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What You NEED to Know to Win a Festival Pageant

11, May 2017

Call them what you will, festival pageants are a different genre of pageant altogether. Also referred to as royalty, scholarship, ambassador programs or the like, these pageants are typically run in cooperation with a fair or festival. Winners are chosen to serve as goodwill ambassadors to the festival and may even earn educational scholarships. If you're interested in seeking candidacy within a festival pageant, there are certain things to be aware of. Quite a few of these tips can also be utilized in the mainstream pageant arena, so feel free to take a peek!

Miss West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals titleholders. Photo: West Virginia Association of Fairs & Festivals

What You NEED to Know to Win a Festival Pageant

Starting Out

Before committing yourself to a particular festival pageant, be sure to communicate with the directors to understand both the requirements of candidates and potential winners. Be aware of the candidacy schedule, as many times they can be quite a bit longer than that of a typical pageant weekend. Most festival ambassadors have an appearance schedule set by the director of the program. Educate yourself in how a potentially vigorous appearance schedule will balance with everyday life. Understand other commitments and potential financial obligations as a candidate, as well.

If financial obligations exist, explore the opportunity of securing sponsorship through a business within the community. Many programs require this. Seek out companies that have been involved with the festival in the past, or look for a window of opportunity with a new business to get them involved. Local businesses tend to boast civic pride and would love to hear from you.

Keep your sponsor involved in the candidacy. This is of dire importance since they are fronting the funds for you to compete. Not only should they receive a proper thank you, but also keep them apprised of events coming up by extending invitations. Consider making appearances at their place of business. Community businesses tend to really enjoy this, so have fun while promoting the company and your adventure!

Submit your application to the directors in a timely fashion; do not miss any deadlines. Always type your application. Some directors make copies of each candidate's actual application and place them in a judging binder. Handwritten applications are not always "judge friendly!"

Your Candidacy

Note that some candidate experiences can last up to a couple of months. This time frame isn't always the case, but I've seen it numerous times! You are in it for the long-haul; judges are watching to see who can make it through an appearance schedule that is similar to the ambassador's schedule. You may be involved in events such as candidate interviews and special events, festival events, civic functions and volunteer experiences. You will likely be competing with a group of peers, but you are aiming to impress a group of judges likely from outside the community. You must avoid either stirring or creating drama in front of these important visitors. It is quite possible that many people know one another within smaller festivals, so having outside help is a way for judges to make unbiased, fair decisions. 

Know what you are applying to represent. Many festivals are rich in interesting history and tradition. Do your homework and understand the norms present during the festivities. Festival ambassadors must be able to speak eloquently about festival facts when traveling to various appearances. Tradition and etiquette can very well go hand in hand. Especially know your table manners and how to properly introduce people. If you're not sure, ask your parents or do research online. Most importantly, treat every person you meet with respect. As Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Attire guidelines are similar to that of a natural pageant. However, with festival pageants, I lean towards even more of a professional, conservative look. No plunging necklines, short hems or skirt slits. Proper hosiery and pumps are recommended. It is not so much about what you wear, but how it fits. Be sure that all of your pieces are tailored to complement you.

Miss West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals. Photo: West Virginia Association of Fairs & Festivals

Hair and makeup should also appear professional. More often times than not, hair styling is seen in up-dos, unless the event is casual. Always dress in a manner that coincides with the specific event. There are exceptions to these guidelines, of course, for example, if the festival pageant is a beauty pageant. Just be sure to follow the parameters given to you by directors.

Your professional communication skills during a festival pageant are crucially important. When you are being spoken to, be sure you are actively listening by maintaining good eye contact. If on stage, acknowledge those who hand you a microphone, speak confidentially and project, addressing both the audience and judges. Stand tall and proud, maintaining the perfect posture of a queen. 

Some final reminders regarding your candidacy: Always be approachable and present yourself professionally. Remain positive, gracious and kind. All eyes are on you during this exciting time. Be a leader, but don't be pushy – they are looking for the natural leader in a group of winners. Be a friend to other candidates without being fake – you have to mean it.

My mother-in-law, Cindy Shanley, has been involved in judging and mentoring festival pageant contestants for over 20 years. I asked her to share the most important piece of advice for festival pageant candidates. "When I mentor young ladies, I tell them each to always be true to you," said Shanley. "Speak from your heart and you can never, ever go wrong."

The Results

I've seen numerous patterns of how festival royalty are chosen: one, two, three or many queens, it really is dependent on the program. Regardless, it's likely that the judges are taking into consideration how a particular group will work together (if more than one queen will be chosen). If you don't win, it certainly doesn't mean your performance was lacking. It just means that the queens selected were the most cohesive option. Be confident that if this door closes, it was simply someone else's turn. Don't have a sour attitude or burn bridges with the director. There's always next year or other pageants! If you did win, congratulations! Go forth through your reign representing your town, community and festival with pride and grace!

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Title Holder Of the Day

Jayden Burrell

Teen Sterling Miss USA 2019

My platform, You Do Matter, is to teach young girls self love and kindness while serving others.

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