By SARAH HITE firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha LaNunziata, 13, of Trucksville, and Mason Palissery, 15, of Dallas, held hands while they danced and lip synced to songs on the radio.
Mikayla Orrson, a junior at Lake-Lehman High School, prepares her make-up for the Miss Luzerne County Outstanding Teen Pageant. Orrson was the third runner-up in the contest.
Miss Luzerne County Outstanding Teen - Rebecca Zaneski of Edwardsville
Won a $250 scholarship, official crown and crown box, flowers, banner, evening gown, entry fees to state competition, Mary Kay beauty products and hair care
First runner up ‚?? Alexis Selli of Nanticoke
Won a $50 scholarship
Second runner up ‚?? Sukesha Ray of Mechanicsburg
Won a $50 scholarship
Third runner up ‚?? Mikayla Orrson of Lehman Township
Won a $50 savings bond
Fourth runner up ‚?? Rebecca Colwell of Wyoming
Won a $50 savings bond
Talent winner ‚?? Sukesha Ray for singing ‚??Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again‚?Ě of Phantom of the Opera
Won a $100 scholarship
Interview winner ‚?? Rebecca Zaneski for her platform ‚??B.E.C.K.Y. (Basic Exercising Can Keep You) Healthy‚?Ě
Won a $100 scholarship
The girls wore formal dresses ‚?? LaNunziata‚??s was black satin with sparkly dÔŅĹcor while Palissery‚??s was a nude, calf-length number with a lace covering ‚?? but both were barefoot.
Behind them, seven other girls applied blush to their cheeks, glanced nervously in mirrors and fidgeted with the tulle and taffeta on their own dresses.
The girls were prepping to step onstage in style for the first-ever Miss Luzerne County Outstanding Teen 2011 competition, held last month in the Dallas Middle School auditorium.
Four girls from the Back Mountain and five others from Luzerne County competed in the event, which awarded prizes to the overall winner and the first, second, third and fourth runners up. The contest also awarded scholarships to an interview winner and a talent winner.
The overall winner, Miss Luzerne County Outstanding Teen Rebecca Zaneski of Edwardsville, won, in addition to a $250 scholarship, a crown, a crown box, flowers, a banner, the evening gown she wore, entrance fees for the next competition level and beauty and hair care products.
For many of the girls, the pageant was their first foray into onstage primp and pomp. LaNunziata said she was once the ‚??queen of something,‚?Ě but couldn‚??t quite remember the details. The seventh-grade softball player wasn‚??t used to dresses and makeup, but thought the pageant was a fun way to get out of her shell.
She was urged to sign up by current Miss Pennsylvania Outstanding Teen Jocelyn Gruber, who spoke to Dallas Middle School students about bullying earlier this year.
‚??Jocelyn came and talked to me and my mom,‚?Ě said LaNunziata. ‚??I don‚??t normally like to dress up but I wanted to have fun and meet new people. I thought it was going to be scary but it‚??s not.‚?Ě
LaNunziata had about a month to shop for dresses, practice her talent and develop a platform - a community service organization or campaign, eventually choosing to work at stopping animal abuse.
‚??You always see it on TV, animals being neglected,‚?Ě she said. ‚??And my dog was abused before we rescued him. His name is Conan.‚?Ě
Six judges ‚?? including Dallas Middle School Principal Tom Duffy ‚?? kept score to eventually name a winner at the event. Judges were briefed at a conference earlier in the day, and also held private interviews with each of the girls prior to the event.
‚??These qualified contestants shattered any stereotypes of pageants,‚?Ě said Duffy. ‚??All of them conducted themselves with self-confidence and poise.‚?Ě
Duffy said it was nice to see nearly half the girls participating were from the Back Mountain, and though he was able to listen and ask questions during the interviews, he alluded that other aspects of the contest may not have been very easy for him to judge.
‚??I don‚??t know how to judge evening wear and things like that,‚?Ě he said.
Other judges included Cassandra Coleman, mayor of Exeter Borough; Frank White, operations manager of the Miss Philadelphia Scholarship Pageant; Doreen Pavinski, executive senior sales director of Mary Kay, Inc.; Lauren Harrington-Cooper, a middle school language arts teacher and dance instructor; and Darlene Deeley Malone, who was named the first Miss Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 1986.
Palissery took a different route to the stage - she also signed up for the pageant when Gruber came to town, but didn‚??t start to prepare until two weeks prior to the event.
She quickly wrote a stand-up comedy routine to perform during the show, and her related platform reflects her adoration of all things funny.
‚??I love making people laugh,‚?Ě she said. ‚??Laughter is the best medicine.‚?Ě
Taryn Chopyak, 13, of Dallas, had only done dance performances on stage before, but because many of her friends wanted to take to the spotlight, she thought it might be a good experience for her as well.
Her platform, ‚??Start Smart 4 School,‚?Ě helps underprivileged children receive school supplies.
‚??I have a huge family, and I had a couple cousins who were made fun of at school because they didn‚??t have everything they needed for school,‚?Ě she said.
She‚??s been tap dancing since she was 4 years old, so it was only a matter of practicing a little more for her performance to the ‚??Hawaii Five-0‚?Ě theme song.
‚??It‚??s not really something I normally do,‚?Ě she said of participating in the event. ‚??I‚??m kind of nervous.‚?Ě
Mikayla Orrson, 16, of Lehman Township, isn‚??t afraid of the stage - she‚??s a veteran actor of the Lake-Lehman Theater Troupe. She thought her experiences in various plays throughout the years would be a good basis for her platform, which she called ‚??Beyond the Theater Lights.‚?Ě
‚??I‚??ve been in theater since I was 11 years old,‚?Ě she said. ‚??It makes you more confident and gives you social skills. I did well during the whole interview because I‚??m used to talking to people.‚?Ě
The Miss Pennsylvania Outstanding Teen pageant is a sister organization to the Miss Pennsylvania scholarship competition, which funnels into the Miss America national competition.
Miss Outstanding Teen competitions are held on local and regional levels throughout the state, and contestants will compete in June at the state level for the title of Miss Pennsylvania Outstanding Teen.
Local coordinator Gina Major Ackerman, a former Miss Pennsylvania in 1984, said despite the program‚??s changes over the years, the competition still helps young women learn life lessons through experience.
‚??When I was entering, I entered because of scholarship and talent,‚?Ě said Major Ackerman. "I was putting myself through college at Drexel University in Philadelphia. That‚??s why girls enter.‚?Ě