Western Kentucky queens defend their honor

Freshman Caroline Ford of Bowling Green was crowned 2015 Miss Kentucky Teen USA. Photo submitted by Andrew Kung

Sydney Rae Davis

At the mention of “pageant,” some may envision a crowd of superficial, slim and sassy participants vying for a title and tiara. But some of the queens that reside on the Hill see pageantry and pageant participants quite differently.

Danville sophomore Cathryn Ellis, winner of America’s Homecoming Queen 2014, had never considered pageants until she received a letter in the mail one day.

“I got a letter in the mail a couple weeks after I won homecoming queen at my high school,” she said. “…It was from this organization called America’s Homecoming Queen. I read about it, and it sounded like a really great opportunity.”

The pageant is unique in that girls have to be invited to participate after they have won the title of homecoming queen at their high school. The organization recruits girls from high schools in every state to compete in their state pageant, but they only accept about 15 percent of the applicants.

At the state pageant, the contestants participate in a formal gown presentation and an interview process. When a winner is selected from each state, those girls go on to the national pageant the following summer.

At the national pageant in Memphis, Ellis presented a speech about the Commonwealth of Kentucky and encouraged people to visit. In her speech, she broke down stereotypes of Kentuckians: all Kentuckians are hillbillies, never wear shoes, constantly eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc.

When Ellis first received the invitation to compete in the state pageant in Louisville, she admittedly experienced a bit of prejudiced thinking although now, her views have changed.

“To be totally honest, when I even first got the mail for just competing in the state [pageant], I was kind of embarrassed to tell people that it was a pageant,” Ellis said. Instead, she told people that it was a competition. 

After winning the state and national pageants for America’s Homecoming Queen, Ellis said she has experienced the stereotyping that goes hand-in-hand with pageantry.

“I definitely feel like sometimes people stigmatize pageants with girls who are fake … and the girls that I have met that do pageants, that is so untrue [of them],” Ellis said. “Those girls are really presenting themselves in front of so many people … so just kind of respect their willingness to even participate in that.”

Robyn Ford, mother of Miss Kentucky Teen USA 2015 Caroline Ford, agreed that girls who compete in pageants are often stereotyped.

“When you compete in pageants, you do get a target on your back,” Robyn Ford said. “Even teachers and professors have said that life isn’t a pageant. It’s also not a soccer game, but both have lessons that you can translate to your future.”

Miss Kentucky Teen USA, which freshman Caroline Ford from Bowling Green won this year, is a more conventional pageant. 

“Well, Miss Kentucky Teen USA is a state preliminary to Miss Teen USA, and Miss Teen USA is the teen version of Miss USA and Miss Universe. It’s through the Miss Universe Organization,” Caroline Ford said. 

The organization’s aim, Caroline Ford says, is not to encourage girls to be the prettiest and the thinnest, but to promote being confident in one’s own beauty and being an ambassador for other organizations such as the Best Buddies Organization, Kosair Children’s Hospital and many more. 

One way Caroline Ford serves as Miss Kentucky Teen USA is by hosting events through Young Artist Alliance, an organization she founded in 2012 after the natural disaster in Haiti. 

Although she is more than just a pageant queen, she still feels, like Ellis, that she is stereotyped.  

“I think that the media really stereotypes pageants sometimes in a negative light—whether it be ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ or anything else,” Caroline Ford said. “But I think that there’s a lot more that goes into pageantry than what people think.” 

At the end of the day, Caroline Ford loves what pageantry can cause a young woman to do. 

“You’re able to really push yourself to be the best version of yourself so that you can help others and make a difference, make an impact,” she said.