Competitors took the stage for the state preliminary at the auditorium in Bradley Central High School’s Fine Arts building, and judges evaluated the contestants on three out of the competition's five categories — Fitness, Self-Expression and Talent. The two other categories, which evaluated the girls on their school academic performance and how they do in an interview with the judges, had already been judged offstage.
The night of went well with only one minor “hiccup” that rearranged a couple of items on the event schedule, said Traci Fant, co-chair of the state competition.
“I was a little surprised with how well it went, because we hadn’t had a run-through without any hiccups,” Fant said, pleased with how the first night of competition had gone.
The event was not even affected by the night’s thunderstorms, she said, though organizers had been bracing themselves for a power outage.
The girls were divided into three different groups to take part in each category, and each group was named for a different generation of people. The groups, called the “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Generation Y,” were named to go along with this year's theme, “Flashback: One Moment In Time.”
The night began with the national anthem sung by 2012’s Distinguished Young Woman of America, Christina Maxwell.
Kayte Brock, the night's emcee and Distinguished Young Woman of America 2011, shared some numbers with the audience after an opening dance that gave the girls each a chance to introduce themselves. This year marks the 55th year of the Distinguished Young Women competition, which was known as Junior Miss before 2010. The competition has given out some $93 million in scholarships over the years, she said.
After that, the “Baby Boomers” took the stage for Fitness. The girls did a routine that was a mix of dance and other exercise moves with some push-ups and sit-ups added into the mix. The Fitness category judges the girls on their coordination and stamina.
Last year's Tennessee winner, Lexee Hill, spoke about her own Distinguished Young Woman experiences between categories and said the girl who wins will be able to look forward to doing a lot of great things, including getting to compete in the national competition.
“You get to spend a whole year with your title," Hill said. “It gives you so many great opportunities.”
She said her favorite parts of the national competition were the service projects the contestants did and a “girls’ night out” event that allowed her to get to know the other girls better.
Hill shared some of the night’s emcee duties and introduced the girls from the “Generation X” group as they took part in the talent portion of the competition.
The girls sang Broadway songs, gave spoken monologues, danced ballet and modern dance and played instruments as they shared their talents.
In between other categories later that night, Hill shared what the state competition had been like for her last year and that she knew all about the nervousness the girls might have been facing backstage. Hill said that she had brought music to play in the dressing room to help her and the others get their minds off competing. When she competed, backstage was a flurry of activity with girls congratulating and encouraging each other.
“It really is just great camaraderie behind the scenes,” Hill said.
The third category of the night was Self-Expression, in which contestants participated in a group dance to Madonna’s 1980s hit “Vogue.” Each girl took the song’s advice to “strike a pose” and answer their group’s question for the judges.
Girls in the “Generation Y” group answered the following question: “Do you feel that being involved in community service projects should be a graduation requirement?” Most girls said yes, and their reasons ranged from wanting to make an impact to thinking it would teach the students career skills. However, two answered no because they believe service should not be forced but “come from the heart.”
The “Generation X” group was asked how being the Distinguished Young Woman would impact their lives. Most said it had already taught them the confidence to speak in front of a crowd and would benefit them in future careers.
The “Baby Boomers” then presented the second round of talent with saxophone, piano, baton, modern dance, clogging and singing performances.
Fitness with “Generation Y” was the last competition of the night, and Brock took the time to recognize the families of the contestants as well as the host families the contestants stayed with in Cleveland and Chattanooga.
All the contestants, as well as Hill, closed the night out with a dance to the song “Dancing in the Streets,” before the audience hit the streets to head home.
Fant did not yet have exact attendance numbers for the Preliminary but said the audience was one of the largest she had seen on the Friday night of a state competition.
By the end of the night, each of the contestants had completed two out of three of their performance categories in the competition. The Tennessee Distinguished Young Women Final was scheduled to take place the next night. No results were given at Friday night’s competition in anticipation of all the final scores being compiled to choose the winner and runners-up Saturday night.