More Than a Crown
In pop culture today, most are familiar with pageants from the TLC show “Toddlers and Tiaras,” but this is far from the reality of adult pageantry.
Ball State junior Gabrielle Bunn has participated in pageants for as long as she can recall. Bunn gives her mother credit for getting her started when she entered her in a competition at the age of two. “I remember they asked me what my favorite toy was,” she said with a smile, “And I pricked my finger on the number that was pinned to my dress and started crying.”
After competing for a few years, Bunn took a break from pageant life when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I remember I came home from school one day, and a lot of her hair was gone even from just the course of that day,” Bunn said.
She didn’t think about returning to pageantry until after watching a pageant at her county fair in high school. She then decided she wanted to be the girl on stage again.
In pageantry, a platform is a cause in which a contestant chooses to be an advocate. Generally, it is why a person competes because a title is a great way to bring attention to the issue in which they care. Since her mom is a breast cancer survivor, Bunn keeps her platform near to her heart. She averages about 10 hours of service a week and has even partnered with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® foundation.
Since returning to pageants in 2012, Bunn has participated in six pageants, placing or winning titles in four.
Over the past few months Bunn has been preparing for the Miss Ball State Pageant, a scholarship opportunity and preliminary round to compete in the Miss Indiana pageant. She believes the higher participants want to place the more they will prepare. Bunn says she is always preparing.
A month before the pageant, Bunn applied to be a participant. To apply, she had to submit a one-page resume’, a 100-word platform statement, a headshot, a talent request form and a register on the Miss America for Kids’ website. Once accepted, she began a strict schedule of exercising, as well as practicing a talent routine and on stage walking seven days a week.
The areas of a competition are each worth a percentile of the total points. An interview before the pageant is worth 25 percent, the on-stage question is 5 percent, the talent takes up the most with 35 percent, lifestyles and fitness in swimsuit 15 percent and evening wear is worth 20 percent.
Bunn said that most of the time she is typically focused on the interview and talent since they both are worth the most. She believes most people have the impression and think pageants are beauty centered, but that’s not the case, “A lot of people only see the on-stage question part and think that’s the only time we open our mouths during the pageant, but it’s actually the least amount of time,” she said. She tries to stay up to date with current events through reading the newspaper and watching TV, making sure she fully understands the headlines. Bunn said, “It’s really important that you have an opinion on everything. You don’t have to be an expert, but it’s good you’re aware of what’s happening around you.”
Bunn kept to her preparation routine until the week of Miss Ball State. She then organized her jewelry and planned the outfits to wear for each round.
After double-checking everything the night before, she started her pageant day at 8:45 a.m. with an introduction about the order of the show followed by a walk-through of the pageant with all contestants. Then, each contestant was allowed time to practice talent on stage and set the volume of their music.
Once practice was over, Bunn changed, reviewed her paperwork and closing for the interview and went off to begin the interview. During the nine minutes of the interview process, judges may ask a variety of questions relating to current world events. The Miss Ball State interview took Bunn by surprise. She said the judges “asked me a lot more fun questions than normal. They asked about my fun facts section.”
There was time to kill after the interview stage, so she started stretching for talent, practiced a few more times then changed clothes for introduction, all while trying to keep calm. “I think, for me, to handle the stress the best way is to stay busy, whether it be reading over my paperwork for my interview, practicing my talent or doing my hair, just staying busy is the key to me.”
Once a crowd rolled into Pruis Hall, the Miss Ball State pageant began.
The bright lights and large crowd do not faze Bunn, for her the doubts come in the moment. “You just worry about things as they come along,” she said. “Right before I do my introduction, I’m hoping that I don’t leave out a part or stutter. Then when it gets to the on-stage question, I’m wondering what my question is going to be and how I don’t want to sound like a fool.”
“When you’re on stage it kind of goes by in the blink of an eye,” Bunn said. ”You don’t realize how fast the whole thing happens. Once the pageant starts, it just flies by. You don’t even realize that it’s about to be over until you’re waiting for crowning.”
This year for the talent portion, Bunn danced a choreographed routine to the song “Feeling Good” sung by Michael Buble’. “During talent, I’m always the most nervous when I get close to the stage and I’m right in a judge’s face because I can literally hear them if they breathe,” she said.
A good-sized fan base of parents, friends and sorority sisters showed up to support Bunn at the pageant, “I’ve never had such a big cheering section so that was really helpful because it helps you loosen up,” she said. After she saw and heard the support of the crowd it helped make all of her worries disappear.
Bunn said that leading up to the day was stressful and tiring but worth it. She finished 1st runner up in Miss Ball State, receiving a scholarship of $750.
“I think getting 1st runner up is really good, and people keep telling me congratulations. But at the same time I’m not happy with it just because I did work so hard to win. And then you just fall short. And you’re not sure why,” Bunn said.
Despite the result, judges do not give feedback or reasons as to why a contestant placed a certain spot, which is something Bunn wishes could be changed. “It’s kind of frustrating when you think you did everything right, and then it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped,” she said.
After competing in a pageant before Miss Ball State and not placing at all, Bunn said she still is content. “I feel like getting 1st runner up is kind of a sign that I’m doing better and that I shouldn’t stop just yet.”
As Bunn said, she’s always preparing. Her next step is to compete in her hometown pageant to qualify for Miss Indiana, a goal that she accomplished last year and hopes to make happen again.