Sept. 19, 2004 By the time the cameras rolled for Saturday night's broadcast of the Miss America pageant, the only thing Miss Virgin Islands Kinila Callendar had left to do was relax and smile. Competitions in swimwear, sportswear, evening wear and interviews had preceded the live telecast, and the long hours of rehearsals during the past few weeks were over.
Shannon Skokos, president of the Miss Virgin Islands Scholarship Organization and a former Miss Arkansas, gave Callendar a valued piece of advice: "The most important thing that any contestant can do is not get caught up in the moment, to be herself, to be real," Skokos said. "I told her to just go have fun."
It was a short wait to see who made the finals. The top 10 women were announced just 20 minutes into the broadcast, and the first-ever Miss Virgin Islands did not make the cut.
Viewers on St. Thomas and St. John who were planning to watch from home were left in the dark because WSVI Channel 8, the ABC affiliate, has been off the air since Tropical Storm Jeanne blew through earlier in the week.
But those Virgin Islanders who were able to see the broadcast had several good looks at Callendar due to the show's format. Hosted by Chris Harrison, host of "The Bachelor," the pageant had the feel of reality television.
Candid shots of the contestants sightseeing, getting ready for the pageant, practicing dance routines or responding to questions were accompanied by music with a driving beat. Live close-up shots of the contestants on stage waiting to find out who would go on in the competition featured dramatic lighting, the young women clutching hands in anticipation, and cheering families and friends in the audience holding up signs spelling out state names.
The host played up the drama. "If 'The Bachelor' were here tonight," Harrison said, "he'd have to give out 52 roses."
Harrison made each finalist announcement as dramatic as possible, saying things like, "Our next finalist comes from the Midwest," which would send several contestants into paroxysms of anticipation. Announcing one of the last finalists he said, "We have never had a Miss America from this state," and Callendar was in the camera frame. Her smile had faded for a moment. She looked like she was about to faint.
We saw number of shots of Miss USVI: her walking toward us on the famous boardwalk in Atlantic City, cool and relaxed in a white top and jeans skirt; head bowed in prayer, in a circle of contestants holding hands, all dressed in formal black dresses; chatting with another contestant in the dressing room while putting on her lipstick.
"Kinila just happens to be the first girl from the Virgin Islands in the contest, but she's my daughter all the time," father Kirby Callendar said. "If you ask me how it feels to be Kinila's father, Im very proud of her."
Callendar's mother, Lavern Francis, echoed that sentiment. "I'm extremely proud. That's for sure," Francis said. "We have quite an entourage here, and we'll be coming home Sunday, all of us, including Kinila."
Callendar is heading back to St. Thomas for the first time in nearly a month. She'll continue to work part time as a reporter for TV 2, but now the role of being Miss Virgin Islands has been added to her plate. She'll spend the next year presenting her platform on domestic violence awareness, and when the time comes to crown the next Miss Virgin Islands, Callendar will have the honor.
"I always say you can put a different panel of judges up there on a different night and have a different winner," Skokos said. "You have 52 of the most beautiful, talented, intelligent women in the country. You could choose any one of them and she would do a wonderful job representing our country."
If you missed the program and would still like to watch, tapes of the broadcast are available for purchase through the Miss America organization. Log onto www.missamerica.org.
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