Contestants show their talents, model their evening gowns, and smile and wave to the crowd. The audience cheers, the cameras flash and the judges deliberate — but it’s not a Miss Utah pageant. It’s Miss Teen Extraordinaire, a beauty pageant for special needs high school girls in the Nebo School District.
Whitney Talbert, a 22-year-old Utah Valley University student studying social work, started the event in 2010 when she was preparing to run for Miss Spanish Fork (she won in 2011). She was a peer tutor with special needs students at Spanish Fork High School and decided to bring her love for her special needs peers to center stage.
“I told some of the (girls I tutored) that I was running for Miss Spanish Fork and they said things like, ‘That sounds like fun! I wish I could be in a pageant,'” Talbert said. “So I decided to create one.”
Thursday, March 26, marked the fifth annual Miss Teen Extraordinaire, starring 14 contestants that performed a group number, shared an individual musical talent and modeled their evening gowns. Each girl received a crown, a sash, a bouquet of flowers and a unique title selected by three judges, such as “Miss Personality,” “Miss Inspirational” and “Miss Loveable.”
Kathy Credille’s daughter, Tesha, has participated in the event each year. Credille said that as soon as one year’s pageant is over, Tesha is already planning for the next year’s.
“… It gives (my daughter) an opportunity to show that she does have talents. The pageant removes the disability and leaves the ability.” —Kathy Credille, Mother of Miss Teen Extraordinaire contestant
“She lives for (Miss Teen Extraordinaire),” Kathy Credille said. “… It gives her an opportunity to show that she does have talents. The pageant removes the disability and leaves the ability.”
The participants’ talents and abilities came in different forms, and the audience showed their support for each one. They cheered as the girls sang and danced to selections like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and four renditions of “Let It Go,” among other songs.
“Our audience is the best,” Talbert said. “They bring their family and friends and show their support for each girl.”
Talbert uses her beauty pageant experience to make sure Miss Teen Extraordinaire follows proper pageant form. Before the event, each participant has a professional portrait taken, and community volunteers, many of them high school students, style the girls’ hair and do their makeup.
Ticket sales ($5 this year) fund the pageant, and local businesses also donate their resources and sponsorship. Flowers and programs were among the many items donated.
Former Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson said the event runs on volunteers and sponsors. He volunteered to emcee with Talbert for the past two events, and he says it’s the highlight of his year.
“This and going to Disneyland are the most fun things I do all year,” Anderson said. “The community gets involved, we get sponsors and it continues to grow and grow.”
Throughout this year’s event, Talbert danced with, guided and encouraged each participant, both on and offstage. She said she hopes that the event changes the community for good.
“I hope the community sees that … doing something small for others can make a huge difference,” Talbert said.
Kathy Credille said that because of the pageant, she notices a difference in her daughter as well as herself. While Tesha gets her moment to grow and shine, Kathy Credille said she learns a life lesson.
“(Miss Teen Extraordinaire) teaches all of us to not worry so much about perfectionism but to celebrate the beauty that everyone has.”