Hailee Pecoraro of Sycamore was a contestant in the Miss Fox Valley pageant in DeKalb on Feb. 23. She didn't win the crown, but she did win the Entrepreneur Award for raising the most money for the Children's Miracle Network.
“It’s neat that it is in this area,” Pecoraro said of this year’s pageant. “When I entered the Miss Illinois organization (this pageant) was in Chicago. So for it to be in my hometown, not only can I showcase myself, I can showcase Sycamore and DeKalb a little bit.”
Pecoraro plans to compete for the title of Miss Chicago on March 24. Both Miss Fox Valley and Miss Chicago will compete for the Miss Illinois crown in June.
Pecoraro, 21, has competed in pageants since 2008, when she was crowned Miss McHenry. She is studying nursing at Northern Illinois University, and uses the exposure she gets from pageantry to promote blood donation.
“There’s a huge statistic that only 37 percent of people are eligible to donate blood, yet only 10 percent of them do donate yearly,” she said.
Pecoraro met with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg before the pageant to discuss blood donation and her experiences with pageants.
MidWeek: You have lived here two years now. Have you visited the Egyptian Theatre?
HP: I have, yes. I do ballet, so I watched a ballet there. I went to the haunted house there, and I saw a Christmas musical there. It’s a nice place. It’s unique how it’s so well kept up.
MW: Does the Miss Fox Valley pageant cover a specific geographic area?
HP: The Miss Fox Valley pageant is an open pageant, so it’s open to anybody in the state of Illinois. There are some locals that are closed pageants.
MW: Do you want to specialize in a particular area of nursing?
HP: I’d like to specialize in either oncology or obstetrics. They are both close to my heart.
MW: Does nursing fit in with your platform for the pageant?
HP: Between the scholarship money and the community involvement, we each have a platform that we speak about to our communities, and hopefully educate them on new issues. The scholarship money is definitely a big aspect of it.
Most girls pick their platform based on a personal experience, based on (things like) nutrition or child abuse. Mine is about blood donation. I work with Heartland and LifeSource. We have this program called “Be the Match,” where you go in and donate in the hopes that your blood matches certain recipients that need blood. When I was growing up I needed a blood transfusion and I was on a waiting list because the type of blood I had wasn't in supply at the time. My goal is to raise awareness about blood donation.
MW: How long have you been competing in pageants?
HP: I have been doing pageants for about six years. I started with a local pageant back in McHenry for Miss McHenry 2008. Then I competed in a county fair pageant, and then last year is when I introduced myself to the Miss Illinois organization.
MW: Did you have role models to help you navigate the pageant world?
HP: You do have mentors. A lot of the girls will work with other girls who have competed in the pageant in previous years. Pageant directors are great mentors. You always start as a local, and the Miss Fox Valley pageant is our local. You prepare yourself with nutrition and stage presence and your platform and talent.
MW: Do you ever get the chance to mentor contestants in the teen or preteen categories?
HP: We have a program with the Miss contestants, so that’s anyone between 18 and 24. We have a Princess program, it’s a mentorship program for the little girls. We work with them just to stress the importance of pageantry, to say it’s not all about glitz and glamour. It’s about the service and the education. Miss America (the organization) has four points – service, style, success and scholarship. We strive to push those principles. …We call it the four points of the crown. That’s to promote that pageantry is not about being fake, it’s about being yourself and being involved in your community.
MW: Are there any misconceptions about the pageant process?
HP: The process of pageantry, when you start at a local, is about learning interview skills, how to interact with people and learning how to live a healthy life. I think pageantry is beneficial in promoting betterness in a girls’ life. Better yourself in education, better yourself in your community. We’re all natural. We aren't the catty "Toddlers & Tiaras" girls. We’re all friends in this. That’s one good thing about the organization. We’re all working together the day of. If one girl is struggling, we’re here for each other.
MW: Do you ever wish you had gotten involved at a younger age?
HP: No, I think the age I got involved was a good age. I was just going into high school, so it helped with my interview skills when I was getting a job. I think it was appropriate that I could be introduced to it at a time when my education was starting to become important. In high school, you’re preparing yourself for college.
MW: Were you active in theater or music programs in high school?
HP: I was in theater club, I was in choir and I was on the cheerleading squad. Pageantry has opened me to really try a variety of things, and I think that’s what’s great about it; you’re able to find your niche in pageantry. Girls sing, girls dance, girls do theatrical performance, they do comedy – it’s really just to find your niche, find out who you are and then promote that.
MW: What talent do you showcase?
HP: This year I’m singing a vocal by Martina McBride, “Anyway.”
MW: How much of a time commitment has it been to prepare for this pageant?
HP: You definitely have to have the time to prepare. It’s not something you can throw together last-minute, but finding a balance between preparation and school and having a support system that’s going to work with you, because having an education is so important. I would say I have been preparing for this for seven or eight months.
MW: Have you worked with Hannah Smith, Miss Illinois 2011?
HP: I have. We competed at the Miss McHenry County together. After she won Miss Illinois she has mentored us and offered us any support that she can give.
MW: How do you prepare for the questions that the judges could potentially ask you?
HP: It could be anything of your platform or your personal resume (for the private interview). We turn those in prior, so the judges have them. Anything you put on there is fair game – schooling, talents, work, scholastic honors – any of that if fair game. There is an on-stage question in the pageant, and that is on current events. We’ll get together and watch CNN or we’re reading newspapers on our phones.
MW: Can you tell me anything about your attire for the evening?
HP: For the evening gown portion, I’m going to be wearing a blue evening gown that was donated to me. All of my wardrobe, I pick to match my personality – something that’s going to showcase me to the best of my ability body-wise, but also my personality. I’m very outgoing, sparkling and always smiling, so my dress is going to be covered in sequins. It should be something you’re comfortable in.
MW: So you pick attire that you are comfortable in, not necessarily what you think the judges would like to see?
HP: When you are walking on stage, you want to feel comfortable and confident in your clothing, and that’s what my wardrobe does with evening wear, swimsuit and talent. I’ll be wearing another evening gown for that. My talent gown was made by my grandmother. ...When purchasing your wardrobe, you don’t want to get something that you think is going to wow the judges.
MW: Have you attended the pageant as a spectator?
HP: I went to the Hannah Smith one to watch her, and then I went to Vegas as well to watch her compete in the Miss America pageant. …We’re all a big support system. Last weekend there was a local pageant in Lake County and I knew girls there, so I went to support them.
MW: What are your thoughts about shows like “Toddlers & Tiaras” and “Honey Boo Boo?”
HP: I have a negative outlook on them in regards to how the parents push the children when the children obviously don’t want to (participate) or how extreme they go sometimes. It’s all about being natural, being yourself. I think at that age it’s a little inappropriate, but it’s a totally different organization than the Miss America / Miss Illinois organization. We focus on the mentoring, and there’s none of that in Honey Boo Boo. I don’t look for fame in any of this. I want to work on my platform of donating blood.