The kind of pageant girl no one expects

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The first question the judges asked Kaiti Purse was about Starbursts. Standing in a black and white dress, wearing pearl earrings and “feeling very Jackie O,” Purse told how she spent hours trying to beat her own record for unwrapping a Starburst with her tongue.

Her best time was six seconds flat, and the judges were impressed. Over the course of the evening, Purse won the hearts of the judges, the audience and her competitors and went home with the title of Miss Provo.

[media-credit name=”courtesy of Kaiti Purse” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Wearing her tiara and sash, Purse may seem like the typical pageant girl, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Before the Miss Provo competition, Purse’s most prestigious award was first place in a costume contest at the premiere of Star Wars II, and her greatest fashion interest consisted of enjoying a Malibu Barbie snow cone. The thought of competing in a pageant was completely out of her mind, especially with her hectic class schedule.

“This girl comes up to me, and she sits down, and she’s a super happy, peppy girl,” Purse said. “I didn’t really know who she was at the time. She just sits down and says ‘You need to do Miss Provo. It’s just got to happen.'”

Purse was more than a bit skeptical of the proposal by Melanie Jones. Jones remembered the encounter and the doubt Purse expressed, but that didn’t concern her. Having been involved in pageantry before, including being first runner up in Miss Provo last year, Jones saw a quality in Purse she could not pass by.

“The reason I asked Kaiti to even consider participating in this is because I saw how genuine she was,” Jones said. “That’s what you need in a good queen is someone who is genuine, who cares about the people around (her), who loves to be involved, who naturally is very personable, who carries herself well and is a good representative.”

Caroline Slater, a friend of Purse’s, recognized the aspect of adventure that would appeal to Purse and encouraged her to pursue the opportunity.

Purse went along for the same reason she went to fencing club for the first time last week: it was new and unexplored territory.

“My interest is everything, and I just want to try everything there is to try,” Purse said.

She is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, getting her thrills from skiing, snowboarding, playing sports and climbing anything from trees to rock cliffs.

[/media-credit] Purse participating in one of her hobbies, skiing
However, sometimes her worlds of “adrenaline junkie adventurer” and “proper, well-maintained Miss Provo” collide. The first time Purse tried mountain biking, her bike spun out and she ended up with road rash all down her right side. The next day, she was scheduled to represent the city in a parade.

“I was worried my director would be horrified if I showed up all bloody in the dress like, ‘hi, just went mountain biking, sorry,'” Purse said.

Once she committed to the competition, there was no escaping the stereotypes that go with becoming a pageant girl, ones Purse believed and accepted as truth before entering the competition. After being on the other side of the stereotype, Purse found the experience had a lot to offer, and people around her were far more supportive than she expected. She admitted one of the biggest surprises of the program was the quality and motives of the girls she came in contact with.

“They just want to be the best person they can be, and they see this as an opportunity to grow and develop their talents, so they go for it,” Purse said. “And who was I to judge that? I’m not saying there isn’t still stereotype stuff that goes with pageants, because it’s there. But for me and for a lot of people around me, it was an important lesson in not just labeling something and being done with it.”

Jones attributed her success in the competition to her down-to-earth and genuine nature.

“A lot of fake things are associated with pageants, fake tans, fake eyelashes, all kinds of stuff, but really what they’re looking for is a girl who knows how to dress up but is still a down-to-earth, real, solid, well-rounded girl,” Jones said. “She was by far the one who was willing to work the hardest, and she was the most humble. So she naturally was talented, but also so excited to learn more and to be guided in the right direction so she could develop those talents, which speaks so highly of someone.”

The judges felt the same way, and as she was crowned Miss Provo, Purse’s brother came onstage with a phone. On the other end of the line was Purse’s dad, who did not find out she was competing until after she was crowned. She had only gathered the nerve to tell her mom the day before.

The title did not win Purse immunity from a steady stream of “Miss Congeniality” jokes, especially when she earned the Spirit of the Pageant award. This title among pageant contestants is known as the “Kiss of Death” award, named so because the girl who won it consistently never got a crown, until Purse.

“I’m the source of this endless flow of jokes and teasing with my friends and family, and you know what? I totally deserve it, and I love it,” Purse said.

She came in late, being pushed from behind and with a greater taste for Starburst wrappers than pageantry, but Kaiti showed up wanting an adventure, and she got one.

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