When her daughter wanted to see what the pageant world was like, Sun Prairie resident Penny Bernard and her husband Tom said no.
“I dragged my feet,” Penny said. “I was very hesitant just not knowing.”
With catty pageant television shows making a splash at about the same time, she was convinced it was going to be bad news. Then, she relented, and her daughter, Lexi, entered her first pageant.
“It’s been a very positive experience, and I would never have thought that when we started this journey,” Penny said.
After five years and many pageants, the now 17-year-old Sun Prairie High School senior said its been a positive, rewarding experience.
“It’s such a positive environment,” Lexi said. “I’ve been in a lot of sports and a lot of activities, and I’ve never experienced anything like being in a pageant setting and that much positivity.”
Since the pageant weekends are all about the girls, getting their hair and make up done, wearing pretty dresses and being on stage, everyone is in a good mood, Lexi said.
“You feel awesome, so you project that energy to other girls,” she said.
For that reason, she said everyone, the other participants, their families and staff, are always smiling and cheering each other on, Lexi said.
“The thing I like best about the pageants is all the girls she meets… are very nice girls,” Penny said. “We didn’t see any of the stuff we saw on TV.”
Lexi has been involved in big pageants, like National American Miss and Dream Girls USA, as well as others.
In addition to the positive environment, Lexi said she can see herself change too.
“You become a more well-rounded person… and I think those are the things that are really going to propel me in my later life,” she said.
After high school, she plans to go to college for engineering, with her dream set to be an imagineer for Walt Disney.
For now, the confidence she’s learned for the stage appears in her every day life as well, in school, at work and as a dancer, Penny said. Being able to articulate herself for the judges interview, which is what most of her pageant score is weighted on, transfers to her conversations.
The list continues with being able to present her professionally and display maturity, Penny said.
“Every part of my life has changed because of pageants,” Lexi said.
And, as she sets her sites to the bigger competitions, like the Miss America or Miss United States pageants, she knows she has to build up her credentials.
“These are smart girls. They’re nice girls. They’re talented; they’re the full package,” Lexi said. “Everything you’d want in a best friend.”
For instance, 2015 Miss America Kira Kazantsev is in two honors societies, placed on the dean’s list and received a scholarship from her college, Hofstra University, for being a high achiever. She is working to a Juris doctorate and master’s degree is business administration, all to be an international diplomat.
Now that she’s Miss America, she has taken a year off from college to volunteer and travel constantly to help promote her platform, which is Love shouldn’t hurt: Protecting women against domestic violence.
“I think the biggest aspect of pageants that is so over looked is how much community service and work these girls do as title holders,” Lexi said. “It’s such a hard job to do, but it’s probably the most rewarding job.”
Lexi most recently competed in National American Miss Wisconsin in August and placed runner-up. She was invited to the All American National Miss pageant in Hollywood Calif., but chose not to compete.