss Alabama.

“I think [McGuffin’s platform] alone exhibits the progress that has been made regarding the promotion of positive body image in the pageant world,” Smith said. “In recent years, the Miss America Organization has been a direct advocate of health and wellness, redefining the presence of pageants in the daily lives of women.”

As a rookie in the Miss Alabama pageant and a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies, Jessica Procter said her initial reaction to being announced as a finalist was disbelief.

“My knees completely gave out and my heart practically stopped,” she said.

Prior to the pageant, Procter followed a rigorous training routine allotting time each day to practicing her talent — piano and vocal — exercising with a trainer and lifting at least four times each week. Pageant contestants are also required to stay current and form opinions on current issues, local and global news.

Other than her scholarships, and title of third runner-up, Procter says she’s gained a sense of confidence from the Miss Alabama pageant.

“Being my first year at Miss Alabama as a 19-year old, I could hardly believe I even made it that far. I was completely overjoyed to even make it to top 12, so when they called my name for top five, I honestly couldn’t believe it,” she said. “This experience has left me with a sense of humble confidence as I know I did not get to that place alone by any means.”