Ashley Neal knows that with a pageant title comes a lot of work.
The reigning Miss Teen Tupelo has been busy preparing for the 2009 Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant. Neal’s routine centers around the activities that could help her chances of being crowned next week in Vicksburg.
It’s been hectic for the 17-year-old from Nettleton, but fulfilling.
“My preparations for this year have been easier, but I have prepared a lot more than I did last year,” said Neal, who is competing in the state teen pageant for the second time.
The Outstanding Teen Pageant, operated by the Miss Mississippi Corporation, opens June 11 with two days of preliminaries. The crowning is June 13 at the Vicksburg Municipal Auditorium.
A rising senior at Nettleton High School, Neal won the 2009 Miss Tupelo Teen title in November. She competed in the 2008 Outstanding Teen pageant as Miss Teen Historic Crossroads.
Neal, who calls herself a “band nerd” on her Miss Mississippi online bio page, has been chosen drum major of Nettleton High’s marching band in 2009-10. Her hobbies include singing, playing the clarinet and collecting penguins. She will sing in the talent portion of the pageant.
Neal’s schedule has picked up the past two months. With the assistance of Miss Tupelo co-directors Myra Guyton and Amye Gousset, Neal has been through speaking engagements, interview practice, talent rehearsal and wardrobe selection.
“I have enjoyed every minute, from trying on dresses to the stress of finding the right song to sing,” she said. “I cherish every laugh and every tear that they have pulled from me, because they know I can do what I put my mind to.”
One area Neal believes she is improving is her interview skills. Contestants on the state level are often asked by the judges during the interview portion about the area they represent and their critical issue platform. Neal’s platform is domestic violence.
“I have learned some interesting facts to share with the judges in case they ask. I read the newspaper daily, and from there I get a lot of information about what’s going on in Tupelo,” she said. “With (domestic violence) being my platform, I go places to speak my story and the importance of the issue.”
The hours of practice will benefit Neal at the stage pageant, Gousset said.
“We try to spend at least two to three days a week once school gets out, getting her on stage and practicing everything,” she said. “I think that’s one thing any girl would say helps a lot, that practice makes perfect. We want to make sure she feels confident when she gets down there. I know her confidence has built a lot since then.”
Guyton also has seen Neal mature as a contestant.
“We’ve been working hard on her talent and her interview almost every night. She’s been working real hard,” Guyton said. “Last night, I was asking Ashley, ‘What do you see different about yourself than you did back in November,’ and she said, ‘Confidence’.”
Neal said her supporters have prepared her well for next week’s pageant.
“My directors and my mom have taught me so much, from what color looks good on me to how to form my own opinion on the economic situation,” she said. “I am blessed to have these people behind me, pushing me to be the girl they all know I can be. I know this year in Vicksburg, I will make not only my directors and mom proud, but the city of Tupelo.”
Hathorn ready for first state pageant
By Bobby Pepper
Lee County Neighbors
Being a state pageant contestant has been a learning experience for Hannah Hathorn.
Hathorn, 16, will be competing in her first Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant June 11-13 in Vicksburg. The Nettleton resident qualified for it in November by winning the title of Miss Teen Northridge in Starkville.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” Hathorn said. “When you’re doing something for the first time, it’s a little nerve-wracking. But, I’m very confident that I’m prepared and still preparing in the last days before I leave for Vicksburg. I’m counting down the days.”
Hathorn is a Nettleton High School honor student who will enter her junior year this fall. She’s been on several church mission trips to places such as Mexico and the Ukraine. Her hobbies include collecting dolls, playing tennis and helping her father raise and show dogs in AKC conformation shows.
The Northridge win wasn’t Hathorn’s first attempt to win an Outstanding Teen title.
“I competed in Miss Teen Tupelo my eighth-grade year,” she said. “I just wanted to see how the local level was. The next year, I set my goal to go to the state pageant. I competed in four different pageants and didn’t make it. One of them, I got first runner-up. I won the first pageant out this year.”
Teen bullying is Hathorn’s critical issue platform. She will sing in the talent portion.
Hathorn said she has faced new challenges while working toward next week’s pageant.
“I expected it to be hard, but I did not realize the expense of getting it together on time,” she said. “There’s so much work that goes into different categories. … Having to balance that time in between working on pageants, school and extracurriculars in school, that’s been the hardest part.”
Bobby Pepper/Lee County Neighbors