Serial Beauty Queen

One woman offers an inside look at the pageant circuit and her drive to earn a national crown
Sunday, January 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:40 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

On the second day of the Miss Missouri USA pageant, Miss Columbia 2003 Kelley Rohlfing eased into the competition but still felt slightly confounded by its unfamiliar rhythm. The format departed radically from her usual pageant routine. For one thing, the swimsuit and evening gown competitions preceded the interview, and meeting the judges after they had sized her up onstage struck Kelley as odd. Instead of the in-depth group interview, she got four-minute stints with each judge. Still, she was getting the hang of it, and the vague anxiety she felt gradually melted.

The weeks before the pageant had been punctuated by bouts of insecurity. Did her body look good enough? Were her legs toned enough? She had been bracing for an on-stage standoff with a few pageant friends and fellow contestants who crossed over from the Miss Missouri America pageant who she knew would be tough competition.

But on a Saturday before the pageant, she awoke at 4 a.m. and realized she was looking at it all wrong.

“It’s not that I have to beat 30 girls; it’s just that I have to win,” she thought.

And winning fit Kelley like her pageant dresses. By age 23, she had won six of the 14 or so pageants she had entered since she began her pageant spree in high school. She was still on a roll, squeezing workouts, wardrobe hunts and interview practice in between her job working with 400 Girl Scout volunteers, her own volunteer work and filling out graduate school applications.

Her momentum had taken her on a detour from her familiar Miss Missouri America trail into the parallel pageant world of Miss USA, which she was navigating with her usual verve.

Kelley had heard the rumor in Miss America circles that women won Miss Missouri USA because they looked good in a swimsuit. But she knew she could stand her ground.

That momentum started five years ago and moved her past her first title to the first time she gave up a pageant crown, when she had thought with a mixture of sadness and self-derision, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to win myself something new.” Just two weeks before the Miss Missouri USA contest, she gave up a pageant crown for the sixth time in the emotional finale to a competition that she knew inside and out.

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003, 7 p.m., Columbia Center for Performing Arts auditorium: Miss Columbia 2004 rehearsal

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