“I know it feels like mass chaos. But you’re doing fantastic,” said Chelsea Milligan to the competitors. Milligan is a choreographer for the current Distinguished Young Women competition and also a former Tennessee Junior Miss in 2010 who has been involved with the program ever since. “They make me very proud,” she said.
“(But) for two hours into rehearsals,” said Holly Kesley, contestant coordinator from the state DYW committee, as well as the 1997 Cleveland Junior Miss (the name of this competition before changing last year), “you are all awesome.”
And as Milligan also mentioned, in addition to how well the young ladies were doing learning their fitness routines, she also noticed something else.
“I’m watching them change,” Milligan said. Almost right before her very eyes. “It’s phenomenal.”
The fitness and self-expression competitions are both given 15 percent of the overall score; talent is 25 percent of the overall score; the interview portion also is 25 percent; and scholastic/academic achievement is 20 percent.
“Distinguished Young Women emphasizes the overall woman,” said Tara Pollard, who is on the DYW state board helping to oversee the contestants this week and making sure they have everything they need. “It’s not just a pretty face.”
From the moment they arrive in Cleveland, the girls work very hard, not just practicing various parts of the competition, but also in a variety of activities outside of the competition.
“It’s very intensive,” Pollard said.
For example, during the week they are here, the young ladies will be part of various volunteer activities within the community, such as giving out water on the Greenway and performing individual talents for the residents of Garden Plaza, as well as joining them for dinner.
“It’s all about enjoying themselves and making new friends,” Pollard said, advising current contestants. “Stay strong, but have a good time.”
Fellow contestants Angelica Fultz, DYW from Williamson County; Taylor Simone McMahan, DYW from McMinn County; and Kaitlyn Elizabeth Bunn, DYW from Cumberland Valley, all in unison said their experiences have been “Great!”
“(The fitness practice) is a lot better than I thought it would be,” Fultz said. However, it’s trying to learn the formations or movements on stage that gave her pause. But the program has given her confidence a big boost. “I’m normally shy. ... But all the people are really nice,” she said.
She will be singing a song in memory of a cousin who died in Afghanistan in January.
As for her career goals, Fultz wants to be a veterinarian.
Doing pushups in the fitness program concerned McMahan the most.
“I was nervous at first,” McMahan said, not just about the fitness competition, but the entire program. She also felt a little uneasy getting out of her comfort zone. But, she added, choreographer Milligan is patient and helps the teens with whatever they need to learn their routines. And her confidence has also gotten a boost by being involved in the DYW program. “And if this is a preview of what this week will be like, I’m excited.”
McMahan will be giving a dramatic dialogue she wrote herself. She wants to be an obstetrician/gynecologist.
“Dancing is out of my comfort zone. ... I liked that they gave us the choreography beforehand,” Bunn said. This is the first year DYW sent a DVD to each contestant before the actual competition began showing the onstage fitness routine so contestants could work on moves before the first day. That’s also how the national competitions handle it. “It would have been a lot harder otherwise. ... It was hard to come out of my shell. But that’s what this program has done for me.”
Bunn will be playing the alto saxophone as her talent for the competition. She wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Lexee Hill, from Rhea County, and the outgoing Distinguished Young Woman, knows all too well what all the girls are experiencing this week.
“I’m a support for the girls right now,” Hill said. They all have a million questions. “I’m here for them every step of the way.”
Her best advice is to the contestants this week: Enjoy the entire experience.
And, she also wanted to tell every single girl in the program the following — and also wanted to make sure they took it to heart: “A special type of girl is in this program ... and because they are in this program, it’s assured they’re going to do great things.”
While wishing every contestant the greatest experience possible, she also couldn’t help but reminisce a little about her own year as the Tennessee DYW and that it is coming to an end this week.
“(By Saturday) I’ll be mortifyingly sad,” she admitted. “I know I’ll be balling (my eyes out) on stage.”