Thirteen vying to become the new Miss Delaware

Delaware Gov. John C. Carney Jr. met with the 13 contestants vying to be the next Miss Delaware and this year’s Miss Delaware Chelsea Bruce at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

LEWES — On Saturday night, 13 young women will take the stage at Cape Henlopen High School to vie for the title of Miss Delaware 2018.

Each contestant will be scored on an interview, an on-stage question, evening wear, fitness in swimsuit and talent, with talent making up 35 percent of the total score.

Miss Diamond State, Taylor Johnson of Laurel, 23, got into the pageants because she loves to perform. Her talent is singing, something she’s been doing since she was a little girl.

Taylor Johnson

“I had a friend who competed at Miss Delaware 2015 and I fell in love with the performance aspect when I went to go support her,” she said.

Ms. Johnson will perform “Trip to the Library” from the musical “She Loves Me,” which she learned when transferring to Salisbury University in 2016.

The stage also feels like home to Miss New Castle County, Rebecca Bristow, of Bridgeville. Now studying at the University of Delaware, she has acted on stage and participated in musical theatre most her life and even attended schools for the performing arts.

Now in its 77th year, the Miss Delaware Pageant, which despite the title isn’t just about beauty, it’s about talent, community service and maybe most importantly, scholarships.

The winner of the pageant is awarded a $10,000 scholarship to be used at the college or university of their choice and none of the contestants leave the pageant with less than $300 in scholarship funds. In all, the pageant doles out approximately $30,000 in scholarships.

The winner of Miss Delaware will head to the Miss America Pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she will receive a minimum of $3,000 in scholarships, a very valuable prize for any of the contestants as they are all either in college or recent graduates.

Miss Delaware Pageant co-executive director George W. Lee said one of the most valuable skills contestants gain from the pageant are improvements in their interview skills and their overall self confidence.

“Many of our contestants have gone on to be very successful in many different fields and I think preparing for the interview portion of the pageant is very helpful when it comes to furthering your career because aside from being a well-rounded individual, you have to present yourself in an interview and these girls know how to do that.”

This will be final year of a swimsuit competition on the state level as the Miss America Pageant said earlier this month they would discontinue that part of the competition.

Ms. Johnson said that at the start of her time in pageants, she was just out of high school and still trying to find herself.

Jenna Hitchens

“Competing helped me find myself, and gave me a confidence I never dreamed I would have. I believe that anything is possible, and believe in positive outcomes only,” she said.

While some contestants have only recently begun competing in pageants, others like Miss Atlantic Coast, Jenna Hitchens, of Georgetown, have been participating since early childhood.

“My mom entered me in pageants when I was only 1 and I was the child that cried when you took her off the stage,” she said. “All of the girls I’ve met along the way have been amazing, but my favorite part has been the growth I went through.”

The girls also get a confidence boost from the friends, family and supporters Mr. Lee said fill the room at every year’s pageant.

Each of the contestants have a platform, a cause that they are passionate about that winning Miss Delaware would give them an opportunity to promote.

Many of the women have a strong personal connection to their platform like Ms. Johnson, whose platform is melanoma awareness because her mother is a Stage 3 melanoma cancer survivor and Ms. Hitchens’ “Victor to Victim” platform of helping sexual abuse victims find their voice as she herself is a victim.

“It’s not only my platform but my passion because I am a sexual abuse survivor. I know what it’s like to feel powerless and ashamed and I don’t want another victim to ever feel that way,” she said.

“I would use the title to start the conversation. Sexual abuse is an uncomfortable subject, but one that needs to be addressed. The statistics are staggering, we need to show victims they aren’t to blame.”

Other Downstate contestants are Miss Hockessin, Rebecca Gasperetti, of Magnolia and Miss Pike Creek, Danielle Taylor, of Lewes.

Every year, past Miss Delaware winners are invited back to the pageant to celebrate milestones of their crowning. This year’s guests include Miss Delaware 1998, Jody Kelly, Miss Delaware 2003, Erin Elizabeth Williams and Miss Delaware 2008, Galen Giaccone Cullen.

Rebecca Bristow

Many of the contestants including Ms. Hitchens and Ms. Bristow participated in Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen before moving on to the Miss Delaware pageant.

The Outstanding Teen pageant takes place tonight, also at Cape Henlopen High School, and the 10-contestant field features four contestants from Kent and Sussex counties among the field

Sixteen-year-old Jenna Anger of Bridgeville is a rising junior at Sussex Technical High School and has been participating in pageants since the age of 6 when she competed in and won Miss Little Apple Scrapple in 2008.

She will be performing a tap dance to “Bad” by Michael Jackson and has chosen “Smarter Smiles” as her platform — a dental outreach program she created that provides youth with the information and guidance they need to achieve confident smiles.

Competing alongside her is a fellow Sussex Tech student, Miss Wilmington’s Outstanding Teen, Gigi Gijanto who will be performing a musical selection on the harp as her talent. Her platform is “CPR: Children with the Power to Rescue,” a program where she teaches children how to access emergency services, perform CPR and use an AED since she learned these things at a young age, surrounded by family members working in the medical field.

Tonight’s Outstanding Teen and Saturday’s Miss Delaware Pageant both start at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the tonight’s pageant are $40 for adults and $20 for children under 12. Tickets for Saturday’s pageant are $40 for the mezzanine section and $50 for the orchestra section.

For tickets and more information about the pageant and its contestants, visit missde.org.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

Miss Delaware 2017 Chelsea Bruce assumes the mantle from Miss Delaware 2016 Amanda Debus at last year’s ceremony. (Delaware State News file photo)

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