Glamour graced the stage. The high notes of Chain of Fools reached the ceiling.
It had the look of a picture-perfect talent show, but as Miss Bowling Green Jefra Bland struck the last chord of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Scherzo in D minor on the piano, smiled and waved to her audience, a sound booth technician's voice faded in over the exit music: "Did everything sound OK?"
"Can I do it again?" Bland asked.
Later, there would be no do-overs.
In the dim lights backstage and the bustle of the dressing room at the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts on Friday, contestants in the 2012 Miss Kentucky Scholarship Pageant got ready to rehearse for that evening's talent preliminary, which is weighted the most heavily — 35 percent — in determining who will be among the finalists.
Thirty-one women are competing for $40,000 in scholarships. The winner, who will be crowned Saturday, will represent the state at the Miss America Pageant in January in Las Vegas.
During Friday's talent rehearsal, contestants had no more than 10 minutes to perfect their performances, which then were critiqued by their coaches.
"I'd give myself a 2 today," one contestant commented as she emerged from the stage doors.
Preparation for the pageant began months ago.
Joey Neal, director of the Miss Monticello pageant, said Miss Monticello Annie Franklin got started immediately after she won the local crown in November.
"You sit down and talk about every phase of competition," Neal said. "You talk about their platform and how you can help promote that young lady to have an impact on people and the community."
Franklin's work is paying off — she won a swimsuit preliminary Thursday night.
Jackie Luttrell-Greenwalt, a former participant in the Miss USA circuit, was brought in by state pageant executive director Jamie Breeding in February to tend to the contestants' every need during pageant week.
The contestants live together at the University of Kentucky Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house from Sunday through Saturday.
"I try to draw from my own experience because I understand the nerves, the nervousness that they're going through and the range of emotions that they're going through," Luttrell-Greenwalt said.
Along with a group of eight to 10 volunteers, she scheduled all of the contestants' public appearances, which included stops at Kentucky Children's Hospital and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, and breakfast with cancer patients at the Hope Lodge, where they were a "tremendous hit."
The contestants' busy schedule allows them only an hour and a half for dinner with family or friends each night, and they are forbidden from using their cellphones during the day. There is a point to all of it: Luttrell-Greenwalt described this week as a "dry run" for what Miss Kentucky will experience during her reign.
"The majority of the year will be just as hectic as this week has been," she said. "It's a very disciplined program. It's not going to be appropriate for Miss Kentucky to sit at a cocktail party text ing or talking on the phone. So they need to get used to that now."
Sydney Lutz, 20, Miss Richmond Area, said she has been in pageants since she was 12. She competed in last year's Miss Kentucky pageant, which she described as a "good learning experience." She took a short break Friday between rehearsals, near doughnuts backstage, but she said she wouldn't be eating any.
"A lot of people ask me, you know, 'What does everyone talk about in the house?' Ninety percent of the time, we're talking about food and what we're going to eat when we get out," Lutz said.
Clogging, the state dance of Kentucky, was her choice for the talent portion of the contest, she said.
"It's something you don't see every day," she said. "It's very entertaining."
Stress builds among contestants throughout pageant week, Lutz said, typically starting on Wednesday, when contestants have their personal interviews. The personal interview with a panel of judges counts for 25 percent of a contestant's score going into Saturday's finals, when the judges' top 10 will be named. Interview topics range from the frivolous to the serious, and contestants are graded on their confidence and ability to express themselves.
"You can tell when emotions change," Lutz said. "When you move in Sunday, everyone's really excited ... . On Wednesday, everyone got nervous or anxious. Everyone gets quieter."
Neal, director of the Miss Monticello pageant, said contestants aren't always as they appear on stage.
"These girls, you see them on the stage and you just think, 'Oh my God, look at them,'" Neal said. "Walk offstage with them, and you can watch them just totally fall apart and melt because of the stress and all they put themselves through to do this."
Breeding, the executive director, bustled into and out of the Singletary Center all day Friday. He said Saturday's crowning would bring mixed emotions. While he's excited to have a new Miss Kentucky, he said it would be tough to see the week end.
"I really think of these girls as my daughters," Breeding said. "I try to make sure things are right for them and be there for them. So whoever's crowned Miss Kentucky, they really do become a daughter for the year."
Daniel Moore: (859) 231-3344.Twitter: @heraldleader.