Before Melinda Scott walked away with the 2003 Miss Springfield crown, the friends and family providing inspiration stageside and peering down from the second floor proved to be an asset. She used the familiarity for her advantage.
"I have friends in the balcony," Melinda said. "You kind of think ‘It's just them,’ so you’re not as nervous."
The faces peering over the edge or the sign waving from the floor showed the spirit of the community event as Scott was crowned, Jennifer Sledd was first runner-up and Sarah Boschung was named Miss Congeniality as well as second runner-up. Keith Ross and Nathaniel Waddell were part of a second-floor cheering squad for contestant Amanda Sperling.
"Amanda's real hyped," Ross said. "she lost last year. She's back for revenge."
Jessica McKesey watched her friend Katie Miglin. She's planning to enter the contest next year.
"This is a great opportunity," she said. "I think I would, I'm interested in next year."
Alicia Henry didn't find out about the pageant until it was too late. Her friends from Lee High School, Tina Montgomery and Katie Miglin, looked like they were having fun.
"We see a lot of familiar faces," Alicia said. "My mom has been yelling at me that I didn't do it."
Shannon Myers, Miss Springfield 2002, knew how important it was to have the cheering squad in the audience.
"It makes you feel good to know somebody's out there," she said.
Divya Singh was in her second pageant. She made sure she had some support in the audience.
"I told everyone," she said. "A lot of people are here to cheer me on."
Kyle Freesland has been in a few Miss Springfield competitions, but not this year's. Each time, in the five that she was in from 1996-2000, she brought a cheering squad also.
"It's nice to have someone cheering for you," Freesland said. "It's better to have your family and friends than just a few people clapping."
HIDING THE NERVES was a tough feat, as well. Jennifer Sledd was the last of the 20 contestants to go up for the question-and-answer session. The roster totaled 21 until Jessica Guyer dropped out. Jennifer had a secret way to combat the nerves with deep breaths.
"I'm last. It gives you more chance to get nervous," she said.
Pageant organizer and mall marketing specialist Latisha Click has put on several pageants in the past, so she's seen the nervousness. She thought the big crowd, which was estimated at twice the size of last year’s, added to the jitters.
"When they knew this crowd was going to be here, they're nervous," Click said. "I think it's doubled since last year."
Myers knew what those "butterflies" were like as well.
"Once you walk off, they just disappear," she said.
After the 20 contestants did the song-and-dance routine, the evening gown and the question-and-answer, the judges made their decision. The trophies and flowers came out, as well as the oversized checks for the winners. The winner received $1,000 in scholarship money and the title; first runner-up received $300 scholarship money; second runner-up received $200; and Miss Congeniality received a trophy.
Melinda Scott, 17, had plans for her platform as Miss Springfield over the next year. She is a currently a senior at Lee High School and will attend George Mason University in the fall. Her childhood included living with a foster family, so she wants to make a difference.
"I'd like to do something involving youth," she said, but her immediate plans that night were a little more down to earth.
"I'm going to go out and eat. I love to socialize," she said.