Miss America Preliminaries

After the Miss Sunburst Pageant, one of the judges remembered me and called me at work about the Miss Richmond America Pageant. I was very excited and decided to audition. Miss Richmond always had a huge turnout but only 18 girls could make it each year. The reason was because the pageant was fortunate enough to be held in the theatre at the King's Dominion theme park. I remember the first year I tried out, I read a dramatic piece - Queen Clytemnestra welcoming home King Agamemnon. I remember that most people in the room stopped to listen. I guess I figured out later that it was an unusual thing to audition with. But then, that's me - unusual! By the time the show rolled around, I had talked my talent through with the pageant committee and had decided on a comedy sketch. At the time, I was working in broadcasting as a radio personality. The Miss Richmond Director, Juanita Hove, had been a radio personality as well. The Emcee for Miss Richmond was Harvey Hudson, known to many all over Richmond, Virginia as the "Voice of Richmond." They worked together at WLEE Radio. I was also working there many years later. Back in the 1950's when Miss America was still "new," Juanita used to broadcast live from the Miss America runway in Atlantic City to the listeners at home in Richmond, Virginia.

We had spent a day at Kings Dominion taking photographs in our Miss Richmond t-shirts and carrying our Miss Richmond bags. These photos were to be used in the middle of the program book. One of Robin, Lisa and I playing with the dolphins was featured. I was so excited to have the dolphin actually shake my hand! Another contestant and I were featured in this crazy photo in the "recording studio" at Kings Dominion.

We rehearsed almost every Sunday from February up to the show in April. There was a large opening number that featured the contestants and the outgoing Miss Richmond, Tracy Thayer. Our choreographer was former Miss Richmond, Beth Smith.

We were also lucky enough to have three former Miss Richmonds helping us, Sue Halsey-Grubbs, _____ ______ and Beverly Cooke-Young (she went on to win the title of Miss Virginia). There were many others that were a wonderful help to us all during this time. We all worked really hard and now the show was fast approaching! Needless to say, when showtime arrived, the dress rehearsal was very difficult. There I was telling jokes and there was no audience to laugh! I wanted to cry but Juanita told me not to worry and it would all be okay tomorrow night. She was right! Although the pageant was all new to me, I still had a great time. My first interview was a little different but I did well.

My comedy routine went well that evening. I was so excited as the audience laughed!
Even though I didn't win, I felt like a winner in my swimsuit and evening gown. My swimsuit belonged to former Miss Richmond, Gray Stabley and was hoping her luck would rub off on me!

When the evening was over, April Fleming had been crowned Miss Richmond. April went on later that July to win Miss Virginia and competed in the Miss America Pageant that September!

Because I'd been bitten by the "pageant bug," I participated in a couple of other local pageants. My Mom and I designed and made a new blue sequined gown. I wore that at the Miss Petersburg-Dinwiddie Pageant where I placed as 4th Runner-Up. I also was in Miss Metropolitan Richmond and Miss Christmas Pageant. (I don't remember what my placings were there!)

That fall, I participated in the Miss Virginia Peanut Festival. I had "revamped" my comedy routine but it was still hard on dress rehearsal! There I met another wonderful Director, Barbara Allen. She had been a former Miss Peanut Festival and was now the Executive Director for the pageant. She, along with other Emporia residents, made our experience an exciting one. The pageant is a weekend long event. After checking in to our host hotel, Hampton Inn, we started off our weekend of great events. Not only were we featured on a float in a the Peanut Festival Parade, we were treated to a beauty clinic with Mary Kay representative Bernice Smalls, appeared at a fashion show, appeared at the craft fair and visited a peanut farm. Miss Peanut has to know about peanuts! I had a new gown, a new swimsuit and a new comedy routine. I was feeling great! My interview went very well again and I had the judges laughing. By the end of the evening, I was proud to be Third Runner-Up to Lisa Moorman. There couldn't have been a better representative for Emporia and the Peanut Festival. I was so pleased. As part of my new comedy routine, I sang little pieces of songs. Because of this, a lot of "pageant people" encouraged me to sing. I just told them that I would think about it.

I next moved on to the Strawberry Festival in Virginia Beach. We stayed in a host hotel for the weekend and received nice gifts from local sponsors. Our opening number was a song written especially for the pageant, "I'm Miss Virginia Bound." Once again, I did my comedy routine to the delight of the crowd. I was told it was great but sometimes too hard to judge. The winner that evening was Casey Ivey. She was a very pretty dancer studying in New York. I also participated in the Miss Isle of Wight Festival Pageant held in conjunction with the Miss Williamsburg Festival Pageant. I had another great interview and felt good. It was an interesting experience and I got to meet even more people. I thought it would have been nice to win there as a lot of my family originated in this area.

It was now time to move on to bigger and better things - singing! The next "season" had come around and once again I was back at the Peanut Festival in Emporia. But this time I was going to sing! As this was my first time, I was really nervous. My friend Bonnie, whom I had met at Miss Richmond, helped me prepare. I chose "New York, New York" which was a tune that had been featured in my comedy routine. My Mom made me a halter tuxedo style top and I wore it with a top hat and red sequin cummerbund and bowtie. I was so nervous!

Once again, I found myself auditioning for an honored spot in the Miss Richmond Pageant. I was so excited to receive the call that I had once again made the cut! Another round of rehearsals and preparations and I was ready to go! I had met Fred & Carolyn Gill who ran the Miss Colonial Heights Pageant for many years. I borrowed a new swimsuit from them and also sang for them in their living room.

Our opening number for this year was a country theme. One of the contestants dropped out at the last minute and our choreographer, former Miss Richmond, Beth Smith, stepped in and filled her shoes - literally!

Our evening gown number was quite special. We were being judged by the one and only Bernie Wayne. He was the famous songwriter of "Blue Velvet" and "There She Is, Miss America" to name a few. We had a special performance of his songs. That's former Miss Richmond, Sue Halsey-Grubbs pretending to play the piano!

By the end of the evening we had a new Miss Richmond, Beth Bruce. It was a great evening at Kings Dominion and very special for all of us.

We are once again back at Kings Dominion for the great photos and fun.

This year's opening number featured a dance number complete with kick-line!

The sets are fabulous at Kings Dominion and this year is no exception. For evening gown, we got to walk down the stairs of a cruise ship!