And the new Miss Minnesota is …

by Elizabeth Cook

Armed with a bottle of volumizing spray and an arsenal of makeup, Cindy Neseth was ready to start her weekend at 5:30 a.m. Friday.

The 21-year-old University graduate was one of 17 women readying to compete in the 2006 Miss Minnesota Scholarship Pageant last weekend at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the West Bank.

While waiting for coffee and another contestant to get out of the shower, she said she was confident about making the first cut Saturday night, when the judges pick the top eight. They then pick the top five before crowning Miss Minnesota.

“I think that’s a realistic goal,” she said that morning.

As she dumped her makeup on the desk in her hotel room she’s lived in since Sunday, a look of disgust crept across her face.

“It kind of sucks; we have to wear our makeup all day,” she said. “I don’t wear that much makeup normally.”

As Neseth worked on getting ready for the day, a current University Law School student was getting out of bed down the hall.

Jessica Molyneaux, 24, woke a little later because her interview, which is 30 percent of the competition and done out of the public eye, would not occur until 1:30 p.m.

About 6:30 a.m., Molyneaux already had curlers in her hair as she put glue onto her fake eyelashes, staring into the mirror to make sure they went on straight.

At 6:45 a.m. her suitcase was packed, filled with nothing but hair products and more makeup – for later when she might need touch-ups.

By 7 a.m. all the women, clothing and makeup were on a trolley with a sign that read “The Next Miss Minnesota is On This Bus” – a dream each of these women hoped to accomplish.

This isn’t the first time Neseth and Molyneaux have competed together. To participate in Miss Minnesota, the women needed first to win a local pageant. During last year’s Snowflake Days celebration in Coon Rapids, Neseth was crowned Miss Anoka County and Molyneaux Miss Coon Rapids.

Kim Knuttila, the executive director for the Miss Minnesota Scholarship Program, said the opportunity to compete is beneficial to all the women, including those who don’t win.

She said competing teaches skills that can be used later in life when looking for a job.

“They really learn a lot about the interview process,” she said.

All the women also earn scholarship money from their local chapter just for competing, Knuttila said.

The first night

One of the most common misconceptions about pageants is that they’re all just beauty competitions, Neseth said.

But each woman was judged on talents, lifestyle and fitness and a 12-minute, rapid-fire, anything-goes interview.

The audience, which was at least 800-strong this weekend, saw the lifestyle and fitness/bathing suit competition, evening wear and the talent portion, which included singing and tap dancing.

The first night of competition began about 7 p.m., giving everyone time to prepare and get everything perfect, including their smiles. Some contestants have been known to wear Vaseline on their teeth to keep their smiles wide, Neseth said, although she said she never has done that.

Preliminary night was a combination of the Miss Minnesota competition and Miss Minnesota’s Outstanding Teen competition. The show began with a choreographed dance including both pageants’ contestants.

All the women and girls wore white pants, skirts or capris, with either an orange, pink, yellow or green shirt. Last year’s winners – Karyn Stordahl (Miss) and Giselle Ugarte (Teen) wore black.

Seated at a table before the stage, Michael Hurley took a break from his regular job as a CIA officer to judge the competition along with five others.

After each contestant introduced herself, the lifestyle and fitness section began, and Neseth strutted across the stage in a bright orange bathing suit.

After each took and exited the stage, they quickly got into gowns for the talent part of the show.

Molyneaux heard much applause when she sang “Nessun Dorma” in a long pink dress, holding her arms out to the crowd on her final high note.

Singing is one of the major reasons she became involved in pageants, Molyneaux said.

Neseth also sang a little jazzier and sassier number called “Big Time,” but said music is not what brings her to the pageant.

Her platform, which is an issue each woman chooses and will work toward improving in the state if she wins, she said, is something rather personal.

When she was 19, she was put on high blood pressure medication and realized the importance of staying healthy.

Her platform is “Fit for Life: Helping Children Form Healthy Habits That Last a Lifetime,” which helps kids work out, eat right and feel better about themselves.

Molyneaux’s platform “Street Law: Helping Youth Stay on the Right Path,” teaches children about making safe and smart decisions.

As the evening continued on, the women showed off their dresses. Molyneaux chose a long, golden, shiny dress while Neseth went for a white strapless.

Crowning a winner

Not everyone can be a winner and Saturday night the time came to crown the next Miss Minnesota.

While Neseth did not accomplish her goal of getting into the top eight, Molyneaux did.

By this point in the evening, families and friends were starting to scream more loudly for their favorite, glow sticks began waving more quickly and signs with contestant’s faces were held a little higher.

The next cut came, bringing it down to five girls – including Molyneaux – and the women came out in business suits for their final, onstage interview.

Each woman was asked one fun question and one question about her platform issue.

Molyneaux talked about the book she created for children that teaches them how to make good decisions.

When the interviews ended, the tension was thick and the room silent as the audience waited to hear the winner.

The fourth runner-up was Grace Pellow, Miss Heart of the Lakes, and the third runner-up was Angela McDermott, Miss Austin.

The second runner-up was Molyneaux, Miss Coon Rapids. A smile crossed her face as her name was called and she stepped over to the side of the stage.

First runner-up was Pamela Chapman, Miss Winona. And Miss Minnesota is now Nicole Swanson, Miss Twin Cities.

Screaming and clapping filled the theater as Swanson bent down for her crown. She waved just before all the contestants ran up to hug her. She now will compete for the Miss America crown.

Because of her age, she said, this will be Molyneaux’s last

competition, but the $1,000 Miss America Community Service award winner said the whole week leading up to the competition was enjoyable.

Neseth said she also enjoyed the competition, but it did wear her out.

“It went well,” she said, “but (it was) very tiring.”