Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 13, 2014

Beyond the heels

Distinguished Young Women of Indiana contestants say pageant values 'what's on the inside'

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Caitie Perkins says she sings – just not for anyone outside of her Howard County church.

“I don’t perform,” the Northwestern High School Senior said.

Except this weekend she will.

She’ll sing Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” made popular in the movie “Pitch Perfect,” and she’ll belt it out in front of hundreds of people at the Distinguished Young Women of Indiana scholarship competition.

Perkins will be vying for a share of $25,500 in scholarships during the pageant, which is held over three days at Indiana University Kokomo’s Havens Auditorium.

Twenty-three girls from across the state will be scored in five areas – scholastics, interview, fitness, self-expression and talent, with half of that score coming from the interview and talent portions.

Perkins described herself as a pageant girl.

“I really love to wear dresses and look pretty,” she said.

She once won the Junior Miss Howard County pageant. Two years ago she was named first runner up in the Miss Howard County pageant, and last year she earned the title of Miss Congeniality there.

This is her first and only chance to be named the Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana, though, since it’s open only to high school seniors. And somehow, this one means more to her than the others.

She declared that it’s her favorite pageant so far.

“Other pageants are about how you look on stage,” she said. “This pageant is really about what’s on the inside, about how you treat others and where your heart is.”

The judges really look at how involved you are in your school and community, she said.

Perkins is a member of the Chapel Hill Christian Church Youth Group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, student council, rotary club and tutoring club. She’s also a varsity cheerleader.

Judges will likely ask her about her involvement in those clubs and about current events during her 10-minute interview with judges.

That panel of five judges has already scored her on scholastics. They looked at her transcript. They know her grades, her SAT scores and even what advanced placement college classes she’s taking.

“They look at it to see who is challenging themselves academically,” she said.

That transcript is worth 20 percent of her overall score.

The song is still what she’s most nervous about.

Marissa Weston of Valparaiso, on the other hand, feels like she’ll cruise through the talent portion of the pageant.

She’ll perform a violin solo that she described as “exciting and flashy.”

Weston has been playing violin since she was 5 years old. She was even a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Someday she’d like to make a living playing in a major orchestra.

So this one solo is no big deal.

“This is probably what I’m most comfortable with,” she said.

She laughed, though, and admitted that she’s still practicing her walk. Walking in high heels on stage isn’t easy, she said.

This is her very first pageant, and she’s not used to the glamour of it all.

“I’m not the kind of girl who walks in heels,” she said. “I prefer flats.”

She’s learning, though, she said. And she will probably continue learning until the competition ends on Saturday night.

“It’s taught me a lot of self-confidence,” she said.

The mission of the program is to promote and reward scholarship, leadership and talent. It’s the oldest and largest national scholarship program for high school girls. It has impacted 700,000 young women from across the United States.

Last year, it provided more than $108 million in cash and college scholarship opportunities to participants.

The program was previously known as America’s Junior Miss but changed its name in 2010.

Perkins said her mom was named Indiana’s Junior Miss in 1990.

She wants to be just like her mom and take the crown – not just for the sake of winning, though.

“I want to be a great leader and the best role model I can be,” she said. “I want to be a light for God.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LindseyZiliak.

WANT TO GO? WHAT: Distinguished Young Women of Indiana competition WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Indiana University Kokomo's Havens Auditorium COST: Tickets for Thursday and Friday are $10 for adults and $8 for students, and tickets Saturday's finals are $15. MORE INFO: To find out more about each of this year's 23 contestants visit http://www.ajm.org/programs/state_n_local_programs/indiana/participants