SEASIDE — Rachel Berry captured the Miss Oregon crown Saturday night, but it wasn’t without drama.
Every time she made the cut as contestants were winnowed down to the finale, her name was the last one announced.
“It was nerve-wracking being called last each time – man, I about died five times over. But I am just so excited. I’ve worked really hard for this moment,” she said. “I just can’t believe it happened.”
Berry, Miss Willamette Valley, defeated 22 young women in the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. She will compete in the Miss America Pageant Jan. 12 in Las Vegas.
Born in Indiana, 24-year-old Berry has made the West Coast her home. She graduated from Chapman University in Orange County, Calif., with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in television and broadcast journalism. She aspires to be the first female host of “The Tonight Show.”
Berry initially participated in pageants to raise scholarship money for college. The Miss Oregon Scholarship Program offered more than $452,000 in cash and tuition scholarships this year. With the Miss Oregon title, Berry won a $10,000 cash scholarship. She also received a $1,000 cash scholarship as a Top 5 semi-finalist and another $1,000 cash scholarship award for over-all best interview.
“It’s been a huge assistance to finishing my degree and now hopefully going on to get my master’s. But also,” she added, “I want to be Miss America!”
Saturday night also saw 22 contestants vie for Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen. Marli Martin, Miss Jackson County Teen, 14, from Central Point, took the title. She will compete in the national Miss Outstanding Teen competition in August in Orlando, Fla.
“I didn’t believe it at first. I had to catch my breath and really take it all in because you don’t know what to think,” Martin said.
Maddyson Hargrave-Carter was selected as the 2012 Miss Oregon Princess. The Miss Oregon Princess Program is a mentoring program for young girls ages 6 to 12, and winners’ names are randomly drawn.
Sydney Dufka, Miss Clatsop County, did not place in the Miss Oregon event; Giselle Pincetich, Miss Clatsop County Teen, and Hannah Bacon, Miss North Coast Teen, did not place in the Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen competition.
There are three levels in the Miss America Organization that contestants age 17 to 24 participate in. The women first compete in county pageants, which run in Oregon from January to May. Then the county winners compete in the state Miss Oregon pageant. Finally, Miss Oregon competes at the national level, where Miss America is crowned.
“It’s a year-long process, and this community is so incredible,” said Dana Phillips, executive director of the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program.
In May, the Miss Oregon contestants attended an intense 2½ day camp to prepare for the state pageant, working on everything from interview skills, production numbers and how to deal with legislators to walking and grooming, according to Nancy McCune, secretary of the executive board of the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program.
“It’s all the things young ladies sometimes need a little refresher on,” McCune said.
The preliminary competition Wednesday and Thursday saw the 23 Miss Oregon contestants split into two groups, switching between performing talent, evening wear, swim wear and interviews.
Friday gave the young women the day off, during which the Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen and Princess preliminaries shared the stage.
Saturday afternoon’s Miss Oregon Pageant Parade drew crowds to downtown Seaside. Though the weather was gray and threatened rain, the parade was dry.
“It has never rained on the Miss Oregon parade,” Phillips said.
It stopped sprinkling when the first young woman got into the first Corvette, stayed dry as the convertibles carried the contestants down Broadway led by reigning Miss Oregon 2011 Caroline McGowan, and only started again after the last woman got out of the last car, according to Phillips. Teens and Princesses walked with banners in the parade.
Saturday night’s crowning competition kicked off with a country-pop musical number. Contestants were introduced amid pink and blue lights on the white and steel stage.
In a surprising twist, there was a tie for the last spot in the Top 10. Scores were determined from the preliminaries, so the Top 10 became a Top 11.
“Most states would break the tie, and we want to honor the young ladies,” Phillips said. “Yes, that means more scholarship money, but that’s what this program is all about.”
The Top 11 contestants each had 90 seconds to showcase their talent selections. Berry tap danced to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” a 1936 instrumental swing song popularized by Benny Goodman.
Then the Top 11 were narrowed to five based on their talent, swim and evening wear displays.
Fourth runner-up was Allison Cook, Miss City of Sunshine, who won a $1,500 cash scholarship. Third runner-up was Shalese Curle, Miss Coos County, who won a $2,000 cash scholarship as well as Miss Congeniality’s $500 cash scholarship. Second runner-up was Kayla Bowker, Miss Klamath County, who received a $2,500 cash scholarship and the $2,500 Spirit of Katie Scholarship in honor of Katie Harman, the only Miss Oregon to be crowned Miss America. First runner-up was Nichole Mead, Miss Three Rivers, who received a $3,500 cash scholarship.
Berry was crowned Miss Oregon 2012 by her predecessor McGowan.
As Miss Oregon, Berry will be the spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, participate in charity fundraising and appear at numerous state events.
She hopes to spread her current platform, Girls Inc., which is in about 30 schools in the Portland area, across the state. Girls Inc. is an afterschool program that helps empower young women.
Miss America contestants dedicate a total of more than 500,000 hours to community service, according to the group.
“Our young ladies are very active,” Phillips said. “We call ourselves a pageant family. It’s a long line of active women.”
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.