Although she had been waiting a long time to win, it wasn't the crown that made the evening glitter for Rebecca Williams. Becky was crowned Miss Camellia at the second annual Miss Camellia Pageant last Thursday evening in the auditorium at Thomson High School. Becky also won one of the pageant's special awards voted by her peers - the Cheryl Helmly Memorial Miss Congeniality Award.
"It's my fifth pageant, so I'm really excited to finally get the title," Becky said. "But what meant the most was winning the Miss Congeniality award, mainly because it was named after Cheryl, and she was a very dear friend."
Pageant Director Jennifer McCall said the name of the award was changed this year to honor the teen who won the same award at the Miss Thomson High Pageant last November and died in an automobile accident in February.
"Her smile could brighten up any room she walked in," Miss McCall said.
Another change in the pageant this year expanded the age categories to include younger girls. There were three categories: Miss Camellia for ages 15-19, Junior Miss Camellia for ages 12-14 and Young Miss Camellia for ages 9-11.
"I think having the younger ages made it more entertaining for the audience," Miss McCall said. "They showed how well they could perform. It just shows what great talent we have coming up for future pageants."
Carson McCarty won the Junior Miss Camellia, and first runner up was BritnieAnne Campbell. Gena Cody won the Young Miss Camellia title and first runner up was Megan Chambers. First runner up for Miss Camellia was Ashley Turman.
The winners received prizes that included a crown, savings bond, trophy, floral bouquet and gift certificate. Miss Camellia also won a 20-in. flat screen TV. Forty percent of the girls' scores were compiled prior to the ceremony, based on their academics and their level of community service. The junior and senior division contestants also were given a preliminary interview. During the ceremony, the girls were judged on their sportswear and formal presentation and their communication on stage.
"I didn't expect to get some of those responses; it's amazing," said Ella Evans, one of the judges. "They are not just focused on outward beauty, but on the inner self. They raised awareness of issues that are important."
Just like in the movies, "world peace" was a common wish of many of the girls, but the similarity stopped there. The wish-list answers ranged from ending terrorism, living in a "world where sin never existed," and never losing a loved one, to cures for serious illnesses.
"What impressed me was that those kids were speaking about sin and peace in the world. It warmed my heart. All of them were beautiful," the Reverend Dorothy Hart said as she mingled in the audience during the intermission. "It is super fantastic that they are not ashamed to speak out."
The sportswear presentation had a twist from the usual in that the girls dressed to represent their favorite activity. Outfits included the traditional athletic uniforms, as well as one antebellum-style hoop-dress worn by Erica Bettross and a mudding ensemble appropriately splattered with Georgia red clay, worn by Meghan Sutton. Laughter rippled through the audience when Dannette Schulte entered the stage in her horse-riding outfit, perched behind a stuffed toy horse.
Although the talent competition was optional and did not count in their scores, nine of the 14 contestants entertained the audience by singing, dancing, displaying artistic works and reading self-written poetry. Caitlin Burnside won the talent award for her performance of a modern clog dance.
"It was definitely a well-rounded pageant. There was a lot of talent," said judge Denise Hamrick.
The pageant judges were Ella Evans, Denise Hamrick and Marianne McCall, and the auditor was Diane Powell.
The audience and family members purchased tickets to choose the winner of the People's Choice Award, which went to Breeanna Fields. Gena Cody won the trophy for Best Smile.
"I don't know how much more a Daddy can take," Gena's father said after the coronation.
The 14 girls competing in the pageant were: Brittany Ashley, Megan Chambers, Gena Cody and Kiesionna Harris in the Young Miss Division. Britnie Anne Campbell and Carson McCarty in the Junior Miss Division. Erica Bettross, Caitlin Burnside, Breeanna Fields, Danette Schulte, Meghan Sutton, Ashley Turman, Jennifer Wallace and Rebecca Williams in the Senior Division.
"Anything where Becky gets to smile, she loves it," said her mother, Dena Williams.