BUCKHANNON – Normally, when you don’t hear your name called on the heels of a tough, heart-wrenching competition, it’s not a promising sign.
But as 22-year-old Alexis Bland endured those final moments of waiting on the Culpepper Auditorium stage, each time her named wasn’t called as the fourth, third and then second runner-up, the Parkersburg native grew more and more excited.
Finally, when she heard ‘Alexis Bland,’ it was followed by the title 2021 Miss West Virginia USA, and she was elated.
“It’s like the more you don’t hear your name, the better it is, so hearing my name today as Miss West Virginia USA, it was just an indescribable feeling,” said Bland, who entered the pageant as Miss Parkersburg USA. “I’m so excited to represent West Virginia at a national level and hopefully bring more contestants to the Miss WV USA Pageant in years to come.”
As the “Journey to the Crown” — the 2021 Miss West Virginia USA and Miss West Virginia Teen USA pageants – unfolded over the July 9-11 weekend in Buckhannon, there were plenty of gowns and crowns – but few frowns – at the three-day event, which was hosted at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts on West Virginia Wesleyan College’s campus.
The two pageants, produced by Pageant Associates, Inc., are the official preliminary competitions ahead of the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA nationwide pageants, which will take place in November in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bland said the last six months have been tough, but she’s ready for Tulsa.
“You work so hard, mentally and physically for months preparing for this moment, so it’s really just indescribable,” said Bland, who works as a full-time real estate agent and owns a women’s clothing boutique called Twisted Couture. “I’m so happy, but it’s a mentally exhausting weekend. I’m so excited to leave from here, and I’m going to go eat a rack of ribs at Texas Roadhouse – that’s what I’ve been thinking about all weekend.”
Getting ready for the competition involves honing techniques to emerge as a standout in the interview portion, exercising, eating healthy, wardrobe prep and more.
“You only get a few moments with judges, so those few things you might say differently to make yourself stand out are very important when you get a chance to speak with them one-on-one,” Bland said.
The weekend got underway with an optional stage presentation workshop Friday and wrapped up Sunday with the final show beginning at 4 p.m. In the Miss USA division, contestants were whittled down from 11 at the start to six with about 15 minutes left in the evening. In both the Miss and Teen pageants, judges ranked contestants in three categories that carry equal weight – personal interview; swimsuit for the Miss USA pageant and active wear for the Miss Teen USA pageant; and evening gown.
There’s also a random fish-bowl question, which is one feature of the pageant that there’s really no way to prepare for, Bland said.
Finally, the 2020 titleholder, Miss USA Charlotte Bellotte, walked the stage for the last time, and state pageant director and emcee Randy Sanders announced the winner and the runners-up. Krystian Leonard, 24, who entered the competition as Miss Morgantown USA claimed the first runner-up slot, followed by 26-year-old Tamia Hardy, Miss Berkeley County USA, who earned second runner-up, and 27-year-old Lacy Russell, Miss Three Rivers Festival USA, who snagged the third runner-up spot.
Dominque Collins, 25, Miss Normantown USA, was named as the fourth runner-up and 24-year-old Marleigh Ross, Miss Huntington USA, rounded out the top six.
Other contestants vying for the Miss crown included Haley Geiger, Miss Sweetheart Festival USA; Caylie Simmons, Miss Strawberry Festival USA; Jessie Pennell, Miss Ritchie County USA; Kaley Fedko, Miss Bridgeport USA; and Ricki Stewart, Miss Riverfest USA.
Sanders, founder and president of Pageant Associates, said the weekend had been a “huge success” that attracted close to a sellout crowd.
“First and foremost, I want to thank West Virginia Wesleyan College,” Sanders said. “They really did everything they could to work with us and give us this opportunity. They had to wait until the COVID regulations loosened up, and we abided by everything they told us to abide by.”
Sanders also thanked all the pageants’ many sponsors; the City of Buckhannon, where he also works at city recorder and information coordinator; and owner of Opera House/CJ Maggie’s Restaurant CJ Rylands for “literally rolling out the red carpet” at a new event – a red-carpet reception Saturday night at the Opera House after the preliminary show.
“Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank all of the contestants – what a great group of young women,” Sanders said. “They’re an inspiration if you look at their bios – some very successful ladies.”
Preparing for a pageant and competing in one pays off, Sanders said – and not just in the short-term.
“I think people don’t realize that this gives these women an ability to master almost anything after being able to do what they’ve done here this weekend,” he said. “It sets them apart from many, many other people. It’s like a 16-week course in public speaking and communications and confidence-building all leading up to these two-and-a-half days.”
As Miss W.Va. USA, Bland will travel to the Muscogee Creek Nation’s River Spirit Casino Resort, where the Miss USA pageant will be held Nov. 26-29, 2021 in the Paradise Cove Theater. She’ll also get to embark on an all-expenses-paid treat at a resort and spa in Cancun, Mexico.
Among an assortment of other prizes, Bland earned a $2,500 yearly scholarship to Wesleyan; a $3,000 wardrobe allowance and travel expenses for the national pageant from Fiestas WVA, Taco Bell franchisee and owner of the Buckhannon Taco Bell; a $500 wardrobe allowance from Caroline and Co. for clothing and accessories for appearances; and a floral bouquet presented by Feola’s Flowers.
To learn more about Miss West Virginia USA Pageants, visit www.misswestvirginiausa.com.