While the 22 Tennessee Junior Miss contestants are getting ready for the competition tonight and Saturday, the judges are preparing as well.
There are five judges of the event, as well as a minimum of three judges for the scholastic category. Each year, judges go through orientation to help things go smoothly. During this orientation judges are warned not to let their impression of the contestant in her interview carry over into other areas.
The judges are given the contestants biographies by the judges chairperson , who is with them throughout the week. The competition is divided into five categories: interview (25 percent), fitness (15 percent), talent (25 percent), self-expression (15 percent) and scholastics (20 percent). The Junior Miss program is dedicated to keeping its judges from becoming biased or having their decision affected by outside sources, as a part of that judges are not permitted to speak with the media during the program. However, past judges can offer insight into the program.
Donna Lowe, Tennessee Junior Miss board member and 1989 Soddy- Daisy Junior Miss, judged for eight or nine years before becoming a judges chairperson. Lowe said she stayed with the program because of the people she was able to meet and the opportunity to help girls get scholarships.
Lowe said her favorite category as a judge was "interview because I'm in human resources."
"An interview can tell you everything about a person," Lowe said.
When judging the interview category, Lowe looked for body language and confidence. Lowe likes to do her research on the participants by looking into their social media prescence. The girls also do their homework in preparation for the intervies. Lowe said she knows of one girl that is having three mock interviews a week.
“I like interview because it lets you see who the young ladies really are,” said Traci Fant, co-chair of the Tennessee Junior Miss and a past judge for state and local programs.
The interview has nine minutes of questions and one minute for the girls to give a final impression. Although judges write questions ahead of time, they still have the flexiblity to ask questions based on the girls answers.
The interview is one of two categories that the audience on Friday and Saturday cannot watch. The other is the scholastic score. The scholastic score is not just the contestant’s GPA. Fant said the scholastic committee also looks at SAT or ACT scores as well as the types of classes the contestant took. A girl with a high SAT score who has not taken AP classes might get a lower score than a girl with a lower SAT score who took multiple AP classes. New for this year, girls who have not taken the SAT or ACT will still have a score (calculated by the judges) in that category for the final calculation, Fant said.
The categories the audience does get to see are fitness, talent and self expression. Although this is a group performance each girl is only judged by her performance when the spotlight is on her. In this category, Lowe said she looks for the girl that can perform the “high impact aerobics routine” and still stay composed. She also notes hard breathing, posture, coordination, stamina and tone.
“I look for someone who stands out,” Lowe said.
Girls can also stand out during the talent and self-expression portions of the competition. Each girl gets to choose the talent she will demonstrate. Fant said she has seen wide variety of talent including a girl who did a volleyball demonstration. Tom Jenkins, director of production for Tennessee Junior Miss and a former judge, said when judging the self-expression category he would be looking for appropriateness of the girls’ dress, how the dress suited the girl, if she looked comfortable and how the she moved on stage. Jenkins said this category has changed over the years replacing prom type gowns with cocktail dresses and calling it self-expression instead of poise and composure. This category also requires the girls to answer a question from the judges. Jenkins said the girls receive the question two or three hours before this part of the program. In this category, he looked for an answer that addressed the question and spoke from the heart.
The judges determine a winner in each category and an overall winner. However, the Spirit of Junior Miss is chosen by the contestants. The girls participant in the local level of Junior Miss in their junior year in high school. The state competition is held in the summer after their junior year and the national level is the following summer.