SEASIDE — Miss Oregon’s crown has passed to 20-year-old Caroline McGowan of Corvallis.
“I’m elated. I’m shocked. I’m overwhelmed. I can’t wait to talk to my family,” she said immediately after her win. “It’s like I’m in a dream.”
McGowan, aka Miss Linn-Benton, prevailed among 22 young women in the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program at Seaside’s Civic & Convention Center Saturday. She will go on to compete in the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas Jan. 14.
“I was at an impasse in my life, and I had always considered women who hold themselves to a higher standard to be my role models,” she said. “And so I decided that there was nothing holding me back from bringing myself to that higher standard.”
The night before, Miss Southern Gem, Alexi Provost-Shean, 16, from Medford, won the Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen Scholarship.
For the Miss Oregon contestants, Saturday’s state pageant marked the culmination of a journey that began several weeks before, once the many local pageants had wrapped up.
In May, the young women attended the Miss Oregon Pageant Camp, an intense 21/2 day program where they went to seminars with former Miss Oregons and learned their production numbers, which the contestants were expected to rehearse in their spare time, according to Karen Murray, vice president of the executive board of the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program.
“It’s a really good introduction,” Murray said.
The preliminary competition Wednesday and Thursday split the contestants into two groups. One group performed the talent portion Wednesday before the five-judge panel, leaving the swimsuit, evening wear and on-stage interview for Thursday. The other group did the opposite.
The women took a day off from competing while the stand-alone Teen Pageant was held Friday.
On Saturday afternoon, the Miss Oregon parade drew hundreds of fans to downtown Seaside, where a procession of waxed Corvettes escorted the contestants down Broadway, led by then-reigning Miss Oregon, Stephenie Steers.
“It was one of the least stressful things we’ve done all week,” said Miss City of Sunshine, Alesya Neverov.
Between events, the women gave interviews and attended dance rehearsals.
Saturday night’s competition kicked off by narrowing the original 22 contestants down to 10 finalists, based on their scores from the preliminaries.
Once more, these 10 strutted across the stage in glistening minidresses, sequin-studded evening gowns and brightly colored bikinis, showcased their chosen talent and answered questions on U.S. economic and foreign policy before the judges.
And then there were five.
Fourth runner-up was Alexandria Henderson, Miss Portland. Third runner-up was Kaitlin Endres, Miss Southern Gem. Second runner-up was Elizabeth Denny, Miss Tri Valley. And the first runner-up was Nichole Mead, Miss Marion-Polk County.
In the end, McGowan was crowned Miss Oregon 2011 by her predecessor.
“You have to know that no one can bring you down, that you’re capable of anything,” McGowan said. “It’s cheesy, but dreams really do come true.”
The coronation took place against a country pop-themed backdrop of aluminum siding monoliths and dangling white chains, while the front end of a Ford truck jutted out onto the stage, with a smoke machine and whirling colored lights.
But despite the crowd-pleasing aesthetics, this year’s ticket sales for Miss Oregon were comparatively low because of high gas prices and the ongoing recession, according to Murray.
“If you have people coming here from Southern Oregon, or the southern coast, that’s a big expense,” she said.
The Miss Oregon Pageant has been held in Seaside every year since its inception in 1947. It was moved from Seaside High School to the Civic & Convention Center when the latter opened in 1971.
Katie Harman, Miss Oregon 2002, remains the only Miss Oregon to have won Miss America.
“I’m looking forward to the unknown. It’s an adventure,” McGowan said. “And I’ve got a big journey ahead of me.”