The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 8, 2014
Hear ye, hear ye. With county fair season almost here, we asked 10 former queens to tell us a funny story from their beauty pageant pasts.
2013 Ford County Fair Queen
"There will never be a more embarrassing moment than what happened to all of us contestants at the state pageant. Standing, bent over, in a swimming suit, while a woman rubs glue all over your bottom to make the suit stay in place — in front of tons of other girls — is very awkward, to say the least. I love telling the story, because not many people can say, 'Oh, I know exactly how that feels.'"
SARAH (IRLE) HORN
2000 Illinois County Fair Queen
1999 Champaign County Fair Queen
"The last portion of the Champaign County Fair Queen pageant is the impromptu question, when each contestant comes out alone on the stage to answer a random question she selects out of a bowl from the emcee. The year I was competing in the pageant, one of my fellow contestants received the question, 'What does optimism mean to you?'
"The contestant answered without delay, 'If I knew what that meant, I would be happy to tell you.' She then smiled and walked gracefully off stage."
1990 Vermilion County Fair Queen
"I had the opportunity to compete in the Miss Illinois pageant in June 1991. During the preliminary evening gown competition, contestants walked out onstage to a microphone, where they answered a pop question. The contestant in front of me paused for her question and then froze. She started to sway back and forth, and then someone from backstage came out just in time to catch her when she fainted. From backstage, I could see people dragging her off, completely limp.
"I thought she was dead.
"They called for a doctor in the house, and several people ran to the stage. It was total chaos, with people yelling for me to 'Go! Go! Go!' During those frantic few minutes, I looked down and realized that my duct tape — commonly used in pageants to create instant cleavage — had separated. So I was trying to pull myself back together, literally and emotionally. The show must go on, and it did."
2010 Moultrie-Douglas County Fair
"In January 2010, I was fortunate enough to be representing the counties of Moultrie-Douglas at the Illinois State Queen Pageant. I was thrilled to met all of the 65 young ladies and be apart of such a great organization. With 65 girls, making top 12 finalist was a big deal. After I was announced as one of those finalists, I went back to compete in the big finish. Prior to my 1-minute speech and pop questions, I was backstage preparing by sitting on a table, chatting with the ladies. I was in my elegant business suit, which included a skirt. As I was watching the little TV we had, the table broke — and not underneath, where I was sitting, but at the other end, so I proceeded to slide down said table and come to a heap on the floor. It was the funniest moment I had ever had. It was a great memory and a reminder that you don't have to be the most graceful to be a queen."
2008 Miss Illinois County Fair
"My one pageant moment that had a lasting impact was my second answer to my question while in the top 12 at the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen pageant. My entire goal was to make top 12, which naturally I was ecstatic but nervous (about), to be confronted with three questions to answer that I had no clue what they would be.
"My second question was: What situation or experience as a county fair queen have you had in which you felt uncomfortable in?' I have always been brutally honest and my response was, 'It may seem kind of funny but my most uncomfortable experience was having my swimsuit bottoms hiked up during the application of butt glue.
"The entire crowd erupted in laughter. I thought for sure I lost any chance of placing because I just said butt glue onstage and that's not common stage etiquette. And beyond that, nobody wants a representative to say that. I ended up winning due to my honesty — and I've never lived it down."
2006 Champaign County Fair Queen
Director, Miss Fisher Fair
"I am definitely not a farm girl and when I was crowned queen, I had never been to a livestock show. So I showed up the day of the swine show in my heels and a white skirt, of course. Little did I know that the pigs were having some major stomach issues because of some bad water. I handed out ribbons and did my job to the best of my ability while enduring the wonderful smells of the barns.
"Then they asked me to show a pig. I had never shown an animal before, let alone a pig. I walked around that show ring and did my best. I didn't step in anything unsavory and I didn't get my skirt dirty. I'd say that's talent."
VERA WISDOM JOHNSTON
1984 Miss Hoopeston
"I remember having to write a speech for the Iroquois County Fair, basically advertising for the Sweetcorn Festival. I had no idea how to go about it and was seriously stressing. So I turned to my parents and sisters for help.
"I'm not kidding when I say that they began singing in unison: 'It's just a little bitty pissant country place. Ain't nothin' much to see.' Lyrics to a Dolly Parton song. For some reason, they thought it was hysterical but it pushed me over the edge. Ha-ha."
2004 Miss Ford County Fair
"Before pageants, we'd have practices. After they were over, oftentimes I would visit with my aunt. We'd go through questions we'd been asked and practice answering them again. One of the questions I'd possibly get was: If you could be a character from The Wizard of Oz, who would you be and why? That totally stumped me. I didn't know what to say. So I answered, 'I'd be Toto, because he got to ride in the basket.' My aunt looked at me and said, 'You can't say that.'
"When the fish bowl question of the pageant came around, I grabbed two questions by accident. The emcee picked one. It happened to be the Wizard of Odds question. I didn't know what else to say, so I said, 'I would be Toto, because he got to ride in the basket.' My aunt, who was there, couldn't believe it. The audience laughed because they thought it was cute."
2006 Miss Tuscola
"Did you ever notice how pageant girls have such perfect muscles? What most of them really have is perfect makeup artists. I remember so vividly being in the dressing room and having my makeup artist physically shading in my quad muscles and collar bones with bronzer. If there's one thing that's never in short supply in a pageant dressing room, it's bronzer. It can make your face look thinner, legs look stronger, ankles look thinner, neck look longer — it's magic.
"So next time you see a girl with perfect abs and high, high cheekbones, send a little wink to her makeup artist. Because her makeup artist picked up where the gym left off. Bronze, baby. Bronze."
1984 Ford County Fair Queen
"When I went in for my fitting for the dress I wore to represent Ford County in the state pageant, I didn't realize just how close and personal things would be. Let's just say the woman taking measurements took some liberties with being really thorough with her duties.
"My mom still brings it up to this day: 'Hey, remember that time you got felt up by that woman who fitted you for your state pageant dress? Wasn't that funny?' In the end, I guess it was worth it — the dress fit great and I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly."
2009 Miss Hoopeston
"When I was competing at Miss Illinois 2010, all of the contestants were encouraged to create a foursome for a golf scramble fundraiser at Pheasant Run. I was walking a few holes with my foursome and was just about to head back in to meet the other girls. I did a big wave goodbye to my dad, when all of a sudden I got rammed with a fly ball on my knuckle. My dad gave me some ice from his cooler and went about his merry way.
"Turns out, my knuckle was broken. It's the only broken bone I've had in my life."
1992 Ford County Fair Queen
"I was a spectator once at a state-level pageant, where local winners competed in interview, evening gown, bathing suit and speech categories. At this pageant, each contestant delivered a one-minute, timed speech, which was supposed to be about something important or relevant to their life. I have seen literally hundreds of contestants deliver speeches; many were excellent.
"The one I am remembering now, however, was a speech about endometriosis. And during her minute, this contestant said the word endometriosis what seemed like 20 times. Every man in the audience was literally squirming and every woman looked just as uncomfortable."
2012 Champaign County Fair Queen
"I didn't mumble my words during my speech, step on my dress or take a smile off my face the entire time — until they announced me as the queen. I was given my crown, sash and flowers, and it was time to take my first walk as the new queen. About halfway through, I stumbled on my dress — in front of the whole crowd while onstage. No one's perfect — not even a queen."
Former director, Vermilion County Fair Queen Pageant
"The first story that pops to mind was the year one of my candidates just could not 'hold it' any longer. She was about to go onto the stage in her swimsuit for the swimsuit portion. There was no time whatsoever for her to go back into the trailer, where the contestants changed to use the restroom. I grabbed a water bottle, and a few of the contestants and myself surrounded her while she completed her business.
"She literally handed the bottle to me — real fun — and her name was called to go onstage. She actually won the pageant that year."
2012 Miss Farmer City-DeWitt
"During our first appearance onstage at the state competition in Springfield, we were all dressed in evening gowns. As we lined up backstage, I had politely warned the girl behind me that my dress had a longer train in the back — my dress was bustled so it wasn't at its maximum length — and could she try not to step on it while we were walking.
"We all begin to file out and the second step I take after getting on the stage, the girl behind me steps on my dress, causing the train to come all the way undone. I had to pick up the end of dress and awkwardly hold it the entire time I was onstage while smiling at the crowd as if nothing was wrong. In that moment, I wasn't the happiest queen on the stage, but looking back now it is a funny memory because she apologized for the rest of the weekend. It became a joke between us every time we went onstage."