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Pageants losing their allure?

Some say interest and participation is waning across the country

Rachel Cole was crowned Miss Davis County on Oct. 15. But the 19-year-old Layton resident almost backed out of the competition before it began.

But the opportunity to work on her service platform of helping Davis County children combat negative messages convinced Cole that she needed to compete.

"I did it for service," Cole said. "I thought of the kind of rap that goes along with pageants, where people think you are just an airhead, but it came down to the fact that I said, 'I don't care what people think, this is for the kids.' "

Cole said local communities are losing interest in the pageants because of their reputation.

"I think (it's) because it has kind of a negative image to it right now, which is part of the reason I didn't originally want to do it," Cole said. "This was a last-minute thing for me."

Cole is not the only one who thinks local pageants are losing popularity.

Murray High School teacher Leesa Lloyd said that normally a dozen girls compete for the Miss Murray crown, but only eight turned out for this year's competition.

"Let me tell you, it's kind of a trend with local pageants," Lloyd said. "If you go look at the whole local pageants, there are maybe 5, 6, 7 or 8 competing."

The reigning Miss Utah, Julia Bachison of North Ogden, said local pageant interest goes up and down.

When Bachison competed in the Miss North Ogden pageant three years ago, there were only 10 contestants, the next year there were 12, and this year there were 16 with double crowns given out.

"I think that if the community has a strong title holder who gets out in the community and works on her platform and really gets involved in the community, there is a lot of interest," Bachison said.

Bachison, who was crowned Miss Utah on July 18, 2005, still doesn't know when she will be competing in the Miss America Pageant. In 2004, the Miss America Organization celebrated 50 years on television, but this year the organization found itself without a network. CMT picked up the pageant in June, but on Aug. 25, the organization announced its decision to move the pageant from Atlantic City.

Bachison said the pageant will be held sometime in January but she doesn't know where or exactly when.

"The reason Miss America is having such a hard time is not as many people are watching it on TV," Lloyd said.

The nation's waning interest in the Miss America Pageant may be affecting Utah's local pageants.

Lloyd said that when her mother directed the Miss Riverton pageant in the 1970s and 1980s, she always had 19 or 20 girls compete. But this May there were only nine girls vying for the Miss Riverton crown.

Miss Riverton, Brittney Lindsey, said she has noticed pageant interest fading over the years.

"When my sister was Miss Riverton about six years ago, there were like 16 girls in her pageant," Lindsey said. "It's just getting smaller. I think that people are less aware of pageants and they don't know what they are."

But Sonia Hovey, Miss Davis County pageant director, said interest in pageants may be fading in other parts of the nation, but not in Utah.

"This is a great way to get scholarship money for school and also, I think that if they promote the platform service, (people will see) that there's a great way to get service experience to put on an application for school or resume for a job," Hovey said.

Miss Farmington Lindsay Allenbach has been working since May to raise awareness for her service platform of organ and tissue donation.

"My dad was diagnosed with a kidney disease a few years ago, and they told him that within five to 10 years, he would have to have a transplant," Allenbach said.

Her own experience helping her father prepare for a future donation has given Allenbach motivation.

"It's kind of hit my family really hard," Allenbach said. "We are going to start getting tested (to be possible live donors.)"

Allenbach said that a record-level audience and support system filled the auditorium in May when she was crowned Miss Farmington. Twelve girls competed that night.

"I honestly don't think the interest has gone down, I think the people who have always been interested are still interested," she said.

This summer, 58 local queens competed for the Miss Utah crown. That's seven queens more than annually compete for Miss America.

"We are the largest pageant in the nation, and I think that Utah really values our culture and values the arts so we have so many talented young women," Bachison said.

But Lloyd said there used to be about 65 local pageants in Utah. She said a local pageant must have city official support to survive.

Although some may think interest is declining, Lindsey said pageants provide women a powerful venue.

"I don't think women get enough recognition in the world right now," she said. "They definitely get more than they used to, but pageants give women a chance to do great things and change the community."

Many local pageants hold workshops for contestants and teach interviewing and public speaking skills. Bachison said she has grown a great deal from participating in pageants the past three years.

Hovey said helping the girls each year is the best part about directing her local pageant.

"Obviously not all can make it and win, but I want all of them to feel they are just as special as the one who wins," she said.

Even though Lloyd said pageant participation is declining, she also feels that the growth any one girl experiences makes each local pageant worth it.

"That, to me, is more important that anything," Lloyd said. "That each girl has some growth and development in those life skills. That's why it's important whether a big network wants to show it or not. I see the growth in each girl."