Talk of the Towne
2012 Miss City of Orange
Miss City of Orange 2011 Katie Barnum (front) with this year’s contestants (from left) Devon Culnane, Katy Talon, Megan Wisler, Lauren Benke, Sharon Kong, Katie Wayland and Stephanie Patterson.

If you think that beauty pageants are nothing more than a sea of pretty faces, then you’ll want to attend this year’s Miss City of Orange Scholarship Pageant. At the event to be held on September 17th, you’ll quickly discover that while the participants are indeed beautiful, their talents and drive and determination run much deeper than you might think.

The contestants do compete in an evening gown and physical fitness swimsuit contest, but they also perform a talent for the audience and answer an onstage question. The winner of the pageant takes on the commitment of becoming an ambassador for the City of Orange for the following year.

Rachel Berry won Miss City of Orange in 2010. “When people met me during my year as Miss Orange, they were always surprised at how involved I was in the community and how well–rounded I am,” says Berry, who graduated from Chapman University last year. “I considered my reign as Miss City of Orange as a part-time job, and one of the reasons I ran for the title was that I wanted to get to know more about the city and meet the leaders. Once people understand how the pageant works, they respect the program and how it empowers young women.”

“Many of the girls who have gone through the process will unabashedly tell you that the program changed their lives,” says Connie Benson, Executive Director of Miss City of Orange for the past nine years.

“During her year of service, Miss City of Orange attends numerous local events and puts on the ‘Queen for a Day’ leadership workshop for 2nd through 6th grade girls,” says Benson. “The pageant winner learns to handle herself extemporaneously in front of audiences and organizations. She also gets the opportunity to represent a charitable organization of her choice. And the scholarship money is of great assistance. The pageant awards over $5,000 each year.”

The winner of Miss City of Orange gets a chance to compete in Miss California. Berry, whose mother owned a dance studio, competed in 2010 and made the top 10, winning in the talent category for her tap dance routine. She went back this year, placing in the top 10 again and winning overall in the interview category. This year Miss City of Orange 2009, Noelle Freeman, won the Miss California title.

In its 76th year, the Miss City of Orange pageant was once a strictly community event and not affiliated with the Miss California/Miss America program, says Benson. “In the 1980’s, the then Executive Director Elsa Olson got the program a franchise under the Miss California Scholarship Pageant, and it was at that point that our Miss City of Orange began competing at Miss California,” she says.

Berry got so much out of the Miss Orange pageant that she encourages other young women to give it a try. “It’s worth competing in the pageant even if you don’t win,” she says. “The competition process helped me discover what works for me as a person and what’s important, and the training in public speaking and networking is invaluable. I’ll use the skills I learned for the rest of my life.”

The Miss City of Orange 2012 Scholarship Pageant will be held on Saturday, September 17th at Chapman University Memorial Hall at 7 pm. Tickets are $15 with a student ID and $25 for all other attendees. The contestants will do an opening dance number, and Noelle Freeman will share the talent she’ll be performing at the Miss America Pageant in January. The Chapman University Dance Team will also perform, along with the school’s Men of Harmony, and “Queen for a Day“ participants will do a number with Berry.

The Miss City of Orange pageant is a non–profit, all–volunteer organization, and the girls do not pay an entry fee to participate. Each contestant receives some scholarship money. For information, visit the pageant’s website at

Published in the Sep/Oct 2011 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by Rachel Berry

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