In a word, that sums up the Miss Amazing Pageant.
On Oct. 29 and 30, girls and young women with physical and mental disabilities showed they are no different from girls who don't have to overcome great difficulties in order to showcase a talent, answer judges' interview questions, model formal clothing and smile.
This was the fourth year for the Miss Amazing Pageant, created in 2007 by Jordan Somer, now a senior at Omaha Central High School. As a participant in numerous pageants herself, she wanted to share her joy with girls who didn't ordinarily get to have the pageant experience.
The pageants started small, but this year's event drew nearly 30 contestants ages 6 to 29 to the CoCo Key Water Resort. For the first time, the pageant was divided into two days because it couldn't all be done on a Saturday and so many activities in one day put a huge strain on the participants.
On Friday night, contestants could perform in the talent showcase. It was an option, not a requirement.
Most of them sang songs, but some danced, played an instrument, demonstrated tae kwon do or gave a short talk. Some of the standouts included Kimberley Wright's Joan Jett impersonation in “I Love Rock and Roll,” Amber Rasmussen's modern dance, Misty Anderson's talk about Special Olympics and Nina Meux's a cappella rendition of “Because of Who You Are.”
All of their efforts drew resounding cheers from family, friends and other spectators.
Saturday was a full day. After lunch, the contestants worked on the group craft project. They made drawings that will be put together in book form after the pageant. There was also pageant training, where they learned what would be expected of them in the evening presentations. Then it was on to interviews with the judges.
Two hours of the afternoon probably were the same as any pageant: makeup, hair, fancy dresses, last-minute primping. It looked like chaos as mothers, sisters and Amazing Buddies (volunteers assigned to each contestant) helped the contestants get ready for the main event.
Nina Meux, 26, admitted she was nervous, even though this was her second year taking part in the pageant.
She heard about the pageant at the Ollie Webb Center and decided to try it last year. “I'm always singing,” she said. “I sing at church, at retirement homes.”
Though nervous, she was ready to go on, she said.
Everywhere one looked, there was Jordan. Directing traffic. Checking on the lights. Telling her volunteer helpers where they were needed. Stopping to reassure contestants and their families. She was followed by the ubiquitous camera crew for Nickelodeon's TeenNick channel. They were shadowing Jordan because she was the recipient earlier this month of a TeenNick HALO Award for launching the Miss Amazing Pageant (for a program to air sometime in December).
She took everything in stride. Almost as busy, and just as cool, was Jordan's mom, Kimberly Somer.
Meanwhile, anxious contestants' parents waited in the lobby.
Laurie Kohl of Bellevue was there to cheer on her daughter, Brittany, who was taking part in her fourth pageant. Brittany's older sister Jessica also was there to support her sister.
Jessica said she has seen many changes over the four years of the pageant. “It's awesome how Jordan has put this all together.”
Everyone was shooting pictures. The TeenNick crew interviewed 15-year-old Kelsey Martens and her mother, Linda.
Emcee Krista Van Hooser got the show rolling. Contestants were introduced in their pageant division: Preteen, Junior Teen, Teen, Junior Miss, Miss and Senior Miss.
First up: Three youngsters were introduced as Miss Amazing Rising Stars — Breanna Arens of Hartington, Neb., and Brielle Havermann and Bayler Mulick of Omaha.
Among the older divisions, some had prepared introductions for themselves. Some answered questions about themselves. Some got stage fright and just smiled. Again, the audience went wild for each contestant. Cheering sections had placards with different girls' names.
During the intermission, Barbara Miller — whose daughter Megan, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School, was serving as an Amazing Buddy — said she found the entire competition impressive.
“I'm just amazed that a girl (Jordan) that age (17) could come up with something like this,” Miller said.
Nina, sipping water during the break, was asked how the evening had gone so far. “It's going good,” she responded, nerves apparently gone.
After the break, the girls showed off their poise and smiles during the evening wear competition. They were escorted by male volunteers or family members, and Van Hooser recounted the facts about each girl as she crossed the stage.
Before the winners were announced — and everyone was a winner Saturday night — Jordan explained to the audience that she would use the $25,000 HALO Award prize money to start Miss Amazing Pageants in other states.
The big moment arrived. Each division came onstage. Talent winners were announced, and each participant won either a medal or trophy. Then the Amazing Misses were revealed. Everyone from the runners-up to the Misses Amazing received tiaras and trophies.
Reactions ran the gamut: glee, surprise, triumph, a few tears. No different from any other pageant except that here, there was an award for all of them.
Everyone gathered onstage for one last group photo.
Jordan asked the girls: “What are you?” “Amazing,” they shouted. “What?” “Amazing!” even louder.
A lot of young women went home happy, tired and proud.
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