By Kerri Cooke
In the dazzling aura of beauty pageants a key player in the pageant industry can be overlooked. Everyone is so fixated on the contestants that they can forget about the individuals who cultivate the contestants.
These valuable people are the trainers who help bring out the potential in girls who are seriously interested in entering pageants.
A girl approaches a trainer when she wants to start, and the trainer stays involved throughout the girl’s career.
Two important women heavily involved in the local pageant system are Victoria Huber of Rhinestone Runway and Vows and Shelley Winters Black, founder of Shelley’s Pageant Express.
Coaches customize training depending on the girl and the pageant. Huber says that training for pageants is like preparing for a college course. Her goal is to decide what system is appropriate for each particular girl and lead her in that direction.
There are a range of skills girls are educated in, many they will use for the rest of their lives. According to Black, contestants learn how to fill out pageant entry forms, compose their resumes and write their bios. Also, they learn poise, etiquette and public speaking and interviewing skills.
A trainer’s goal is to help enhance a girl’s personality and bring out the best in her physical features. Huber and Black teach the girls how to choose their wardrobe and make-up based on the colors and silhouettes that look good on them depending on their skin shade and the shape of their face.
Once a girl wins a pageant, she becomes the queen for whatever the pageant represents for a set period of time. Her duty is to make as many public appearances as possible on behalf of the organization for which she is the current title holder. She is to be a spokesperson and role model for other girls. In addition, she raises awareness for particular causes or events.
There are a variety of reasons for participating in pageants, including the desire to win scholarships and cash prizes or gain confidence or speaking abilities. The payout can be quite beneficial. There are campus pageants where the winner can get an entire year of college and apartment rental free. There used to be a Miss McNeese competition in which the winner earned a free semester in college.
There are more than 300 fairs and festivals in Louisiana, so there’s ample opportunity for local competition. Two prominent local pageants are the Cajun French Music Pageant, which promotes local music, and the Contraband Days Pageant. A girl who wants to compete can pick and choose from these or other pageants based on her interests.
Huber believes it’s not about winning, but the evolution of an individual. She loves to see each girl’s confidence level blossom, and has seen very shy girls turn into very outgoing women. She believes the inner beauty of a girl is just as important as the outward beauty in a pageant.
It’s Never Been About Winning
Maaliyah Papillion of Lake Charles is a local queen who credits Huber with being a major part of her success. Papillion says she wouldn’t be competing in pageants today if it were not for Huber. Huber convinced her she had the potential, and encouraged her to start competing at a young age.
Papillion began competing at age 16 at the state level after doing a lot of pageants locally. Her wins include Miss Contraband in 2009 and 2012 and Miss Mardi Gras and Cajun Music Queen.
Papillion’s biggest win to date was snagging the title of Miss Louisiana USA on Oct. 24. She describes the win as a surreal experience. She is elated, and is still trying to let the win sink in.
Next summer, she will compete nationally in the Miss USA pageant as the Louisiana title holder.
It’s never been about winning for Papillion. She’s enjoyed growing as a person while improving her speaking abilities and meeting new people. She describes her pageant career as a “journey of discovery.” Every step of the way, she’s learned about dedication and personal boundaries.
The next step on Papillion’s list is partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It’s a cause close to her heart since she lost an uncle to a drunk driver last year.
A Queen’s Success
Papillion shows that pageants can be about more than winning and vanity. They impact culture in a very positive way. Each win and milestone is a step to improving personally and as a city, state and nation.
Ultimately, each girl who takes part in pageants has to step up and do her best in order to become successful. Trainers are a vital part of a queen’s success as they teach her what she needs to know to succeed and cheer her on to success. But they can only do so much. They cultivate, but cannot instill positive change unless a contestant really takes their advice to heart.
In the end, the relationship between trainers and pageant contestants is a partnership. The best way to success is for each party to do its part.