MONTICELLO — Before each girl walks onto the sparkling stage where many queens once stood, they must practice their introductions, reflect on who they are, and enjoy the process.

This advice was mentioned to the gathered Miss White County contestants June 3 by the committee and Miss Indiana State Fair Claudia Duncan.

Eight Miss White County contestants and three Junior Miss contestants gathered in Twin Lakes High School’s auditorium to receive their first piece of advice and practice workbooks before eating dinner in the cafeteria.

After canceling the queen contest last year due to COVID-19, the committee hopes to change its appearance this year. The committee has “rebranded” itself in the past year to make the contest appear less as a beauty pageant and more as a presentation of each woman’s poise, professionalism, personality and service.

“We want to alter the beauty pageant perspective by showing the community these girls are here to develop skills that will springboard them into whatever is the next thing in their life whether it is college or the workforce,” said Hannah Faker, committee interview mentor and 2013 Miss Jasper County. “We want to set them up for success regardless of their paths.”

The committee’s initiative is for the girls to dig deep and think about what makes themselves “them.” They want the girls to find what they are passionate about and how they have gotten to where they are today. Then, the committee plans to help them learn how to effectively present these factors not only to the judges, but White County, too.

“We [the committee] are going to push you. We are going to push you because we know there is so much opportunity in you and we get such a thrill in seeing how you all grow from this moment until you speak on that stage on July 17,” said Jan Faker, 21-year committee interview mentor.

The committee hopes this push will help the girls open up and become more confident in themselves so they can be fearless going forward.

“We just get so excited to see the girls start a little timid and then see them develop into a level of confidence they didn’t even know was something they held. So as a mentor, that is so fulfilling to see the girls absolutely blossom,” Hannah Faker said.

Duncan appreciates the opportunity for young women to grow and hopes the queen contests bring more excitement/awareness to what the counties and state can offer them to become the women they didn’t know they could be.

“I am just so excited for (the contestants) to learn and grow. It is just really nice to have that interview and public speaking experience because not everybody gets the opportunity to kind of break out of their shell,” she said. “So, I think fair pageants are the perfect way to do it.”

Duncan is currently traveling to about 37 counties and meeting the queen contestants. At the time, she had only visited four — White County included. Duncan is taking the time to see the state and encourage its residents to visit the 63rd annual Indiana State Fair July 30-Aug. 22, especially since 2021 is the “Year of the Hoosier.”

“I think, especially for this year, people are just kind of ready to get back together and get back into their normal habits, so I am excited for these girls and Hoosiers to kind of have something fun to do after being in quarantine for so long,” she said.

Duncan was crowned 2020 Indiana State Fair Queen January 2020, but since COVID-19 hindered normal activities for queens and fairs alike, her reign was pushed back another year to 2021. However, she said the extra year has made her feel more prepared and aware of her position as Miss Indiana State Fair.

“I was sad at first when they told me I wouldn’t have my normal schedule, but I kind of liked having the break because even six months after I was crowned, I didn’t really believe I was state fair queen,” she said. “I was just so excited and nervous that it never set in. But after having that extra year, I feel much more confident going into it this summer than I would have been last summer.”

Duncan said the only thing she is nervous about is being asked to show animals since she never showed during her 10 years of 4-H. However, she said she knows there will be some wonderful queens and court members who will help out, so she and the contestants can learn from each other.

The Miss White County pageant will be July 17 at the White County Fairgrounds in Reynolds.

The Indiana State Fair will be July 30-Aug. 22, with Mondays and Tuesdays closed for COVID-19-related purposes. Tickets are available at indianastatefair.com.

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