Pageants are a whole lot of fun, but organizing one is no easy task. There are thousands of hours spent behind the scenes overseeing paperwork, sponsors, and dozens of state and local directors. Thousands of nominations were received for national and state directors across the globe. Narrowing down the list was no easy task, but without further ado, here are the top national pageant directors of 2017!
USA National Miss Director Jackie Watson and titleholders. Photo: Twitter
Pageantry runs in this director's blood. Patty Hawkins' mother, Carolyn Hawkins, and her aunt, Mary Jo Scarborough, founded the pageant in 1983. Hawkins has continued the founders' dream by keeping this pageant a family affair. Miss American Coed keeps families in mind with low entry fees and competitions for all ages. Hawkins also takes the time to make every titleholder feel special.
According to one nominator, "She has hundreds of girls and still will take the time to help and knows your name and state title."
Patty Hawkins, Director of Miss American Coed. Photo: Miss American Coed Official Website
Introducing a new concept to an entire country is a bit intimating, to say the least. However, Jennie Lynch had a dream to dove right into the role of national director for Ireland Pageants. Before starting her organization, the pageant community in Ireland, outside of the Miss Ireland Universe Pageant, was basically non-existent. Lynch has built a pageant community and sisterhood in her country. Her titleholders include Junior Miss Ireland, Miss Teen Ireland, Lady of Ireland, Ms. Ireland, Mrs. Ireland and Miss Curves Ireland.
"Ireland Pageants and director Jennie Lynch have created a positive pageant environment in Ireland, a country where pageants were once taboo," said one nominator. "This system is open to everyone and presents pageantry in a very positive light."
Jennie Lynch, Director of Ireland Pageants. Photo: Facebook
Edie Klein has been running a lighthearted and enjoyable pageant for 16 years. According to nominators, "She goes above and beyond to ensure every child feels like the queen they are," and "makes every child feel so special regardless of the title they received."
Klein always puts her titleholders firsts and goes above and beyond to accommodate everyone's needs.
"Edie Klein is the best director, best run and so organized," said one nominator. "She always answered all my questions when I had concerns and put my mind at ease. She made every child feel so special regardless of the title the received. I felt like when my child was a princess she still went home with a bike, a doll and a bag full of misc toys. Edie does make everyone feel like a winner."
Edie Klein Director of Ultimate Dream Queen and Ultimate Dream Face. Photo: Facebook
Evelyn McCleod is the leader of this unique mentorship program whose mission is to empower underprivileged young women through the power of pageantry. She started the program is 2009 and had over 100 participants.
"Evelyn McLeod and the Next Level Pageant transforms girls by mentoring underprivileged girls and then letting girls who would otherwise not be able to afford pageants, participate in a pageant," said one nominator. "My foster daughter participated and her confidence grew in school and out of school. It is a pageant like none other!"
The organization is a nonprofit with free workshops and a heavy emphasis on community service. McCleod has a huge heart for her titleholders and is an inspiration to many.
Evelyn McCleod, Director of Miss Next Level Youth Pageant. Photo: Facebook
This is a truly special team in the pageant world. The embodiment of positive pageantry, the directors at Miss American Royalty USA touch the lives of every titleholder.
"My special needs daughter finally feels beautiful because of Miss American Royalty USA and their BeaYOUtiful division for uniquely-abled participants," said one nominator. "We will never forget their kindness and support." The team of national directors is always available with a belief that every question is worthy of an answer. As one nominator said, "They have great customer service yet you never feel like a customer."
Jennifer Huntley, Director of Miss American Royalty USA. Photo: Jennifer Huntley
Founded in 1970, America's National Teenager Scholarship Organization (ANTSO) is the longest running pageant for teens in the United States. This huge success is in part by a director who has been hailed by nominators over and over again as an incredible role model for her titleholders. Jenny Telwar-Daniels has built a pageant that values sisterhood, community service and scholarship.
"My daughter has competed in America's National Teenager Scholarship Organization nationals three times," said one nominator. "She has come away with a better understanding of who she is as a person, more self confident and more driven to help others and serve our community. Jenny Telwar-Daniels has been an incredible role model for my daughter and she is simply amazing."
Jenny Telwar, Director of American't National Teenager Scholarship Program. Photo: American't National Teenager Scholarship Pageant Official Website
Morgan Mancini has one of the biggest hearts of any director. The organization was founded in 2013, making it still relatively new. However, the pageant and its leadership are already changing industry standards. Mancini and her team founded the pageant with a mission to celebrate the diversity and beauty of every woman. There are absolutely no restrictions to compete. Zero. Having already made such an impact, Mancini is set to revolutionize the pageant world.
"I would like to nominate Miss Diamond Australia and Morgan for the amazing pageant and system she has created, her dedication and utmost care for all contestants and their families," said one nominator. "This truly is a special pageant, you become one of the family and the icebreaker party ensures you make life long friends. Morgan is always available for any questions you have. The inclusion of diversity is a game changer and many other pageants should take notice and follow suit. Well done Miss Diamond Australia you really are the best of the best."
Morgan Mancini, Director of Miss Diamond Australia. Photo: Hung Pham
National American Miss is the largest pageant for young women in the United States, boasting numbers that have greater participation than even Miss America and Miss USA. Each year, the organization awards $1.5 million through cash scholarships and prizes. This success has to do with the "perfect combination of heart and excellence" brought by national directors Steve and Kathleen Mayes. A point brought up again and again by nominators was the Mayes' true love for their titleholders. The sisterhood created by the pageant is so strong, they even have their own hashtag on Instagram.
"Steve and Kathleen Mayes have created a wonderful program that instills confidence in every contestant," said one nominator. "They make sure every girl feels like family and truly care about their "#NAMily."
Steve & Kathleen Mayes, Directors of National American Miss. Photo: National American Miss
Jackie Watson has earned the #2 post for the overwhelming amount of nominations she recieved and for how she continues to innovate her system. From celebrity judges like Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields to getting to walk in New York Fashion Week to cruise vacations, her titleholders are treated like true royalty.
Watson has also received praise for her willingness to listen to her titleholders. She is open to their suggestions on how to improve the organization. She thinks outsides the box and is willing to try new things, which are qualities essential to a great leader.
"USA National Miss and national director Jackie Watson have created a program that has made all other national pageants have to step their game up," said one nominator. "Through innovative and creative approaches to the pageant norm, they have been able to break from the pack and lead it, for a new type of pageantry that focuses on exploring new and exciting things to offer their participants and queens."
Jackie Watson (center), Director of USA National Miss. Photo: Facebook
The true test of leadership comes in times of tragedy. Natasha Coleman stepped up to lead the organization after the sudden death of national director Angela Howell in March. According to one nominator, "She has held all the pieces together with grace and style despite the circumstances."
Coleman is also a huge supporter of positive pageantry. She regularly supports other pageant systems and understands the value of others' time. While the year may have been tough, the future of the organization is shining bright.
Natasha Coleman, Director of American Beauties Pageant. Photo: Kimberly J Walker Official Website
This is one of the top state pageants in the Miss High School America System. Kara Knudsen has sent two national winners and multiple Top 15 placements in the last three years. Chloe Hatfield won the title of Miss Collegiate America in 2015 and Leona Koxha won the title this year. Knudsen is focused on developing young women so they can not only be role models at the state level but the national level as well. Her work ethic and dedication to the system is something from which all directors can learn.
Kara Knudsen (left), Director of Miss California High School America. Photo: Facebook/Rod Aberegg
Nicole Miller juggles not one but two state pageants. As the director for both International Junior Miss Washington and Oregon, she coordinates the schedules of dozens of titleholders and their families. Miller wears her multiple hats well and as one nominator puts it, "She takes the time to make sure every girl feels special."
Nicole Miller, Director of International Junior Miss Washington and Oregon. Photo: Photogenic Visions
"I've never seen a more passionate director!" one nominator commented. This comment describes Caleb Mathis to a T. Mathis is the director of the Miss Southern Sweetheart and runs one of the smoothest ships in the pageant world. He flawlessly executes multiple local pageants that lead to a glamours state event. The community fosters friendship and sisterhood between the titleholders.
Caleb Scott Mathis, Director of Miss Southern Sweetheart. Photo: Facebook
Jodi Cessna is the definition of dedication to a pageant. Cessna held the title of Mrs. Pennsylvania International 2003 and soon after became the director of the pageant. This year marks her 15th year as the head of the state pageant. She is one of the longest-serving directors since the Miss International Pageant was founded in 1987. Cessna has been recognized by the national office as the "Director of Year" three times, including this past summer.
Jodi Cessna, Director of Miss Pennsylvania International. Photo: Facebook
This directing duo will welcome every contestant with a "giant hug." Described as "top-notch," the Randalls hold open practices throughout the year so all contestants have a chance to prepare.
"They help each girl open doors to their future, whether it's gaining confidence, speaking skills, interview skills, walking with poise, or finding ways to expand within their platforms," one nominator said. "They go above and beyond trying to show you the steps to success. Minnesota is very lucky to have two directors that care so much!"
Bill and Vicki Randall, Directors of Miss Minnesota United States. Photo: Facebook
5. Denise Russo-Caiazzo, Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America
Denise Russo-Caiazzo was crowned Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America 2015. She now directs the pageant and runs it with "the highest level of professionalism." The pageant was founded for women 60 and over who have entered the "Age of Elegance." Russo-Caiazzo embodied this as a titleholder and that has translated into her leadership as the director.
As one nominator put it, "She really exudes leadership and true 'Age of Elegance.'"
Denise Russo-Caiazzo (right), Director of Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America. Photo: Facebook
Judy Kyees has made it her life mission to help young women accomplish their dreams through the Cinderella Scholarship Program. She serves as the director of multiple state pageants and treats every contestant she meets as her own child.
"She has spent countless hours hand sewing, rhinestoning and designing girls' outfits for competition and will stay up all hours of the night, and I mean all hours, to talk to any of her girls and prepare them for the competition," one nominator said.
Judy Kyees, Director of Miss Ohio, Pennsylvania Indiana and West Virginia Cinderella. Photo: Facebook
Stef Williams is dedicated to giving her titleholders the experience of a lifetime. The state pageant is an elegant production that makes every contestant feel like a true queen. After the state pageant, Williams keeps in constant contact with her new titleholders to ensure they make the most out of their reigns.
Stef Williams (left), Director of USA National Miss Maryland. Photo: Facebook
Maine is small in terms of population. However, Deb Landry managed to recruit 92 girls to compete at the USA National Miss Maine Pageant this year. That is nearly half of the total number of contestants at the national pageant. Coordinating a pageant this huge and successful takes a countless of hours of hard work and dedication.
"She goes above and beyond to produce a quality program that empowers young women and provides them with opportunities," one nominator said.
Deb Landry, Director of USA National Miss Maine. Photo: Facebook
Teri Brown-Walker is a shining example of what it means to be a state director. She became the director for Miss Delaware United States two years ago. Since then, she has gone on to grow the program and become the director for both Maryland and the District of Colombia. She oversees all the state titleholders as well as local titleholders.
"The young girls and women under Teri Brown-Walker's directorship are a priority to her," one nominator said. "Each of them receives nothing less than her very best."
Teri Brown-Walker, Director of Miss Delaware, Maryland and District of Colombia United States. Photo: Facebook
Teenage years can be the hardest for girls, especially when it comes to being confident and having a positive self-image. Jenny, director of America's National Teenager Scholarship Organization, holds a positive atmosphere to help the teens grow however she can. This scholarship organization gives young women a chance to grow and have more opportunities in their communities.
America's National Teenager titleholders posing for a photoshoot. Photo: America's National Teenager Scholarship Organization Facebook Page
The National Canadian Girl, Teen and Miss Scholarship Pageant is another pageant system that really helps young women grow. Liz has opened an atmosphere that is very welcoming, light and loving to all of her contestants and titleholders in the pageant world.
The reigning national royalty. Photo: Dupree Pageant Photography
Angela and Natasha run one of the most loving pageant organizations for women in the Ms. division and above. They are welcoming, positive and helpful to everyone involved in their pageant system.
American Beauties National Pageant titleholders. Photo: American Beauties National Pageant Facebook Page
Sterling Miss USA works hard to provide different opportunities for young women inside their own communities. Didi is always pushing to help her girls succeed, with and without the crown.
Sterling Miss USA titleholders. Photo: Sterling Miss USA Facebook Page
Monica has opened the doors of her pageant, Regal Majesty, to girls of all ages, even starting in the toddler ages. She has worked with all different age categories and has helped girls at a young age start to understand what it's like to be a positive role model in their communities and with their title.
Regal Majesty titleholders. Photo: Regal Majesty Pageant Facebook Page
Pat leads an organization based off of Christian Biblical principles. Although you don't have to be of Christian Faith to compete, Pat leads the Pure International Pageant based on acceptance, love and helping others. Pat is always striving to help all of her contestants and titleholders achiever their dreams.
Pure International Pageants titleholders. Photo: Pure International Facebook Page
Teresa, director of Princess of America, produces six shows a year, even outside of her own organization. As a hard-working woman, Teresa strives to empower other women through her work of pageantry. Her leading drive is to help each individual find their own strengths and to be confident and positive in who they are.
Princess of America titleholders. Photo: Princess of America Official Website
"Personal growth with a dash of glitter." This slogan is what Patty Hawkins has instilled into her pageant system and within all of her titleholders. Patty runs Miss American Coed with a family atmosphere and wants each member in her community to always go home with a sense of self-worth.
Miss American Coed titleholders. Photo: MAC Pageants Official Website
National American Miss is one of the largest pageant systems in the nation. With titleholders ranging in age, Steve and Kathleen have taken this opportunity to give each contestant and titleholder a very positive atmosphere with their system. Their goal is to provide each girl with growing their own self-confidence and potential.
National American Miss Preteen crowned on stage. Photo: National American Miss Facebook Page
"The crown cares" is the heart of the USA National Miss pageant system. Jackie provides lots of strength, encouragement and love for her titleholders and is always helping them care for others. She wants each of her titleholders to use the crown and system to help care for others in their own communities and around the nation. Being able to serve each contestant and the nation is what makes Jackie an amazing director. She loves helping others!
USA National Miss titleholders. Photo: USA National Miss Facebook Page
Bernee Thurow is the state director of the Miss Arkansas International pageant and is the owner of Crown Image Productions, Inc., which produces pageants, special events and television shows. Bernee has been a state director with the International system for 22 years and a national staff member since 1991 and has received the Director of the Year award for the Mrs. and Miss pageants. She has been a member of the pageant industry for over 35 years as a contestant, judge, coach and director.
Bernee Thurow, state director of the Miss Arkansas International pageant. Photo: Miss Arkansas International
Not only is Jeff LeForce a state director of Royal International Miss for Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado, he is also the founder, coach and all-star director of the Oklahoma Twisters all-star cheerleading gym. Jeff opened the gym in 1996 and has been involved in the Royal International Miss pageant system since 2014.
Jeff LeForce, state director of Royal International Miss. Photo: Facebook
Angela Howell and Natasha Coleman are the directors and owners of American Beauties National Pageant, directing and producing all of their state pageants. After competing in pageants for many years, Angela decided to create her own pageant with hopes of developing a drama-free, honest and fun environment for her contestants. Natasha became involved in the pageant after competing within the system for many years and is a former reigning titleholder.
Angela Howell and Natasha Coleman, state directors and owners of American Beauties National Pageant at the Queen of Queens Lifetime pageant. Photo: Facebook
Residing in the Northwest, Monica Berginc is the director and owner of Regal Majesty pageants, a northwestern based pageant system. Monica created the pageant in hopes of making a system that has a family feel and a connection to the community by giving all girls the chance to be a part of something and celebrate a girl's own personality.
Monica Berginc, director and owner of Regal Majesty pageants. Photo: Facebook
A former Mrs. Missouri, Teresa Foli believes that you are never too young to acquire skills that will build self-esteem and create confidence in your ability to succeed at whatever you choose, which is why she founded the Princess of America pageant and is the director and producer of all of their state pageants. Teresa is also the founder of Ballet Arts Inc. where she serves as creative director, choreographer and instructor, as well as Crown Productions LLC.
Teresa Foli, director and owner of the Princess of America pageant. Photo: Facebook
As Director of State Operations for the USA National Miss system and the state director for USA National Miss Maine, Deb Landry works hard to make sure each pageant runs smoothly. Deb is also the author of the bestselling, award-winning children's book, "Sticks Stones and Stumped" and authored "Yankee Go Home," the co-founder, President/Chairman of the Board and former Executive Director of Crossroads Youth Center, and a business owner and entrepreneur as the President/CEO of Bryson Taylor Inc.
Deb Landry, Director of State Operations for the USA National Miss system and the state director for USA National Miss Maine. Photo: Facebook
Jacque Georgia is the state director for the USA National Miss Wisconsin pageant. Not only is Jacque a devoted state director, she is also a business leader, author, community activist and blogger. She wrote an inspirational novel titled "Live. Breath. Do."
Jacque Georgia, state director for the USA National Miss Wisconsin pageant. Photo: Facebook
Teri Brown-Walker has been the executive state director of Mrs. Maryland United States since 2015. Although new to the Mrs. United States pageant system, Terri has wasted no time working hard to make the Mrs. Maryland United States pageant the best it can be.
Teri Brown-Walker, executive state director of Mrs. Maryland United States. Photo: Facebook
Not only is Raquel Riley Thomas a director of the Mrs. D.C., Pennslyvania, and Delaware America pageants, she is also a decorated U.S. Army Ordnance Officer, producer, pageant queen, entrepreneur and activist. Raquel has plenty of experience within the Mrs. America pageant system as a former Mrs. Maryland America and 1st Runner-up to Mrs. America 2010.
Raquel Riley Thomas, director of the Mrs. D.C., Pennslyvania, and Delaware America pageants. Photo: Facebook
Residing in Boston, Michelle Landry is the director of the Miss New England Coed pageant. Michelle has been a devoted state director for over five years and also works for the United States Air Force as a contract specialist.
Michelle Landry, director of the Miss New England Coed pageant. Photo: Facebook
As the director of the Miss Jr. High, High School, and Collegiate America pageants, Amanda Patterson Bennefield has been selected for creating a great environment and pageant for all of her titleholders. She goes above and beyond to make her titleholders feel like royalty throughout their year of reign!
Amanda Patterson Bennefield, Miss Jr. High America, Miss High School America, and Miss Collegiate America director.
Both former Miss USA titleholders, Debbie Miller and Cindy Provost have directed and produced state Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. This year they rank among our Top 10 Pageant Directors of 2015 list for their dedication to the Miss USA pageant system and for having four of their titleholders place in the Top 15 at Miss USA, including 2nd Runner-up Miss Rhode Island.
Debbie Miller and Cindy Provost with Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo
Directing the system in it's 27th year, Mary works to create a pageant system based on family values and making a difference through contestant platforms. She is the direct and main point for all at-large contestants and state directors, and her titleholders appreciate that she recognizes that there is life outside of pageantry and that personal and family needs come first.
Mary Richardson, Miss International director with Miss International 2013.
Nikki Clark's passion for the girls competing in her system is shown in all of the comments from IJM contestants. She is admired for how put-together she and her pageant system are, and is appreciated for her passion for all of the girls who compete in her system. Click here to learn more about International Junior Miss.
Nikki Clark, IJM International director. Photo Credit: Fadil Berisha
Chet Welch, president and state executive director of the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, makes our Top 10 Directors of 2015 list for his dedication to excellence as a state director for the Miss America Organization. He was the 2015 recipient of the Academy of Honor award at Miss America 2015, and began volunteering for the Miss America Organization 35 years ago. According to the Miss America Organization, he has served in varying roles including local director for 24 years.
Chet Welch, Miss Pennsylvania director on stage to receive the Academy of Honor Award at Miss America 2015
Future Productions owners and operators Craig and Denise Heitkamp are the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA directors for seven states and have been directing for the Miss Universe Organization since 2002. Contestants appreciate that their pageants are smooth and organized and recognize their amazing communication as an incredible benefit of working with them.
Craig and Denise Heitkamp, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state directors.
As the Director of USA National Miss, Jackie creates a positive, uplifting experience for everyone involved. According to Katie Stam Irk, Miss America 2009 and the Head Judge for USA National Miss last year, "she desires to share her faith and ministry by making young women feel special, encouraging them to be their best selves, and empowering them through scholarship earnings."
Jackie Watson, USA National Miss director.
3. John M. Vanatta Jr., Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state director for Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, and Mrs. United States for Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas
Founder and President of Vanbros associates, John M. Vanatta maintains an excellence in his pageant competitions across the nation. This year, two of his Miss USA state titleholders placed in the Top 15 at Miss USA, including the reigning Miss USA 2015, Olivia Jordan. Along with his brother Jason Vanatta and sister Jennifer Vanatta-Fisher, he is the proud "pageant parent" of 158 titleholders.
John M. Vanatta Jr. (left), a Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state director with brother Jason Vanatta (right).
2. Randy Sanders Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state director for Connecticut, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Randy Sanders is the owner of Sanders and Associates, Inc., also known as Pageant Associates, that put on five state pageants for Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. He has been involved in pageantry for three decades and is recognized for his excellence as a pageant director.
Randy Sanders, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state director. Photo: Edwin Shaw
Co-founders and directors of the National American Miss pageant based out of Texas who are "dedicated to celebrating America's greatness and encouraging it's future leaders," Steve and Kathleen have won the hearts of not only NAM titleholders, but of their parents as well. Their love and support of the girls who compete is what draws many of their competitors to choose NAM pageants every year.
Steve and Kathleen Mayes, National American Miss Directors
10. Stephanie Warren Harris
America's Natural Supreme Beauties is an up and coming event that is getting more popular every year, and perhaps some of that is due to the direction of Stephanie Harris. Stephanie takes the #10 spot in our top pageant directors.
9. Patty Hawkins
Miss American Coed has been around for several decades and Patty serves as the national director but also the state director for the majority of programs across the country. Many contestants who have participated in this program speak highly of Patty's commitment to her winners and the positive values promoted by the system.
8. Steve and Kathleen Mayes
With National American Miss being such a big player in the game of pageantry overall, it's not surprising that these two are appearing on our top ten list. They grew the National American Miss program into one of the most popular programs for young women in the country!
7. Liz McKinnon
Liz has directed more than 60 pageants and currently runs the National Canadian Girl program. The fact that she has successfully dedicated so many pageants means she has impacted a lot of young women and their families, which is why she's appearing on the top ten list!
6. Renee McNair
Renee has earned her reputation working with the Miss United States program in North Carolina and South Carolina. This program is really picking up steam not just in these states but around the country. They have a broad range of eligibility in their age categories, so if you want to become a part of this program, now is definitely the time!
5. Breanne Ewing
This is the second mention for NAM directors on our list, and it's clear that the queens who have had Breanne as a director are thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to work with her!
4. Nikki Clark
Miss Teen America seemingly dropped off the radar for a few years but it is back and better than ever. If you're a Jr. Teen or a Teen, don't miss out the great opportunities to represent this system and interact with a highly-recommended director!
3. Valerie Best
Valerie is the director of the BEST Shining Stars pageant in Indiana with lots of prelims throughout the state. Contestants in this program enjoy the positive experience to build their self-esteem.
2. Pat Miller
Pure American pageants is pretty new on the radar, but this is good news for contestants who are looking for a new program to try out. With a lot of categories, women of all ages enjoy this program with prelims across the country as well as a national program.
1. Jackie B. Watson
USA National Miss is another program to try out if you're looking for a fun, fresh pageant to hone your skills and represent your state or the national pageant! Jackie's queens are thrilled with the effort she makes to serve young women everywhere!
Emily's tip is, "Have fun, make friends and talk to everyone when you’re participating in a pageant.Learn More