This year’s judges panel consists of Eugene Attkisson from Kentucky, Mary Frances Thorman from Alabama, Vicky Taylor from Utah, Al Smith from Georgia, and Celeste Scott, originally from Cleveland. There is over 65 years of experience between the five judges.
“I have been involved in the Junior Miss — now Distinguished Young Women, for 32 years,” Attkisson said. “It’s a great privilege to be back here with you. I know it’s going to be a good time. I always have a good time, and more importantly, I hope you have a good time.”
Attkisson is a regional coordinator with oversight responsibilities for state programs in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Illinois. Taylor graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in social work and has been involved in the program since 1995.
“The ideal Distinguished Young Woman represents a certain ideal. I don’t care what she looks like, but I care how she looks. How she carries herself. How she makes people feel,” Taylor told the contestants. “I expect her to be current on what is going on in the world ... most of all I hope that you are just full of love.”
Smith became involved after his daughter was in the Junior Miss program in 1997. He has held various jobs and is currently the state chairman for Georgia.
“I am your biggest fan. I want you to do well in this program,” Smith said. “It is a pleasure to be here.”
Scott is a Cleveland native who graduated from Cleveland High School in 2007. She participated in DYW in 2006 and came in third runner-up. Scott graduated from college in May with a bachelor’s degree in science and biology. She is aspiring to go to medical school.
“My research trip to Costa Rica and Panama involved going into the rain forest and observing different plants, animals and trees,” Smith said to the curious crowd. “We chose which ones we liked the best and wrote a report to present to our class.”
Thorman, better known as “Peaches” in the DYW circuit, began as a host parent in 1995. According to Thorman, she has done every job there is to get a program on stage. She is currently the state co-chairman of Alabama. She is a graduate of Auburn and will not wear Alabama’s colors.
“I look forward to seeing you tomorrow in interviews,” Thorman said. “We are mommas and dads, and we are here to help you.”
Added Thorman, “I only ask the hard questions ... so be ready.”
Attkisson assured the contestants he knew how they were feeling as performers.
“I think you are a better audience member when you have performed. It is very easy to criticize a performance when you are sitting in the back of a dark theater,” Attkisson said. “It is much more difficult when you are up there trying to do the best you can.”
Jessi Fuller, one of this year’s contestants, asked the judges how they could tell who the contestants are past their answers.
“I can tell who you are by how you stand, how you look, what you say, and how your eyes shoot around the room,” Thorman said. “I can see your soul through your face. I see these things the same way you do.”
Added Taylor, “It is not about what you say, either. It is more how you make us feel.”
Smith encouraged the contestants to be themselves. Attkisson assured the young ladies tears would not lose them points.
“Tears come at the oddest time. ... If the tears come it is OK. There is no reason to be embarrassed or feel like you have lost something. All you have shown is this is important to you and that you are a feeling human being. That is absolutely great,” Attkisson said.
The contestants will be meeting for their interviews with the judges today.