SMITHTON — Beverly Egner said her daughter grew up admiring the Missouri State Fair queens and long had hoped she would become one.
Kandas Egner is one step closer to that dream.
On Thursday night, Kandas captured the crown in the 2014 Miss Pettis County Queen pageant, held as part of the Smithton Town & Country Fair. The title is her ticket to compete in the Missouri State Fair Queen competition in August.
When pageant director Anne Townsend announced she had won, “My heart stopped beating and I didn’t know what to think,” said Kandas, who got a taste for the competition in last year’s pageant. “There were so many emotions going on. I was happy, I was excited, and at the same time I was hoping I wouldn’t trip and fall.”
Kandas, 18, is a Class of 2014 Smith-Cotton High School graduate who was active in show choir and National Honor Society, and served as Student Council president. In claiming the crown, she edged out McKenzy Kennedy, who was first runner-up; Paige Staus was second runner-up and Miss Congeniality.
Judging was based on a formal interview (40 percent of the total score), evening gown (25 percent), talent (25 percent) and an on-stage interview question drawn at random (10 percent). Kandas said the most challenging element was the talent portion; she performed a tap routine to the song “Footloose” that she choreographed on her own.
“I was worried I would forget my dance,” she said, smiling.
McKenzy and Paige were the only other competitors, and both performed speeches for the talent segment. McKenzy shared her challenges dealing with Juvenile Myclonic Epilepsy with a “seize the day” message for the audience. Paige provided a history of Pettis County, including the story of county namesake Spencer Darwin Pettis dying in a duel with Thomas Biddle in an argument over banking and currency use theories.
Judge Cydney Mayfield told me: “What set Kandas apart from some of the other contestants was her confidence. When she was in her private interview, when she was on stage, when she was answering her on-stage question — which in my opinion was the most difficult of the three — she had a lot of confidence and she had a lot of conviction behind her answers.”
The competition was close — Townsend said the top two were separated by just five points. Townsend, who wore the crown 18 years ago and is in her first year as pageant director, is hopeful to maintain that level of competitiveness while adding more competitors. She said this year’s contest started with nine young women, but some could not commit to be present for state fair competition, which is a prerequisite. Others didn’t qualify for other reasons. She has launched a Facebook page, which has raised the pageant’s profile, and she plans to visit Pettis County schools in the spring to encourage girls to participate.
“Now that I have this under my belt, my focus is going to be starting Day 1 tomorrow, recruiting more people for next year,” she said after Thursday’s contest. “I think the most they have ever had here was … nine, so my goal for next year is 10 or more. And I’ll get it.”
Past and present participants find value in the pageant experience and are hopeful they can entice more young women to give it a try.
The pageant “helped me a lot with stage presence,” Townsend said. “I ended up going on and getting a full-ride college scholarship in theater and ended up loving it. It molds women; at some point in their life they are going to have to give a presentation, whether it is at church or at work.”
Kandas said, “I feel other girls should get involved because it is a very fun experience and it helps you with confidence.”
Townsend has remained friends with some of the girls she competed with 18 years ago.
“It’s something different,” she said. “Some people like basketball, some people like softball, some people like doing pageants.”
Beverly Egner said Kandas talked about competing in this year’s pageant since last year’s contest, and they worked the past three months to prepare for Thursday night.
“I think last year she was young, and it taught her what she needed to do,” Beverly said.
Wearing her crown and sash, Kandas was still all smiles Thursday night when she paused to think about what’s next.
“I am super excited for the state fair. I have a lot of stuff I need to study up on, but I am super excited,” she said. The fair pageant’s interview questions typically have more focus on agriculture, but Kandas is confident she has that covered since she works at Orscheln and her grandmother owns a farm.
“I am really excited that I get to represent Pettis County, and I am going to do my best,” she said. “I hope I make everyone really proud.”