Behind the crown
Perfectly poised with a permanent smile displayed, she nervously holds her breath as she awaits the opening number alongside girls from almost every country in Arkansas.
Kelsey Dow, a junior at the time, carried a sash across her body reading Craighead County as she danced her way across a brightly lit stage in a sparkly dress.
It was her first time to ever compete in the Miss USA pageant system, and her very first time to compete for the title of Miss Arkansas USA.
Although Dow competed in the pageant expecting nothing but experience, her world began to change as the contestants were steadily weeded out and Dow remained.
Winning wasnt in the cards for me, Dow said. It was my first time there, I didnt expect anything.
Dow continued through the pageant until there were only five girls left. As each runner-up was handed flowers and plaques, Dows practiced smile became shock as she realized she was the last one remaining with no award yet.
I think you could see the surprise on my face in the pictures of that night, Dow said. I came in thinking I had no chance, and I was crowned as Miss Arkansas USA at the end of it all.
Flashback 18 years and Dows toddler years began as most beauty queens do: with dance.
At the age of three, Dow had already become a mini-master of tap, ballet and jazz dance; the latter of which she would use in several pageants, and win.
Although she had the potential for a successful, and early, beginning in the pageant world, Dow wouldnt compete at a young age.
I wanted to do pageants when I was little, Dow said. My mom always told me that they were out of season.
Now, her family is her biggest group of fans, but it wasnt always that way.
They didnt see the educational aspect at first, Dow said. Its a lot of money and very time consuming. It wasnt until they saw the philanthropy and giving back that was involved, that they actually started to support the idea.
In fact, the Brookland natives first pageant wasnt until her ninth grade year at Nettleton High School.
Miss Raider, Dows first pageant ever, was open to high school girls at NHS.
While most beauty queens have a team composed of hair, makeup and pageant specialists, Dow only had someone to fix her hair.
I had a hairstylist, thats it, Dow said, laughing at the past memory. Luckily, she had done other girls hair for pageants, so she showed me how to walk on stage. After that, I practiced almost every day at home.
For the high school pageant, Dow said she prepared like crazy especially for the onstage question portion.
Only a freshman in high school, and fresh to the pageant world, Dow won the competition, beating even the experienced upperclassmen.
It was my first pageant ever, and I won it, Dow smiled.
The Miss Raider Pageant was a precursor to the Miss Northeast Arkansas competition, which she placed First Runner-Up; second place in the pageant world.
Astoundingly, Dow didnt give up on her goal. The following year she returned to take the title, sash and crown.
Finally attaining her long-time goal of being a beauty pageant queen, Dow steadily competed, and won, several small town pageants including the District Fair Queen.
As her college life began, and busy schedule grew, Dow continued to compete.
In only her first year at ASU, she was sponsored by her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, and competed in the Miss ASU Pageant, placing Second Runner-Up.
Not discouraged, she came back to the competition her sophomore year, this time sponsored by the Kappa Alpha Order.
Her personalized platform, Texting and Driving: It can wait, moved the judges and audience as she told the heartbreaking story of sorority sister Hillary Davidson.
Davidsons father, Paul, was killed in a car accident where the other driver was texting and lost control of the vehicle.
Davidson rose to action, fighting for Pauls Law, named for her father, which now regulates cellphone usage while driving in Arkansas.
While the personal and localized platform drew the audience in, its easy to say that her kick-ass jazz routine won the show (and the Overall Talent Award).
Leaving the crowd and judges thinking Hot Gam, Dow triumphed that year and took home the title of Miss ASU.
Miss ASU is a preliminary to the Miss Arkansas America pageant, which Dow left with not just one, but two, awards.
As a newcomer to the Miss Arkansas America pageant, Dow won the Alpha Award in the evening gown portion, meaning she was the best of the new pageant competitors. But, she also took home the overall evening gown award, meaning she beat out every girl in that category both rookies and veterans.
After taking home two awards, but no title, Dow went on to compete in Miss Arkansas USA, which she won.
Although the beauty queen competed for both titles, the pageant systems are very different.
According to Dow, the America organization is focused on education, where contestants usually become doctors or lawyers.
However, the USA system is based more on opportunities involving modeling and acting.
Unfortunately, with a schedule packed with modeling, acting and travel, Dow didnt have many options when it came to college.
I won in January, and I had to drop my classes before we started back, Dow said. I was going to constantly be on the go, and I knew I couldnt help my scholarships if I stayed enrolled. So, I put them on hold.
And on-the-go she was. For a year, Dow went across the country modeling, acting and making appearances at several events.
My favorite part was going to all of the school and seeing the girls who thought we were princesses, Dow said. I had never been a role-model before, and I was one to these little girls.
In the final months of her journey, Dow made her last pageant attempt in a long trip to Las Vegas.
Dow, along with several other contestants, was on more than one TV show during that period.
From The Today Show to Live, with Regis and Kelly, with several in between, Dow met quite a few famous characters.
But, at the end of the day, it was a competition, which is exactly what Dow prepared for.
In a whirlwind night, girls were slowly released and Dow remained. Finally, during the announcement of the Top 16 contestants, Dow was shocked once more, along with almost the rest of Arkansas.
To the surprise of almost everyone, Dow took home the Fan Favorite Award, meaning she had the most fan votes of every contestant.
I really didnt expect it at all, Dow said. In hindsight, I remember being really nervous and a body guard patted me on the back and said youll be OK.
After the competition, Dow was approached by Miss USA representatives who told her that she won by a landslide. They wanted to know how she did it.
In reality, it was all thanks to my mom and sister, Dow said. They put paper slips in Sonic bags and with movie theater tickets everywhere. It also helped that I was really involved with the Miss USA system, so I got to know a lot of people.
Flash forward a year later and there is no sparkling trophy case in Dows room. In fact, there is no special display showcasing any awards from her over 20 titles.
Surprisingly, her pristine crowns and satin sashes sit in her attic, gathering dust in their original boxes.
Im not Toddlers and Tiaras, Dow laughed. I dont have a pageant room.
In the absence of a display, the quiet blondes personality is what actually shines through.
Everyone thinks Im really outgoing because I do pageants, Dow said, who is now in her final year of obtaining a degree in communication disorders. Actually, Im really shy.
Even though she is done with her time competing in pageants, she said she enjoys another side of the life.
Im still involved with pageants, Dow said. Only instead of competing, Im on the other side: Judging.
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