More than 50 people gathered at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas to watch four glittering contestants compete for an opportunity to attend the national pageant and receive scholarship funds. The contestants competed in such categories as fitness, talent and evening wear.
The format of the program was different this year as the entire preliminary took place in one afternoon.
"We were guided by the financial crisis in the territory. The first challenge to the board was a time for the format that would be easier financially for us and contestants," said Cynthia Jerry, president of the board and chief executive officer of the contest. "We challenged ourselves by asking how we can produce a pageant with first class status, but at the same time produce the amount of energy that has to go into production while on a budget.”
Jerry said financial woes were a huge factor in the number of contestants who competed. She hopes more girls will want to participate next year for the tenth anniversary Miss Virgin Islands Pageant, as the board plans to carry the same format for future preliminaries.
Contestants were judged according to a system established through the national pageant. The interview portion of the pageant counts for 25 percent of the final score, talent is 35 percent, evening wear is 20 percent, physical fitness and swimsuit are 15 percent and on-stage presence is 5 percent.
Former Miss Virgin Islands and Miss Universe Lisa Wynne-Magnuson said competing is difficult because the woman who goes on to the Miss America Pageant must be good at a little bit of everything. According to Wynne-Magnuson, she must be poised, gracious, have a sense of humor, communicate well, have a competitive drive and a commitment to higher education.
Education was indeed a prevalent topic among contestants as a majority of their platforms dealt with reaching out to youth through education. All Miss Virgin Islands winners have completed high school and gone on to pursue higher education. Sixty percent of winners continued their education at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Wynne-Magnuson said the coming months will be the most difficult for Tonge as she continues community outreach, showcases her platform, learns to represent the territory and even follows a diet. Tonge’s platform, building self-esteem in young women through education and pageantry, is specifically geared towards helping youth in the territory.
Tonge wowed the crowd, not only with her beautiful vocals, but in a stunning gold dress that will help her to stand out at the national competition. Other contestants included Cathriellah Shabazz, Shakirah Ritter and Ashley Massiah. Participants did everything from an Afro-Caribbean dance to twirling. Private interviews were Sunday morning.
“The more they do this, the more they believe in themselves,” said Wynne-Magnuson. “It’s for them and their future.”