Local women to compete for Miss Oregon crown
In Atlantic City this fall, Miss America contestants will no longer compete in the swimsuit and evening gown categories. However, on June 30 in Seaside, young women competing for Miss Oregon will wear swimsuits and gowns one last time.
The Miss America organization recently announced it is saying "goodbye to the bikini," by eliminating the swimsuit portion of the pageant for the first time since the competition began in 1921. Contestants also may choose to wear casual or business attire instead of evening gowns during the interview portion of the Miss America pageant on Sept. 19.
Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989 and new chairman of the national organization, said that in response to cultural change, the competition now will focus more on the contestants' talents, intelligence and ideas.
At the upcoming state pageant, in addition to swimsuit and evening gown portions, candidates will compete in talent and on-stage interviews. The competition will culminate in one being named Miss Oregon 2018 and one being crowned Miss Oregon's Outstanding Teen 2018.
Four young women won local titles at the Miss Three Rivers-Miss Cascade pageant held on May 5 in Oregon City. These three will go on to compete in the Miss Oregon pageant: Alyx Amber, Miss Cascade; Shivali Kadam, Miss Three Rivers; and Amanda Merrill, Miss Portland. In addition, Kennedy Hjelte was named Miss Three Rivers Outstanding Teen. All won scholarship money and will win even more by competing on the Miss Oregon stage.
The co-directors of this local pageant are Shari Anderson and Yvonne Peebles.
Miss Cascade 2018
Amber, 24, works as a facilities services coordinator for Holladay Park Plaza in Northeast Portland and also is a full-time student at Portland State University, concentrating on public health.
For the talent portion, Amber will sing "They Just Keep Moving the Line" from the musical "Smash."
"I love this piece because it makes it easy to connect with the audience and share a brief moment of vulnerability," she said.
All contestants must choose a social issue they feel strongly about for their platform, and Amber's is #InHerCorner, which she said is a hashtag stemming from the quote "With you in her corner, she will succeed," attributed to Girls Inc.
Calling the platform a "natural fit" for her, Amber noted that Girls Inc. is "a national nonprofit that embodies many of the same values as Miss America does."
Amber said she is competing to be Miss Oregon because she wants to reach out to every corner of the state to remind people that the organization is so much more than a beauty pageant.
"We are community leaders, women of service, scholars, athletes, undiscovered talents and much, much more," she said.
"I have never met a woman who has been involved in this organization and walked away without seeing a tangible difference in her life, and often her self-confidence," she noted.
Referring to changes at the national level, Amber said she is sad to see the swimsuit competition come to an end because, for her, that event was about improving her health and feeling empowered.
She added, "The fact that I can accept that and love myself whole heartedly is what makes sharing myself so vulnerably with an audience so liberating. I've always felt that if I can do that, I can do anything."
Miss Three Rivers 2018
Tigard resident Kadam, 24, recently graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in chemical engineering.
She will sing "Home" from the musical "The Wiz" for the talent portion of the competition.
"I chose this song because home is what the Miss America organization is to me. While titles only last one year, the relationships that come from competing can last a lifetime," she said.
Kadam's platform, called "STEM to Bloom," promotes science, technology, engineering and math skills to young girls, helping to grow the next generation of female engineers and scientists. She visits elementary schools to conduct STEM-related activities with students and volunteers with girl-focused mentorship organizations, in order to make "the path easier for the women who follow in my footsteps, so that we can have a more equitable STEM workforce."
She wants to be Miss Oregon to help other women benefit from the organization.
"As an immigrant and a minority in my field of study, I know all too well what it's like to be made to feel unwelcome and unwanted," Kadam said.
"As Miss Oregon, I want to help young women from all backgrounds find their place in our program so that we can help them realize their potential as students and community members," she noted.
Kadam said she is conflicted about the changes in the Miss America competition, partly because she finds "it problematic that the decision has become connected to the #MeToo movement, as it suggests that policing the behavior of women is the solution to sexual harassment and objectification."
She added that she does appreciate the Miss America organization's commitment to becoming more inclusive and hopes that the change "will increase the diversity of our candidate pool."
Miss Portland 2018
Merrill, 25, is a resident of Portland and an educational specialist at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette, where she teaches leadership classes to employees and community members of all cultures, ages and abilities.
She will sing "Somebody to Love," by Queen, for the talent portion of the pageant.
Merrill chose "Mentoring Tomorrow's Leaders" as her platform because mentors have helped her expand her perspectives and encouraged her to excel scholastically and professionally in her career.
"I saw first-hand the positive influence they made on my life, and I was inspired to start giving back to others," Merrill said, noting that she worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters while in college and now mentors with Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest.
If she were named Miss Oregon, Merrill said she would reach out to "women of different ethnicities and cultures about the skills they can gain from the program while sharing how the scholarship dollars helped me achieve my scholastic goals."
She further noted that she hopes to share the importance of supporting mentoring programs statewide and in the community to build the next generation of leaders.
Merrill said the changes at the national level of the organization will move the program forward and encourage more women to participate.
She added, "I believe a lot of women viewed the swimsuit competition as a barrier to competing, and with its removal I hope to see more women take advantage of the scholarship opportunities and the chance to develop their personal skills."
As an affiliate of Miss America's Outstanding Teen program, the Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen competition is designed to promote scholastic achievement, creative accomplishment, healthy living and community involvement. The state winner will go on to compete nationally on July 28 in Orlando, Florida.
Hjelte, 18, lives in Tualatin and attends Jesuit High School, where she will be a junior in the fall.
For the talent portion of the pageant, she will sing "On My Own" from the musical "Les Miserables."
She chose "Colorectal Cancer Education and Prevention" as her platform because her father was diagnosed with the disease a year ago and currently is undergoing treatment.
She wants to be Miss Oregon's Outstanding Teen in order to spread the word about the organization.
"It's not only about scholarships. It's about the sisterhood of the program," Hjelte said.
"I would also use the opportunity to spread my platform with everyone around the state on colorectal cancer education and the research that is being done to beat this cancer," she said.
At the teen level, contestants have never worn swimsuits; instead they participate in an on-stage fitness routine wearing active wear, Hjelte said.
She added, "Working to make the program better is a good thing. I am hoping they keep the eveningwear competition. I am not a big fan of 'outfit of choice.'"
Former Miss Oregon conflicted about changes
Former Oregon City resident Rebecca Anderson was crowned Miss Oregon in 2014 and went on to compete on the Miss America stage. She currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she works as a government meteorologist.
Anderson said she is conflicted about the elimination of the swimsuit portion from the competition at Miss America this fall.
"While I think that the removal of this category will improve the number of participants, improve sponsor relations and appease those who felt that portion was degrading women, it also eliminates a very important role," she said.
"By eliminating categories where the woman's confidence and poise are displayed, you are showing girls that brains and beauty are mutually exclusive which is absolutely not true," Anderson said.
She added that the swimsuit competition allowed her to "channel the power and confidence I gained, due to the fitness competition, and channel it into job interviews where I ended up landing my dream job."
Wearing a swimsuit onstage doesn't objectify women, she said, but instead empowers them to control their own bodies.
Anderson also is on the fence about allowing women to choose any outfit instead of walking the runway in an evening gown.
"I have never felt more beautiful in my life than I did walking down the Miss America stage in my gown. In our lives, how many times do we actually get dressed up?" she said.
Anderson noted that there was a lot of public pressure to eliminate swimsuits and evening gowns from the competition.
"Ultimately, it is a scholarship program, and for many people, they saw the fitness competition as a pointless category that showed nothing of the woman's brain. For those not involved in pageantry it seems archaic," she said.
"But in reality, the fitness and evening wear categories are a blast. It is a time where you can be yourself, embrace who you are, and show the world that this is the body you were given and you aren't going to hide it," Anderson said.
She will continue to support the Miss America organization through all the changes, she said, because Anderson believes in the core message that women are intelligent, beautiful and motivated to serve their communities.
"Through this organization I was able to pay for college due to the scholarships I earned and [I got] my dream job because of the skills I gained in the process of competing," Anderson said.
She added, "While it is changing, I just hope that the program doesn't lose the glamour that is the iconic Miss America and that it doesn't fall by the wayside becoming just a scholarship opportunity."