‘Everything was a blur’: Miss Kentucky 2019 recounts earning her crown
Alex Francke is “a Malibu Jack’s kind of person.” She is also a Lexington native, a University of Kentucky graduate and — as of last weekend — 2019’s Miss Kentucky.
“I love games,” she said of her fondness for Malibu Jack’s. During the week leading up to Miss Kentucky’s finale in Louisville on Saturday, June 8, Francke and 33 other competitors raced go-karts there: a rare reprieve from months of preparations for the statewide competition.
On the night she was crowned Miss Kentucky in Louisville, Francke was not in bed until 4:30 a.m., when she snapped a ceremonial photo for the Miss Kentucky Instagram page and finally managed a few hours of sleep.
She was wide awake for an on-air interview the next morning. Francke, 22, remained in Louisville to fill out paperwork and finalize her duties as incoming Miss Kentucky until Sunday night, when she returned to her parent’s house in Nicholasville. .
In other words, Francke has been busy.
“Honestly, you don’t really remember much,” Francke said of the crowning moment. “You remember not hearing your name, and then everything else is a blur. I was crying. They needed to take photos… I couldn’t control myself. This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.”
The dream was painfully close for Francke last year, when she finished as Miss Kentucky’s first runner-up.
“The first runner-up does not get enough credit because that is a really stinky position,” Francke said. “Everyone calls your name, and then everybody cheers because it’s the other girl, you know?”
But for Francke, the work has paid off. Not only has she been crowned Miss Kentucky, she has entered an elite club of women to have won both Miss Outstanding Teen and Miss Kentucky. Francke, the 2014 Miss Kentucky Outstanding Teen, is the fifth Miss Kentucky to take both titles.
“That feeling (of surrealness) is still there,” Francke said. “I did something a couple days ago and they were like, ‘Miss Kentucky? Uh, Miss Kentucky?’ And I had no idea who they were talking to. It just wasn’t my reality yet.”
Before that “crowning moment” came months of hard work.
“Winning Miss Kentucky is kind of like an iceberg,” Francke said. “All you see is that final night. You never see all the hard work underneath it… it’s hours of mock interviews, of catching up with the news everyday. It’s about being intentional about your service events, about being out in the community.”
“You have to win a local competition. And even to win a local is a huge accomplishment within itself, so all of the girls who are at Miss Kentucky already won,” Francke explained.
In November 2018, Francke won her local competition in Central Kentucky. Afterward, she hit the ground running with preparations for the statewide competition.
But long before she was competing at all, Francke was under a different spotlight.
Francke attended the School for the Creative and Performing Arts for nine years. She started as a vocal music major there before transitioning into theatre. She said she “grew up doing five or six shows a year.” But a season came when Francke realized she wanted to try something new.
“My mom and I sat down and we were like, ‘What about a pageant? Never done that. Don’t know a thing about that. But let’s just show up, let’s give it a try,’” Francke recalled. “So, I got on Google and Googled Miss Kentucky. It’s a miracle… I found the right one.”
With a background in theatre as well as speech and debate, Francke was ready to “give it everything” she had. She walked away that same year as Grayson’s Outstanding Teen.
After her first win, Francke became inspired. She met Jenna Day, future Miss Kentucky 2013, at a gala. The encounter cemented her new dream.
“(Day) made me feel like the most important person in the room,” Francke said. “As soon as she won Miss Kentucky I realized I wanted to be in her position too, because she made me feel like I belonged in a place where I didn’t know a single person.”
Fast forward to 2014, when Francke became Miss Kentucky’s Outstanding Teen. In 2015, Francke graduated from SCAPA, the alma mater of 2015’s Miss Kentucky titleholder, Clark Davis. After graduating, Francke started her time at the University of Kentucky, where she studied business management with a minor in international business. As a social enterprise scholar at the Lewis Honors College, Francke had the opportunity to study abroad twice: once in Cape Town, South Africa, and once in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“It was absolutely unparalleled to get to learn in another country, another culture,” Francke said. “It grew me so much as a person. But those experiences wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t competed in the Miss Kentucky organization, (which) gave me the funds to be able to do that.”
It was at UK that Francke met the woman she would grow to think of as her mentor.
Kelley Bozeman is UK’s marketing director. She said she met Francke in UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics around four years ago, where Bozeman instantly recognized her; she was friends of friends with Francke’s parents. After chatting that first day, she told Francke she should “hop into some video shoots” for UK marketing.
“It blossomed from there,” Bozeman explained.
Now, Bozeman sees Francke as one of those students who “shines a little extra special.”
“She is the student in the room talking to the other students who no one’s talking to. She notices the little things,” Bozeman said. “She lights up the room when she walks into it. She’s brilliant, talented… Her heart is just a servant’s heart. She’s one of those students, wise beyond her years, who has probably taught me more than she feels like I’ve taught her and doesn’t realize it.”
Bozeman said all the contestants “put in work” for the crown. But as a one-time pageant judge herself, Bozeman added that she had a premonition of Francke’s win.
“My bias (is) obviously shining through here,” Bozeman said. “I think that I knew.... (in) the portions where the girls had to answer the tough questions. You could tell Alex didn’t need to rehearse or read a newspaper that morning. It was really from the heart.”
That knowledge did not temper Bozeman’s reaction to the final announcement.
“All the sudden it was quiet. And it just went nuts,” Bozeman said.
“I took a video at the end when she was standing on stage with the other finalists, and my hands were shaking. When I went to replay it back, my scream overtook the room.”
Only a few days have passed since she received the crown, but Francke is already looking ahead. She will be the sash-holder and reigning Miss Kentucky until 2020. In the meantime, she’ll be attending to Miss Kentucky duties — and, of course, preparing for Miss America, which has historically been held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
But for now, with the Miss America pageant date unannounced, Francke is soaking her new reality in right here in Kentucky. She’ll be busy touring the state as Miss Kentucky and working on her personal social initiative, which combines her passion for art with a love for inspiring others.
Francke started the non-profit Adopt An Art in 2013. The program provides free art curriculum to schools where art programs “are dying or have already been eliminated.” Francke said she drafts lesson plans and teaches for Adopt An Art in her spare time alongside a team of other volunteers.
“I wanted to find a way to connect to kids who are passionate but may not have resources to take arts lessons and classes,” Francke said. “I wanted to work with the schools, specifically, to find a way to give my SCAPA experience, my well-rounded education, to every kid in Fayette County.”
But Francke’s passion to inspire does not stop at Fayette County. She’s looking to make an impact wherever she can.
“I’m really excited for the little Miss Kentucky moments that I may never get the opportunity to understand the importance of,” Francke said. “I’ve had so many opportunities - especially getting to be Miss Kentucky Outstanding Teen - (for others to) say to me, ‘hey, I met you once at so-and-so event, and you told me so-and-so, and it inspired me to do this, or it completely turned my day around.’ It may not even be something I remember… But the impact it had on them is so tangible because Miss Kentucky is this superhero to some kids. She’s Wonder Woman. She’s her own heroine.”