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Waning pageantry

Low numbers of local contests, contestants may mirror national scene

As interest in the nation's Miss America pageant fades, local pageant enthusiasts have mixed feelings about the future of scholarship pageants in the Beehive State.

Murray High School teacher Leesa Lloyd has been directing the Miss Murray pageant for the past 10 years.

"I am in a really good recruiting position here at the high school," Lloyd said of her ability to get girls involved in the annual pageant.

Lloyd said there normally are a dozen girls competing 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 five, six, seven or eight 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, 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. Country Music Television picked up the pageant in June, but on Aug. 25 the organization announced its decision to move the location of the pageant from Atlantic City.

Bachison said that the pageant will be held sometime in January, but she doesn't know where and on what date.

"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 for 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. 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."

Bachison was one of 58 local queens who fought for the Miss Utah crown this year. 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.

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 that there's a great way to get service experience to put on an application for school or resume for a job," Hovey said.

But Lloyd said that there used to be about 65 local pageants in Utah.

"Local pageants only exist if a city will support it and budget money, or if a county will support it," Lloyd said. "We get a few other donations, but you need the support. You have to have the backing from the City Council and the mayor."

Although interest may be declining, Lindsey said that pageants provide women a powerful venue.

"I don't think women get enough recognition in the world right now," Lindsey 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 that she has grown a great deal from participating in pageants the past three years.

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

"I want them to feel, every one of them, 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," Hovey said.

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

"That, to me, is more important than 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."