Miss Missouri is all smiles after national pageant

Sunday, February 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:50 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sarah French picked out her evening dress and song for Monday’s Miss America talent competition with help from her grandfather. But just weeks before the pageant, he died.

French was devastated. For a moment, she thought she might not compete at all.

“My grandfather was my best friend,” French said. “I’m proud of myself for overcoming (his death) and taking it and using it to the best of my ability to compete.”

Although she didn’t make the top 10, she did make 51 new best friends.

French was part of the first group of contestants in the history of the Miss America pageant to meet each other before the competition. The group first met in Los Angeles in September to film the Country Music Television reality show, “Finding Miss America.” Meeting each other before the competition gave the contestants time to see each other as people instead of competitors.

French is not the only Miss Missouri to make friends during the competition. French said previous Miss Missouri winners have had other Miss America contestants as bridesmaids.

The competition was not nearly as vicious as the scheduling, French said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how they keep you on the go 24-7,” she said. “They have you getting up at 6:30 every morning making appearances, then we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until about midnight. Then we still have to get our things together for the show the next day.”

When French did not hear her name called in the top 10, she said she was disappointed at first.

But, she said, “It doesn’t mean that I did badly or poorly, I just wasn’t what they were looking for this year.”

French was the winner of the Miss America Smile Award, an honor that her friends said she deserves.

“She really does have the best smile and it’s exciting that she got recognized,” said Meredith Schultze, a member of French’s sorority.

French said she is proud of herself for making it to the national competition.

“It’s more likely to have a son in the Super Bowl than a daughter in Miss America,” she said.

David French, Sarah’s father, recognizes that.

“We wish she could have been top 10,” he said. “But she’s done a lot and she had a great time and so did we.”

The Miss America crown went to Lauren Nelson of Oklahoma.

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