Sophia Padgett has competed in 15 local Miss America pageants in the past two years. Not only was she crowned Miss IU 2018 on Sunday night, but she now has the chance to serve her community in areas she is passionate about.
"I'm from Bloomington, so it's going to be cool to represent my community," Padgett said. "And it's really cool to represent my University."
Padgett, the sophomore crowned in Alumni Hall, said she participated in the pageant for the chance to win scholarship money and share her background as a Riley kid.
"I came to IU because of IUDM," Padgett said. "I'm going to give my time as Miss IU to Children's Miracle Network."
Padgett, as Miss IU, will spend a year serving the Bloomington community and speaking with prospective students. She will also progress to the Miss Indiana pageant in June, a preliminary to Miss America.
In addition to crowning Miss Indiana University and runners up, the pageant awarded a People’s Choice Award, Miss Congeniality, One Can Make a Difference, Interview Winner and Talent Winner.
All except Miss Congeniality and People’s Choice Award received various amounts of scholarship money. A total of $4,000 in scholarships was awarded to four different contestants.
Along with preparing for interviews, choosing their outfits and practicing their talents, contestants selected platform issues to advance throughout the community if they won.
Padgett's platform was Universal Vaccination Awareness, which she uses to speak about Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
Sophomore contestant Grace Adduci said the opportunity to gain resources to promote her platform, Consider Adoption: Another Option, was the main reason she chose to participate in the pageant.
“It’s about serving a greater purpose,” Adduci said.
In place of admission fees, audience members brought food donations to be donated to Crimson Cupboard, a food pantry.
Each donated item equated one entry in a raffle conducted midway through the competition. A reported 176 items were collected, according to an announcement.
Out of eight contestants this year, six had no prior experience with pageants. Freshman Kaitlyn Savage said she decided to try pageantry after seeing the flyer at the involvement fair last fall.
“In high school, I stayed inside my bubble,” Savage said. “I wanted to try new things here.”
Pageantry at IU organized workshops with Miss Indiana and Miss IU titleholders in January and February of this year to help contestants prepare for the competition.
Freshman Emily Axsom has competed in other pageants, but she said the Miss IU experience is more supportive.
“You all have that IU love,” Axsom said. “There’s less pressure.”
The contestants’ support for each other was evident as they clapped and cheered for one another while rehearsing their talent performances before the pageant.
“All of us will be happy with whoever wins tonight,” Padgett said before the competition.
Teresa White, executive director of Miss IU, said judges evaluate the contestants on preset standards rather than scoring them relative to each other.
“They’re not competing against each other,” White said. “They’re competing against their potential.”
Contestants participated in five competition stages, each having different weight in their final scores. Interviews conducted the morning of the competition were worth 25 percent of the total score, reflecting the importance of the winner being approachable, White said.
The talent portion, which this year ranged from ventriloquism to viola, comprised 30 percent of the total score.
The Evening Gown competition made up 15 percent, and onstage questions were 20 percent of the total score.
The Swimsuit Competition has been reduced to 10 percent of the total score, which White said is remarkable given the pageant’s origins in 1921 as purely a swimsuit competition.
“There are Miss America title holders of all sizes and shapes,” White said.
The first Miss IU pageant occurred in 1946, White said. From there, the event occurred in phases depending on whether an organization sponsored it.
When White noticed there was no Miss IU at a Miss Indiana pageant she judged in 2010, she became determined to help represent the IU community.
“We have really wonderful young women who are smart, clever, beautiful and fun,” White said. “We need to be at the table.”
Out of 36 local Miss America pageants in Indiana, White said Miss IU is the only student-produced pageant.
Liz Langefeld, vice president of Pageantry of IU, said the student organization works several months in advance of the pageant to secure sponsors, fundraise and prepare for the event.
Regardless of their titles, contestants said they have achieved greater confidence throughout the process.
"If you get up and do something scary, and you survive it, you grow from it," White said.
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