There are a few who know how it feels to take the stage under the heat of the lights — refined, polished, lines memorized, steps perfected while cameras roll as an audience anxiously awaits. These few are affectionately called the “Has Beens” of Junior Miss.
Once contestants of the Junior Miss Program, the “Has Beens” are considered the big sister mentors of the young ladies who currently engage in the program.
Beginning at orientation, through the lengthy rehearsals, the busy back stage happenings to the crowning of the winner, they devote their time, pass on experience and guide the young ladies through what they call a “once in a lifetime experience into an elite sisterhood.”
All week they have been with the 22 contestants, preparing them for the Tennessee’s Junior Miss Scholarship Program which is Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Lee University’s Dixon Center.
Donna Lowe, a “Has Been” and member of the Tennessee Junior Miss Board Committee said, being a “Has Been” is one of the most distinguished groups to be a part of.
“Each year “Has Beens” return to help Junior Miss Programs held in their states all over the U.S.,” Lowe said. “We do it because we know how the program benefits the girls and because we love it.”
Lowe first heard of Junior Miss in 1987 when her sisters participated in Junior Miss. Two years later she entered the sisterhood as a competitor, representing Soddy Daisy.
Since the 80’s much as changed. In Lowe’s words it is “more relevant and continues to evolve.” A large part of the competition then was baking and hand-sewing.
“Kraft was a sponsor so I used Kraft products and made a white 3-tier cake with all of the flags on it to recognize the Olympics that was big then,” she said. “The outfit I made was a nautical type. I not only had to sew, I had to model it too.”
The fitness, talent and interview portions were Lowe’s favorites. They were also the categories she won.
“The interview stands out as a favorite memory. Even though the judges were critiquing me, it made me feel good when a judge said he liked my honest answer when I said I would be disappointed if I did not win Junior Miss.”
Having the “Has Been” title is something Holly Kesley, Cleveland’s Junior Miss of 1997 is fond of. Her experience is one she cherishes.
“During the interview, one of the judges actually said ‘wow’ to one of my answers. It was difinitely a confidence builder,” Kesley said. “It has been a favorite memory along with hearing my name called out as the winner.”
Kesley remembers the first day back at school the next Monday. While sitting in English honors class the teacher was recognizing the girl who placed as first runner up. When a classmate spoke up, telling the teacher Kesley won, it was the first she had heard of it. Kesley said it made her laugh then and still does to today.
“Since the age of five I had been in beauty pageants but nothing like Junior Miss. As a result of the positive experience, my mother Debbie Williams, who was my biggest supporter, became a big sponsor of the program for 15 years and served as chairperson,” said Kesley.
Attorney Traci Dunn Fant heard her name announced as Cleveland’s Junior Miss in 1991. Soon after she was named the winner, a judge handed her a tissue to help with the outburst of tears as a result of her emotional response.
A few months later she stood on the Tivoli Theater stage as a Cleveland High School student representing Cleveland’s Junior Miss when she claimed the title of Tennessee Junior Miss.
At a young age, Fant was inspired by seeing the first African-American, Janessa Jones receive the Cleveland Junior Miss honor.
“Watching her, I remember thinking if she could win, then I could, too,” Fant said. “With the help of my parents Beverly and James Dunn and support of good friends Larry McSpadden and Kellye Bender I was able to accomplish what I did and gain so much.”
Fant and her husband Charles who is the Tennessee Junior Miss coordinator are very involved in Junior Miss on a variety of levels in front and behind the scenes including volunteering time, securing donors for the scholarships, serving as directors and serving as chairpersons.
“I try to encourage girls, regardless of race or socioeconomic background to get involved,” Fant said. “Even if a contestant does not win a single category, she will likely have many lasting friendships.”
A special “Has Been” who is giving back to the Junior Miss Program is 2009’s winner Katharine Kolp of Hendersonville. As an assistant to Heidi Longwith, president of the Tennessee Association of Dance and owner of Mountain Laurel Dance Studios, Kolp is helping the contestants with dance routines, poise and posture.
“I’m enjoying it. I saw how the other “Has Beens” return to help with Junior Miss and I wanted to do the same,” Kolp said.
One thing the “Has Beens” agree on is all young ladies should participate in the Junior Miss program for the experience, the confidence to be gained and the genuine friendships made that can last a lifetime.
America's Junior Miss, was founded in 1958 and is headquartered in Mobile, Alabama. Over 700,000 girls from across the nation have participated in Junior Miss programs at the local, state, and national levels. In addition to cash scholarships, participants are eligible for college-granted scholarships from 200 universities. For more information, visit www.ajm.org.
For more information about the Tennessee’s Junior Miss Scholarship Program on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Lee University’s Dixon Center, call 802-0088 or 802-8888.