Thirty young women from across the commonwealth will compete Saturday at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts for the crown of Miss Kentucky.
The pageant winner will represent the state at the Miss America pageant in September. Here’s some insight on five contestants.
McKenzie Ross, Miss Black U of L
The title Miss Black U of L stands out among the contestants. McKenzie Ross is aware hers is the only title that’s race specific.
U of L has the Miss University of Louisville pageant, too. Miss Black U of L is sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers.
“It’s sad that there was a need to create this pageant (Miss Black U of L pageant) to bring diversity into the Miss Kentucky pageant,” Ross, 19, said. There have been three black Miss Kentuckys since the pageant began in 1935.
As one of two minority contestants, Ross said she felt unsure about competing.
“I knew I was going to be a minority and I knew I was going to feel lonely,” Ross said.
“It’s intimidating because racism is still a very real thing and I never know when I could potentially face it,” Ross said. “It can be hard to be different from everyone else because you stick out. You can only hope it is in a positive way.”
I knew I was going to be a minority and I knew I was going to feel lonely.
As the competition week progressed, Ross said she felt more included.
“It’s nice to be able to bring my culture, my background into this pageant,” she said.
Makenna Thibodeaux, Miss Nibroc
It’s fairly common to see a pageant contestant sing or dance as their talent. Thibodeaux, 18, is breaking out of that mold and showcasing her skills at speed painting.
Thibodeaux will have an allotted amount of time to complete a painting upside down.
When the time is up, she’ll flip the canvas to display the finished piece.
“I knew this was a way I could be creative and display how unique, as well as creative I am,” Thibodeaux said.
The Corbin native said painting and crafting are her passions.
“I like that it’s fun and different than everyone else. It’s something that separates me,” Thibodeaux said.
Thibodeaux frequently goes to Whet Your Palette, a Louisville painting studio, to sharpen her speed painting skills.
Hope LeMaster, Miss Jefferson County
Hope LeMaster, 22, plans to start law school in the fall at Salmon P. Chase College of Law on Northern Kentucky University’s campus to pursue her dream of becoming an immigration and human rights lawyer who specializes in helping deaf clients.
Love on people that aren’t like you.
Why deaf clients? Her passion, she said, is to help people understand each other, regardless of gender, race or disability. And after taking American Sign Language classes her sophomore year at UK, she became especially aware of the needs of the hearing impaired.
“Love on people that aren’t like you,” LeMaster, a Belfry native, said as her message to all.
She said she never felt passionate about anything until she took those classes and spoke with her professor who was deaf. She decided there was a need to help others who are hearing impaired because without assistance, they will be ignored.
“They can’t speak up for themselves, so, if I have the capability to, then I should do it,” LeMaster said.
Cynthia Thomas, Miss Casey County Apple Festival
Cynthia Thomas has dedicated 15 years of her life to competing in pageants, the last five competing for the title of Miss Kentucky. She’s at the maximum age for a Miss Kentucky contestant at 24.
“If you told me 15 years ago that this organization would have this big of an impact on my life, that 9-year-old girl probably would have told you that you are a little crazy,” Thomas said.
“But, it’s one of those experiences over the past five years that I’ve definitely grown as an individual and really found who I am as a person.”
The Maysville native said that the most important pageant lesson she has learned is that she isn’t competing against others, but competing with herself at pageant time.
Jacquelyn Crawford, Miss Lexington
Jacquelyn Crawford, 21, has dedicated her life to service. Her father was unemployed when she was young and it was a struggle to support a family of five. That understanding prompted her to want to find a way to help.
“It was an eye opening experience to see how families can go from just being normal to having their world turned upside town,” Crawford said. “So, I thought there has to be something I can do to help.”
That something is providing hot meals to children and teens through The Lunch Box Summer Food Service Program, a certified USDA Summer Food Service Program.
After turning 18, Crawford was put in charge of The Lunch Box program in her hometown in Hawkins County, Tenn. Currently, she coordinates 16 summer feeding sites that serve about 200 kids Monday through Friday.
“We get to be the people that are there everyday with their food, their chocolate milk, which they love so much, and just to listen to them,” she explained.