By AKANKSHA SAH
In America, pageants come in all shapes and sizes. Each year, Americans eagerly await everything from beauty pageants to dog fashion pageants. In November 2007, Jordan Somer stepped into this expanse of pageants with her own idea. Her groundbreaking creation, Miss Amazing, is a unique pageant reserved for girls and women with disabilities or special needs. This pageant is run entirely by volunteers, and its mission is to help disabled people gain confidence, social skills and a greater sense of community through public speaking and talent.
The competition is open to disabled girls and women from ten to thirty-five years of age, who can compete in one of six age groups. Girls from five to nine years of age can also participate in a part of the show to help ease into the competition in later years. Women ages thirty-six and older also have an opportunity to participate, taking part in their own section of the show and helping the younger participants with aspects of the pageant. Miss Amazing, in keeping with its inclusive spirit, does not limit its participants just to females, though. Disabled boys and men can take part in the show as escorts for the girls and women during the evening gown part of the pageant.
In the Miss Amazing pageant, while one girl is selected from each age group to be crowned queen, every participant is crowned princess, and each gets a prize. Each is judged on four different events: interview, introduction, evening wear and talent. During the interview, a panel of judges asks each participant some questions about herself, helping her develop communication skills. In the introduction, each participant (or her representative) states her name, age and interests for the audience, developing public speaking skills. In the evening wear section, boys and men can participate as escorts, and the competitors walk in their evening gowns with their escorts in front of the audience, improving self-confidence. Finally, in the talent showcase, each participant gets two minutes to perform a talent routine of her choice, building an appreciation for her own abilities. Each event is carefully planned out to offer the most wholesome experience for everyone involved.
One of the main goals of Miss Amazing is to include everyone – both in the pageant and in the greater community. To ensure no one is left out of the competition because of a lack of funds, the only entrance fee is five cans of non-perishable food, which are donated to local soup kitchens. Not only does this policy allow everyone to participate but it also allows participants to give back to the community and complete the “circle of giving.”
California’s state director for Miss Amazing, Karen Stagliano, shared her story about what caused her to join the organization: “My own daughter, Isabella Stagliano, who is now 13, has a minor verbal processing delay. Through doing spokesmodel pageants, she became dedicated to wanting to work harder at speaking better. She saw Jordan Somer receive a Nickelodeon Halo award grant on TV, and was inspired to volunteer. Since California didn’t already have a Miss Amazing director, Isabella asked me to apply, and I was chosen to become the California director.”
At this point, everyone running the pageant, including Stagliano, is a volunteer. When asked how others can get involved with the pageant, she said, “We ask for help from all kinds of volunteers – people who are willing to help the participants feel pampered with hair and makeup services during the event weekend, volunteers who help find donations and sponsors for the event.” Stagliano further explained that people with disabilities are not just limited to being competitors. She said that “a person with a disability could volunteer with Miss Amazing in whatever way that they are able. I have a queen named Natalie who is a wonderful woman. In 2014, she won the age division of the oldest age division that has a queen’s title. Natalie and her mother have already stepped up to the position of being volunteers with California Miss Amazing, and I look forward to having them be a part of Miss Amazing for many years to come.”
Stagliano stated that the most rewarding part of being in this organization is being able to see and help people improve their lives through self-confidence. She shared two especially memorable experiences, saying, “I’ve been inspired so many of the California Miss Amazing participants. Krystal, one of my former queens, has earned a college degree in special needs education and is working towards finding a job working with children that have special needs. Isabelle is a young teen who started with Miss Amazing 3 years ago and was initially so shy that she was barely able to speak audibly into a microphone onstage. Recently, she’s modeled in charity fashion shows, and has been determined to not let her diagnosis of autism define who she is.”
Each participating state has its own local pageant. California’s just recently passed on February 28 – March 1 at the DoubleTree at the Orange County Airport. For everyone other than the participants, admission required a donation of $10 or more, contributing to a fund that will be distributed to local charities. Miss Amazing is truly an amazing pageant – one that is run by and includes amazing people.
Miss Amazing’s website: http://missamazingpageant.com/
California Miss Amazing’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaMissAmazing