Family bonds over the pursuit of a crown
Miss Victoria: Kelsey Thomas
Junior Miss: Emilia Ureste
Young Miss: Jillian Brooks
Little Miss: Taylor Bearden
Thirty-one contestants competed for the four crowns of the 42nd Miss Victoria Beauty Pageant at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts, 214 N. Main St.
When first-grader Julia Clark won the title of Little Miss Victoria in 2008, Jennifer Santoscoy, a fellow student at Chandler Elementary, was drawn to the pretty dresses and frills of the Miss Victoria pageant.
"The girls are always so confident on stage," Jennifer said, "and I like feeling like a princess."
For the next couple of years, Jennifer asked her parents if she could compete in the pageant as well. They finally agreed to let her compete for Young Miss Victoria in 2010.
Until last year, the Santoscoy family's experience with beauty pageants stemmed from the television show Toddlers in Tiaras, which left them with mixed feelings about pageants.
"It was both inspiring and alarming," said John Santoscoy, Jennifer's father. "We didn't want to create a monster."
But Jennifer's mother, Kim Santoscoy, said the Miss Victoria pageant is not like typical pageants she has seen on television.
"One thing we like about the Miss Victoria Pageant is that it is very community oriented," Kim said. "I think kids need to learn to serve their community more these days."
Each member of the crowned court picks a community service platform to pursue throughout the year.
"Everyone thinks beauty pageant contestants are queen bees, but my girls are worker bees," said Debbie Bennett Green, who has directed the pageant for the past 15 years.
"What I love most about the pageant is the community service that we do," Green said.
Initially, John also was apprehensive about his daughter's participation because of her shy, quiet personality. But Jennifer was transformed as she prepared for her first Miss Victoria pageant.
"While finding sponsors to support her, she found her voice," John said.
Kim said she watched then 10-year-old Jennifer come out of her shell as she practiced singing for strangers at a gas station when they stopped for gas.
Jennifer also took the initiative to ask business owners to buy advertising space in the Miss Victoria program for $25 to $200, sponsoring her participation in the pageant.
"I told the business owners the purpose of the pageant - to have fun, meet friends and work on people skills and interviewing skills," Jennifer said.
After watching Jennifer earn 1st runner-up in the 2010 Young Miss Victoria pageant, her little sister Jessica wanted to participate this year as well.
"My favorite part was to watch Jennifer do her dance," Jessica said. "It made me want to do it also."
For weeks, the sisters prepared together for Jennifer, 11, to compete in the Young Miss category and Jessica, 6, in the Little Miss competition, practicing speeches and campaigning to donors.
"This year, I have been teaching Jessica everything I know," Jennifer said. "She asks me a lot of questions."
Kim said preparing two girls for the pageant can be stressful.
"Sometimes they both want my attention at the same time," Kim said. "But they have really bonded together through this experience."
The girl's older sister, Sarah, 13, enjoys sports and reading, but she has joined in the preparation efforts.
"It's a nightmare at times. It can be confusing having a lot to do all at once," Sarah said.
But when the day of the pageant finally arrived last year, Sarah said she was happy to see how it made her sister feel when everything fell into place.
"All her hard work paid off," Sarah said. "When it's all said and done, it's a relief."
This year, Sarah helped Jessica learn her speech and helped both girls with their hair and make-up. Sarah said her sisters' excitement through the pageant and watching them bond over the experience is rewarding.
John said the second year has been more predictable after Jennifer's 2010 debut.
Green said the Santoscoy family is pleasant.
"They are positive and have good sportsmanship," Green said. "I am glad they're back."
Jennifer anticipated she would make more friends this year now that she is more comfortable with the pageant process.
"I made friends while I was there last year," Jennifer said. "We all have the same nervousness and anxiousness."
Kim said she was pleasantly surprised at the lack of cut-throat competition at the beauty pageant.
"There is a real comradery among the girls - and even among the parents," Kim said.
Jennifer prepared packages of homemade cookies with encouraging notes to pass out to fellow competitors on Friday night, when the girls got together to encourage one another. Jessica also prepared a treat to share with the girls she met at the competition.
During the final rehearsal Saturday morning, the older girls provided an audience for the younger girls practicing their runway walk.
"Show me your princess smile!" an older girl said as Little Miss contestant Angelina Lampley, 4, made her way across the stage.
The girls had three two-hour practices the week leading up to the pageant.
The judges interviewed each contestant individually Saturday morning while the rest of the girls rehearsed.
During the evening program, the contestants modeled a casual outfit of their choice, gave a prepared speech on an assigned topic and before the optional formal wear competition.
Half of the girls from each category progressed to the final question.
While each of the segments is equally weighted, Green said the girls tend to be most stressed by the interview.
"The interview is when they give their first impression," Green said. "It's a little heavier, but it's not meant to be."
Green said previous Miss Victoria contestants have called to thank her for teaching them skills that prepared them for job interviews.
"They just learn so much about how to compose themselves and speak," Kim said. "It's just been a really good experience for the girls."
Saturday night, Jessica's excitement was complete as she wore her orange dress accented by jewels and recited her speech.
Green said she is both pleased and proud of the 31 contestants' preparation for this year's pageant.
"I don't care about who wins. That's the judge's job," Green said. "I just want to be sure everyone looks good and feels confident on stage."