In the midst of chaos – 27 women hurriedly throwing on dresses, applying makeup and styling hair to perfection – Chelsea Welch ’12 sat calmly off to the side, collecting her thoughts.
But her relaxed state would not last. Soon, the women would be whisked away from backstage, cued to present themselves in front of an audience and judges they needed to impress with their physiques and interview skills. Welch passed with flying colors.
Welch won the title of Miss West Virginia in the Miss USA pageant earlier this year, as well as the judges’ pick for Most Photogenic, and if she wins the Miss USA competition in early June 2013, she will become the first Miss USA winner in history to hail from West Virginia.
“The judges found someone here who was extraordinarily poised, comfortable in her own skin and obviously very well-educated,” said Randy Sanders, West Virginia’s state director of the Miss Universe Organization.
While at Brown, Welch was captain of the cheerleading squad. Performing in front of football fans helped boost her confidence, she said.
“I grew to be more comfortable in front of large crowds, so I wasn’t nervous on stage,” she said.
As an Ivy League graduate, Welch might not fit the typical pageant stereotype, but she said she believes her education has given her an advantage.
“People don’t expect me to be smart, and they are really shocked that I can form a complete sentence and communicate my thoughts in a cohesive manner,” Welch said. She said judges are sometimes surprised by her communication skills.
“She has made the judges feel very comfortable that she could go forward and handle speaking engagements,” Sanders said. He added that one reason Welch won the title was her ability to successfully speak before “charitable foundations, successful business people and philanthropists” at the various events where she is now scheduled to appear.
Welch is not new to the world of pageantry – since the age of 13, she has competed in about 10 competitions.
“My older sister did pageants when I was growing up, and I wanted to be like her,” she said. “After my first Teen Miss pageant, I kind of got hooked.” In high school, Welch won the Miss West Virginia Teen USA and said she knew she would someday compete for Miss West Virginia.
Welch said her pageant experience was largely well-received at Brown. “I never really ran into anyone with negative comments” about pageants, she said.
“I think a lot of people put me in a box and thought I was going to be a certain way,” she added. When classmates found out she was a beauty queen, Welch said they would respond by saying “Really? I would never expect that.” She took it as a compliment.
Brainy beauty queens
Closer to campus, Parielle Lacy ’15 participated in this year’s Miss Rhode Island competition. Interested in pursuing a modeling career, Lacy was told that “agents occasionally scout talent (at pageants),” she wrote in an email to The Herald.
Lacy said her favorite part of the competition was the interview portion. “I am well aware of how vacuous pageants are, and I felt like (the interview) somewhat compensated for it,” she wrote. Fittingly, Lacy went on to win Best Interview.
Lacy’s pageant was also a high-stress environment. Participants had only 10 minutes for each wardrobe change and no assistance in the makeup department. They were also required to finance their own transport, clothing, hair and makeup, as well as pay a $795 sponsorship fee.
Though she does not plan on doing any more pageants in the near future, Lacy said she does not regret her experience as it allowed her to develop new skills like public speaking. She is double-concentrating in computer science and political science.
The role model regimen
In order to transform themselves into beauty queens, both Lacy and Welch had to monitor their diet and exercise regimens.
“I was told that muscle tone was important, so I worked out about five times a week about five weeks before (the competition),” Lacy wrote. She also avoided food with high sugar content and soda, and only wore heels for a week to prepare.
The most important aspect of pageantry preparation is “maintaining physical fitness, learning about nutrition and exercising in a sustainable way,” Welch said.
Welch exercises a little over an hour a day six times a week. She plans to intensify her workout schedule right before the Miss USA pageant. “I like the swimsuit portion because after I work my butt off and get in the best shape I can be, it’s really rewarding to show that off,” she said.
Compared to the Miss America pageant, Miss USA is “more about opening up modeling and entertainment opportunities to the winners,” Welch said. Even so, she continues competing in pageants mainly for the sense of belonging.
“It’s a way for me to reconnect with my family and community,” Welch said. “It’s really cool to see who I know supports me and gets involved.” Now as Miss West Virginia, Welch will take on the responsibility of being a role model.
“I’ll be making appearances around the state and … really just talking to young women in West Virginia,” she said.
After graduating from Brown with a concentration in human biology, Welch is currently working toward achieving a master’s degree at the University of Georgia. She plans to join the Peace Corps after finishing her degree, balancing service, a sash and an Ivy League diploma.