Junior Miss isn’t what it used to be.
The girls have more talent, more confidence and much, much more on their plates.
When Junior Miss was launched in the early 1970s, about 25 high school juniors cleared their schedules for two months of preparation for the pageant. Now, with teen schedules more packed than ever before, the number of practices and competitors has dropped by half, said Bob Haupt, who has chaired the pageant since its beginning here in 1971.
But that hasn’t changed Haupt’s and other Junior Miss volunteers’ mission to offer the 11 girls who will compete in Saturday’s pageant a chance to gain life skills and win $4,500 in scholarships.
"This program builds their self-esteem, which makes them better all-round people," he said. "And that’s the goal."
Last year’s Junior Miss winners, Theresa Hoang and Kelsie Pombo, will pass on their pageant sashes to two new girls.
Preparation for Junior Miss started four weeks ago with weekly practices. The girls learned a dance routine under the direction of Rene Fagundes-Coggins, Tracy’s first Junior Miss.
She’s helped choreograph dances at local and state Junior Miss competitions for the past 37 years and has watched the teens’ talent skyrocket.
"When we first started, you may have a singer or (pianist) that weren’t very good," Fagundes-Coggins said. "Kids are just so much more advanced now."
Nicole and Alyssa Sterni, the first twins to compete in the pageant, will each show off their jazz dance moves as part of the talent exhibition, which counts for 20 percent of contestants’ final scores.
The two have anticipated taking the stage in Junior Miss since they saw a friend compete two years ago. Knowing the reputation of most pageants, Nicole thought practice and the competition would be stressful and cutthroat.
"We just have fun," she said. "It feels like we’re all in it together."
A panel of five judges, all from Junior Miss programs outside the county, will interview each girl before the evening competition. The interview counts for 25 percent of the final scores. The group dance routine makes up 15 percent, grade-point average is 20 percent, overall self-expression is 20 percent and talent rounds out the total.
Another constant in Junior Miss history is that the judges cringe at the phrase "beauty pageant." The teen girls don’t prance on stage in swimsuits, as the contestants do in the Miss America pageant, explained Haupt, who has judged hundreds of pageants throughout the state.
He said judges don’t rate girls merely on appearance, either.
"What you’re looking for is a well-rounded (contestant)," he said before Monday evening’s practice. "We’re trying to send these girls off to succeed in the world. A well-rounded girl will succeed."
Ilah Estrada, Tracy High
Xiomara Fonseca, Tracy High
Alysha Garrett, West High
Pilar Gigliasso, Tracy High
Lauren Knapp, Tracy High
Melissa Lopez, West High
Alena Skelton, Tracy High
Alyssa Sterni, West High
Nicole Sterni, West High
Lindsey Thompson, Tracy High
Mitra Vijeh, West High
At a glance
WHAT: Tracy Junior Miss pageant
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Emma Baumgardner Theater at Tracy High School, 315 E. 11th St.
INFO: Bob Haupt, 835-4587 or 479-1110