The beauty rookie

A Tangletown teen makes her first run at a pageant crown

Tangletown teen Ashley Skiba has been spending hours on the phone looking for the right dress and numerous days shopping this summer. Sounds like normal teen activity, right? Not quite. The 16-year-old is involved in school and community service activities, and she’s also out to win.

Skiba is preparing to be a contestant in the Miss Minnesota American Teen pageant at the end of July. If she wins, she’ll receive $1,000, a title and crown, plus a $1,500 modeling scholarship and a chance to compete in the national Miss American Teen pageant this November to Disney World in Florida.

Although she’s participated in modeling schools such as John Casablanca and a few hair stylist trade shows, Skiba said she’s never ventured into the realm of pageants before.

The draw of pageantry

Skiba, a junior at Academy of Holy Angels, 6600 Nicollet Ave., said she met a new friend at school last year: Jessica Billings, the reigning Miss Minnesota Junior Teen. She said Billings, a Bloomington resident, has competed in pageants since she was small. Billings said pageants have helped her to gain self-confidence — and trophies — plus helped her raise awareness of important issues, such as autism.

Skiba said she’d be especially interested in speaking at rallies on issues related to battered children. "I’m involved and I want to bring awareness to all the groups I’m in," she said.

Participating in charitable organizations and helping others is something Skiba said is important to her, because she wants to be a mom someday and she likes to help young children.

But she added that the pageant also sounds like fun — and of course, there’s the "girly princess thing."

Billings said that’s why she knew Skiba would love pageant life: "She loves everything pink and girly."

Skiba admits, "Every girl wants to be a princess and have a crown. I wear a crown every year on my birthday."

Working to clinch the crown

After initially applying to the pageant — sending in a photo, a resume that featured a laundry list of community activism, and $15 — Skiba said she wanted to know what she was getting into. So she talked to Billings, her pageant friend, about her experiences. Skiba then did a school research paper on various pageants to confirm the Miss Minnesota American Teen competition would suit her best.

She said as the pageant has gotten closer her excitement over the pageant has even grabbed the interest of some of her teachers at school who want to come to the big show.

Skiba asserts that she’s much more than a pretty face, which may help her nab the state title. She has done volunteer work for organizations such as: the Harriet Tubman Center for battered children, 111 E. 31st St.; Feed My Starving Children, a Brooklyn Park-based group supplying food to Third World countries; Annunciation Church youth ministry, 509 W. 54th St.; and school leadership in the Students Against Destructive Decisions program.

She also works in her mom’s store, Fun Sisters, 4253 Nicollet Ave. (her business sponsor for the pageant), which has provided her with a keen fashion sense that should help in the pageant too.

All of these things together are preparing her for her two dream jobs someday– she said she wants to be a mom and a fashion buyer. Skiba said her pageant experience would help shape her life. "You learn skills you’ll use for the rest of your life," she said.

Ashley’s mom, Patsy Skiba (pictured, p. 26 helping with dress), said this is also her first pageant experience. "It’s a total learning experience, and I do support a lot of local things," she said. As they’ve been preparing she said she’s just trying to keep the costs low between wardrobe cost and hotel accommodations.

Patsy Skiba said as long as her daughter continues to keep herself on task and keep her grades up, she thinks this will be a good experience. She said there’s more to this competition than beauty, and she’s hoping for beneficial results. "I’m hoping to develop her self-confidence," Patsy said.

After deciding this was the pageant for her, she sent in the $275 registration fee and began hunting for a dress.

In preparation for the big day, Ashley said she’s been working with her friends on her posture and her public-speaking abilities. She said she has two minutes in the competition to introduce herself and list her accomplishments, but she wants to make sure it doesn’t sound like bragging. "She said just be yourself — don’t put on a pageant face," Ashley said of a friend’s advice.

She said she’s not too worried about the question-and-answer portion of the pageant, since none of the questions are very controversial; judges just want to see the real you.

Ashley said she’s a bit nervous, because she’s never been in a pageant before and so many girls competing have. "I’ll do everything I can to be a good queen," she said, a bit tentatively.

Ashley Skiba’s tenacious nature shows through, though. "I can do the job better than any other girl," she said with a sudden burst of confidence.

Not your average pageant

Fran DeRosa, a spokesperson for American Coed Pageant, the group that runs Ashley Skiba’s contest, said their pageant is different because they take the emphasis off beauty and put it on the contestant’s intellect and her ability to communicate. "That doesn’t mean a beautiful girl can’t be smart, however," she said.

DeRosa said judges vote on poise, personality, the contestant’s presentation, and appearance, specifically confidence and style.

This aside, the Web site for the organization is covered with pictures of pretty girls in evening dresses — one round of the competition. But DeRosa said there are lots of average-looking girls in their pageants, and some win. DeRosa said her organization has had many winners that don’t fit a model stereotype, ones with braces and glasses.

When asked about negative stereotypes of pageants perpetuated by cases such as JonBenet Ramsey, DeRosa said that’s where her pageant stands apart; girls under the age of 13 aren’t allowed to wear make-up, and dress is restricted. "It’s always age appropriate, family-oriented and patriotic," she said. "It’s the natural beauty that comes within a girl."

Tricia DeRosa, the state director for the pageant, said because of the public’s assumptions about pageants, they try to classify themselves as a scholarship opportunity. "We’re looking for bright, talented young ladies, not just a pretty face," she said.

Skiba said she knows a lot of pageants are about stereotypical things, but she likes this one because it’s different. "People can be gorgeous, but they need to have substance behind it," she said.

Although festivities go on all weekend, Skiba competes in the final round of the Miss Minnesota American Teen pageant Sunday, July 27, at 7 p.m. at the Downtown Minneapolis Marriott City Center, 30 S. 7th St. Tickets are available for $15 at the door. For more information about the organization check out their Web site, http://www.jopatpageants.com/minnesota.html or call (866) 676-7227.