MOUNT VERNON — For the 36th year, the Ohio’s Junior Miss scholarship program kicked off at the Memorial Theater on Friday evening, emceed by Dana Ullom-Vucelich. The 2009 winner will be the 51st to represent Ohio in the America’s Junior Miss program in Mobile, Ala., in June.
The 29 contestants, one of the largest classes in the program’s recent history, were presented with the theme of Silhouettes: This One is for the Girls, the stage decorated with silhouettes on a pink background.
The 2008 OJM, Lauren Gessner, sang “Breath of Heaven,” an Amy Grant number, as Maria Crippen performed an expressive dance in accompaniment. Crippen is the 2009 first runner-up for Central Knox County Junior Miss.
Wearing T’s and capris, the Blue Group, divided into two because of the large number of contestants, performed a heart-pumping fitness routine to increasingly fast tempos.
The Red Group gave an impressive presentation of its many and varied talents, including Nikki Lindsey, Southern Lawrence County’s Junior Miss, in a gymnatics-tumbling-cheer routine that included multiple backflips across the stage.
Hope Brill, Central Knox County’s Junior Miss, barefoot and clad in a flowing dress, drew a portrait of her cousin while telling the story of Carol Ann Durbin’s adoption from China.
Brill described the event as “a single act that changed so many lives,” and said it “proved to be an enormous blessing on my family.”
Daralyn Baldogo of Southern Franklin County performed a fluid hula dance that audience members, deep in a central Ohio February, found refreshing.
The curtain remained raised between acts, generating occasional spontaneous applause for the all-volunteer backstage crew moving props into place and back out again.
For the Self-Expression portion of the program, the Blue Group performed a choreographed routine, then answered questions members received only moments before. The questions included role models, politicians, pride in America, Internet censorship, drinking and voting ages and other weighty issues. The contestants answered their questions with verve and poise.
Yelena Arishina, Central Knox County Junior Miss, said she worked for the campaign of President Barack Obama and found that “he inspired me as a politician and as a person.”
Jessica Williams of Vinton County, asked whose shoes she would want to walk in, said “Martin Luther King ... and I hope to have an impact on history someday.”
Cheri Butcher, OJM state chairwoman, presented an official framed photo portrait of Gessner to her parents, Larry and Renee Gessner.
Presentation of the preliminary awards was made with the Junior Misses on stage. The Service Above Self Leadership Award finalists were Erika Blake, Central Licking County Junior Miss, and Holly McKimmins, Northern Licking County Junior Miss. The overall Service Above Self/Leadership Award went to Brandy Alexander, Dublin’s Junior Miss.
Arishina won the annual Stephen Zelkowitz Communication Award.
The Be Your Best Self finalist awards went to McKimmins and Katie Yates of Northern Lucas County. Baldogo was named overall winner. This year’s Be Your Best Self Award was sponsored by the Ohio Junior Miss Board in memory of Cindy and Sarah Pressler. The five elements of the award are: Be healthy, be involved, be studious, be ambitious and be responsible.
The traditional Friday night Fun Finale began with host dads dressed as tough guys, dancing to “Bad to the Bone,” which elicited cheers from the audience. They were then joined on stage by the OJM contestants, clad in skinny jeans, sexy tops, colorful bandannas and boots, dancing to Gessner’s rendition of “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”
Obviously enjoying themselves, the entire group broke into a spontaneous dance the audience loved. And because the America’s Junior Miss program, in which the Ohio winner will compete with Junior Misses from every state, is scheduled for June 25 to 27 in Mobile, Ala., the program ended with everyone dancing to “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Today’s show begins at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Theater. Tickets will be available one hour beforehand.