Four Greenville women are Muskegon bound, each hoping to come home with a crown and a title as part of the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant.
Miss Danish Festival Taylor Bretzke and Miss Greater Kalamazoo Emily Smith will face off against 32 other contestants in the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant with preliminary rounds on Thursday and Friday and a finals round on Saturday.
Miss Heartland Outstanding Teen Brianna Van Houten and Miss Spirit of the State Outstanding Teen Alisha Gatchel are competing in the Miss Michigan Outstanding Teen among 26 other young women between the ages of 13 and 17. The preliminary round will be Tuesday with the final round on Wednesday.
Miss Michigan contestants
“This is my second year with the Miss America organization,” said Smith, a 2013 Greenville High School graduate and currently a 19-year-old sophomore at Western Michigan University. “Last year, Miss Michigan was very overwhelming, so I’m glad I’ll be returning to Miss Michigan this year with a clearer idea of what is expected.”
A former Miss Danish Festival, Smith won a Preliminary Talent Award and also a Non-Finalist Talent Award, earning more than $1,000 in scholarships. She will repeat her classical Italian aria “Convien Partir” this year.
“My favorite portion of the competition is the talent round,” Smith said. “It gives me an opportunity to share my love of classical vocal performance with a new audience and the Frauenthal Theater is a dream to sing in.”
“Winning a Preliminary Talent Award and the Non-Finalist Talent last year was the crown jewel on what was already a rewarding experience. I am very excited to return this year and gain more experience on the Miss Michigan stage.With a new panel of judges, it is a new fresh start, and you never know what might happen.”
Bretzke, 18, graduated from Greenville High School on June 1 and will be one of the youngest contestants on the Miss Michigan stage this week.
“Taylor is going as a graduating senior from high school, which will definitely make her one of the youngest competitors,” said Miss Danish Festival Pageant Executive Director Carol Warner. “This can make it more challenging because she is competing against young women who are in their twenties and possibly finishing college.”
But, with Bretzke’s past experience as Junior Miss, Young Miss, and now Miss Danish Festival, as well as in the Little Miss Michigan and Outstanding Teen pageant, “She is no stranger to competition and has an idea what it takes to become Miss Michigan,” Warner said.
Bretzke believes her strongest phase will be the talent portion.
“I’ve been performing since I was 6 years old,” said Bretzke, who plans to attend Grand Valley State University this fall. “Singing is just a part of who I am, and I am so excited to share my talent with everyone at Miss Michigan while representing my own hometown.”
She will perform a jazz/soul piece “I (Who Have Nothing)” by Ben E. King.
The competition, however, is based on five rounds: Talent, Interview, Evening Wear, Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit and On-Stage Question.
“In the Miss America Organization, pageant prep looks like a major lifestyle change,” Smith said. “I have a healthy diet and exercise frequently to always have a fit and swimsuit-ready figure. I have stayed on top of current events in order to remain engaged in political culture, which is excellent preparation for the interview portion. To keep my vocal talent in shape, I continued my private voice lessons and joined several university choirs while at school.”
Aside from being physically fit, Bretzke said mental preparation is also important.
“The most important thing for me has been to prepare for the interview portion, so I try to stay on top of current events as much as possible,” she said. “The most difficult part for me is probably the on-stage question. It’s tough because you literally have no idea what the question will be, which makes it hard to prepare.”
Smith and Bretzke have been involved in high school activities, and also know many of the other competitors.
“As I approach the Miss Michigan Pageant, I find that it is not a competition against your fellow ‘sisters,’ but a competition against yourself,” Smith said. “The judges don’t look for a girl that is better than her friends. They are looking for a girl that is the best version of herself. The only person you are competing against is you.”
Miss Outstanding Teen contestants
Van Houten, 17, and Gatchel, 16, are not strangers to the stage, either.
“Brianna has competed twice as an at-large teen contestant, but this year returning as Miss Heartland Outstanding Teen,” said Barb Millard, who co-chairs the Miss Heartland pageant. “Brianna has excellent stage presence and interview skills and is a pleasure to work with.”
Van Houten will be performing a vocal solo “On My Own” from Les Miserables.
“The best part about competing is being able to perform on the Frauenthal stage,” said Van Houten, who will miss five of the last days of her junior year of high school for the competition. “I am an actress and love performing for people. The pageant business is kind of its own world and it’s nice to have friends that have the same interests as you and support you. The most difficult part is the nerves. Everything you do that week is nerve-wracking, especially when you are waiting to hear the results. You just have to give it your all and hope for the best.”
Gatchel agrees pageant preparation is work.
“It is practice, practice, practice,” said Gatchel, who is making her third appearance as an Outstanding Teen competitor. “I will be missing a full five days of school during this next week. The extra school days (added due to excessive snow days) has made exam-taking very difficult. I feel much more stressed school-wise than years past.”
Gatchel feels most confident in the Interview of Talent portions. She will be performing “Stronger Than Me,” an original competition composed for Bree Town, who is fighting pediatric cancer, and aligns with her platform “Support for Pediatric Cancer Patients and Families.”
“The best part is the life skills I take away from it,” she said. “The interview, public speaking skills and the qualities I have gained are unmeasurable.”
For more information on the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant, visit missmichigan.org or follow Miss Michigan on Faceboook.
Local Pageant Hopefuls
Miss Michigan contestants
Taylor Bretzke (Miss Danish Festival)
Education: Grand Valley State University, upcoming freshman; Greenville High School
Scholastic/Career Ambition: Obtain a bachelor’s degree of science in human biology; complete medical school at Michigan State University; become an OBGYN
Platform: Big Brothers Big Sisters
Talent: Soul vocal, “I (Who Have Nothing)”
Emily Smith (Miss Greater Kalamazoo)
Education: Western Michigan University sophomore, bachelor of science in political science; Greenville High School
Scholastic/Career Ambition: Obtain a master’s dree in public policy and become active in political leadership
Platform: Changing Hearts, Changing Lives — Creating A Bully-Free Community
Talent: Classical vocal performance, “Convien Partir”
Outstanding Teen contestants
Brianna VanHouten (Miss Heartland Outstanding Teen)
School: Greenville High School
Scholastic/Career Ambition: Obtain a master’s degree in music education or musical theater, elementary/middle school music teacher
Talent: Vocal performance, “On My Own” from Les Miserables
Platform: Music education in the schools
Alisha Gatchel (Miss Spirit of the State Outstanding Teen)
School: Greenville High School
Scholastic/Career Ambition: Obtain a master’s degree in music performance and child life services to become an artist/child life specialist
Talent: Vocal performance, “Stronger Than This” (original composition)
Platform: Support for pediatric cancer patients and families
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.