Kayla Byler / Lantern photographer
For Cayla Hellwarth, pageants are about more than styling her blonde hair and parading around on stage in a bathing suit or glistening gown. It is an opportunity to online shop and most importantly, to compete for scholarship money.
Hellwarth, from Celina, Ohio, is a second-year in marketing and international business at Ohio State. She was also Miss Lake Festival in 2009 and Miss West Central Ohio in 2010, titles that granted her an opportunity to compete for the crown of Miss Ohio in 2010 and for a second time this June.
Miss Ohio is a statewide pageant between 25 Ohio pageant queens ages 17-24 and is a part of the Miss America program. Miss Ohio contestants must first win a local competition, such as Miss Lake Festival or Miss West Central Ohio, to compete to represent their state.
If crowned Miss Ohio, the contestant automatically represents her state in Miss America.
“A woman may compete at the state level more than once, but may only compete in the national Miss America competition one time,” according to the Miss America website.
Hellwarth participated in her first pageant when she was 18 in an effort to earn scholarship money at Miss Lake Festival in Mercer County, Ohio.
The rookie was crowned Miss Lake Festival and awarded $4,800, qualifying her to compete in Miss Ohio in June 2010. She did not have any extensive duties with the title, but was required to attend events at the Lake Festival.
Like most pageants, Miss Lake Festival required contestants to promote a “platform” in its preliminaries. Hellwarth chose to promote the American Red Cross.
Preliminaries also include a swimsuit competition, evening wear, talent, an onstage question-and-answer portion and an interview with judges, Hellwarth said.
Choosing a talent wasn’t difficult for Hellwarth as she has been singing since she was 4 years old. She also took voice lessons in sixth grade.
Her father, Dan Hellwarth, a veterinarian and OSU alumnus, is also a vocalist and sang in the Men’s Glee Club while at OSU.
Hellwarth sings “Gira Con Me” by Josh Groban in Italian for her talent, although she doesn’t speak the language.
“I just kind of learn it (the song) how you learn every other word. The hard part is grasping the meaning of the song,” she said, adding that she is enrolled in Italian at OSU.
Talent is her favorite portion of the competition, she said. Cayla’s second favorite portion is the swimsuit round.
“You get that upbeat song and just go out there and have fun with it,” she said.
In the swimsuit competition, judges award points partly on physical fitness, but more on confidence, Cayla said.
Aside from being her daughter’s support system, Dawn Hellwarth, her mother, said she does most of Cayla’s pageant shopping for her online.
“We try to find gowns from other pageant girls to save expenses since we are trying to get scholarship money,” Dawn said.
Cayla and her mom found her Miss Ohio evening gown on Craigslist.
“The girl only wore it once,” Cayla said.
Miss Ohio spans five days with four days of preliminaries. Finals are held on a Saturday where the top 10 finalists are announced.
“It is quite a production,” Dawn said. “There is a huge crowd with the most talented girls and locals across the state competing.”
Cayla was not recognized in the top 10 last year, but received two non-finalist awards for talent and classical talent awarding her $900.
After her defeat she went after another crown at Miss West Central Ohio in August 2010.
“Once you get in it you’re kind of stuck,” Cayla said. “You get in the competition mode.”
The Miss West Central Ohio is a pageant between Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Henry, Hardin, Logan, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Wood and Van Wert counties.
She snatched the Miss West Central Ohio crown and was awarded $1,000, qualifying her to compete for the title of Miss Ohio for a second time. Miss West Central Ohio does not have any strict expectations or duties, she said.
“What you do for the year is what you put into it,” Cayla said. She made an effort to promote her American Red Cross platform sponsoring a few singing competitions to fundraise for the organization and also working at blood drives.
Cayla said she thinks having previous experience at Miss Ohio will help her prepare for the competition in June because she knows what to expect.
Cayla said she has been working out, eating healthy and preparing for her interview portion. Dawn said she conducts mock interviews with Cayla at home, quizzing her on current events.
“They can ask you anything and it’s the first impression judges have on you, so you want them to remember you,” Cayla said.
Cayla is an active member of Block-O and was recently chosen as director of membership for the organization. She is also a member of the American Red Cross Club in conjunction with her pageant platform.
“It’s busy with classes and driving home two hours for appearances, but it’s been nice because it teaches me how to balance my time,” Cayla said.
Cayla’s peers notice her ability to juggle a hectic schedule.
“Cayla handles her time very well,” said Michael Cozzi, a fourth-year in sports and leisure studies and 2010 football coordinator of Block-O.
Cozzi said Cayla was elected as membership director because the position needs someone who is excited and reaches out to others.
“I never had any thought of being in pageants,” Cayla said.
Cayla said that in high school, she was “the jock type,” since she played soccer and basketball and ran track, but she said now she is “the girly type.”
Cayla intends to participate in pageants for the “long run” and is already imagining the possibility of running for Miss America, if crowned Miss Ohio.
“It would open so many opportunities,” she said.