MUSKEGON — Montcalm County is one of 83 counties in Michigan, yet it was well represented Saturday as three women with local connections graced the stage of the Frauenthaul Centerof the Performing Arts for the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant.
Of the 34 contestants vying for the coveted title — and the right to compete in the Miss America Scholarship Pageant in September — Miss Danish Festival Allison Harrison, Miss Heartland Jaeleen Davis and Miss Sunset Coast Emily Smith spent a week of rehearsals, appearances, last-minute studying and two preliminary rounds before taking the stage for the for Saturday evening’s final round. Smith first made the cut into the top 12, then later finished the evening as the third runner-up.
“This is my fourth appearance, and I came in a lot more prepared. I had two years (after choosing not to compete last year), and was more prepared physically, more mature, and more confident,” said Smith, 22, a 2013 graduate of Greenville High School and a senior at Western Michigan University.
The young women, ranging in age from 17 through 24, are judged in five phases of competition: Talent, 35 percent; private interview, 25 percent; evening wear, 20 percent; lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit, 15 percent; impromptu on-stage question, 5 percent.
The private interview took place earlier in the week, and Thursday and Friday were evenings of preliminary rounds. The judges’ top 10, plus two additional People’s Choice winners, completed the top 12, who were named Saturday after an opening dance number by all contestants.
Smith performed a classical operatic vocal piece “Covien Partir,” and looked stunning in a full-skirted lavender gown. Her choice for evening wear was a low-cut fitted red gown, and she opted for a purple bikini for swimwear.
Her on-stage question pertained to the United States immigration problem, in which she deflected and answered, “Our journey as the America we are today is largely due to immigration. We have illegal immigration, refugees and those who are here legally within their bounds. It is unfair to give those who are here illegally the same rights and benefits as those who are here legally. We don’t have an immigration problem, we have an illegal immigration problem.”
Smith placed as first runner-up in 2015 but was only somewhat disappointed in placing in the top five this year.
“It is what it is,” she said. “But I am truly excited to see (the newly crowned Miss Michigan) Heather (Kendrick, Miss Washtenaw County) at Miss America. She will do great!”
“Emily worked very hard prepping, she worked hard on getting physically and mentally prepared,” said Emily’s mother, Mari Smith. “We are very proud of her.”
All contestants earn $500 for participating in the week-long event. Smith earned an additional $3,000 for her third place finish.
Miss Heartland Jaeleen Davis, 21, came into the pageant with two goals: Win the $2,500 Nicole Foco STEM Award and the $500 Kaye Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson Community Service Award.
“Her goal was to win two awards, but specifically, the STEM award and the Kaye Lani award,” said Miss Heartland Pageant director Cheryl Smith. “She finished right where she wanted to be!”
Compared to many of the women on stage, Harrison is a newcomer to the pageant world, only competing in a total of three prior pageants, this being her first on the Miss Michigan stage.
“I had a lot of fun, and made so many new friends,” said Harrison, 20, a student at Central Michigan University. “It was a lot more physically and mentally challenging than I expected. You have very little downtime, and the only alone time is when you shower.”
The Miss Danish Festival Pageant director Carol Warner said Harrison’s strong points are her interview and talent, along with stage presence.
“She looks comfortable on that stage,” said Warner.
With several open pageants available, Harrison says the option is available to try again.
“I will take a look at it but may take a month or so away from pageants before I look into it. There are a lot of factors to consider. You take a whole year to prep for one week,” said Harrison.
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.