NORTHBROOK – While Alicia Keys’ ode to girl power, “This Girl is on Fire,” played over the banquet hall’s sound system, nearly two-dozen contenders competed in the 2018 Illinois International Pageant at the Renaissance North Shore Hotel in Northbrook on November 12.
More than 300 attendees watched as contestants, who ranged from pre-teens to married moms, were judged in four categories: Interview, Fun Fashion, Fitness Wear and Evening Gown.
The pageant drew participants from all over the state, and a portion of the event’s proceeds will support the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, aimed at raising awareness of heart disease, the number one killer of women in the United States.
Now in its 20th year in Illinois, the International Pageant was founded by Mary and Mel Richardson more than 30 years ago in Roanoke, Virginia as “Mrs.” competition, aimed at highlighting the distinct accomplishments of married women aged 21 to 56. Unlike other pageants, the Mrs. International competition invites husbands to play a direct role in the pageantry. Men take the stage to escort their wives through the Evening Gown competition, and are later invited to crown their “better half” should she go on to win the coveted Mrs. International Title.
“The goal with the International pageant system is to create a family and sisterhood among those involved,” said pageant director Randi Moxi, who was Mrs. Illinois International 2014. “Our event teaches poise and speaking skills, but it also helps women learn to connect with each other.”
Over the years, the Mrs. Illinois International competition has grown to include a Miss competition for unmarried women aged 19-30, as well as a Teen category for participants between the ages of 13-18, and, for the first time for 2018, a Pre-Teen category, comprising girls aged 10-12. From August to June of each year, local competitions take place in countries all over the world, culminating in a final annual pageant on July 20-21, 2018 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Talk show host Whitney Reynolds and Chicago fashion designer Boris Powell were among the 2018 Illinois International Pageant’s five judges, as was Mrs. International 2017 crown holder Melissa Pocza, who traveled from Dallas to participate in the Northbrook pageant. Pocza, a busy mother of two young boys, will make more than a dozen special appearances at events throughout the year in addition to promoting Broken Little Voices, the child-abuse-awareness advocacy non-profit she founded three years ago. Each contestant in the Mrs. International competition has the opportunity to select and promote a charitable platform of her choice.
“We’re not just about brains and beauty,” said Pocza. “We also have big hearts.”
Pocza said she began competing in pageants in her late teens as a way to secure scholarship money for college. Her winnings ultimately helped pay her tuition at the University of Detroit and Wayne State University. As a judge, Pocza is naturally drawn to contestants who show commitment to their chosen charities.
“I’m looking for confidence,” said Pocza. “And I also like someone who is already actively working with a meaningful platform.”
Contestants arrived in Northbrook on November 10 for a weekend of pageant activities, including advance interviews with judges, a legacy dinner honoring past pageant winners, and rehearsals for the main stage event on November 12.
Over the course of Sunday’s three-hour competition, emceed by Mrs. International 2013 Amy Gregorio, contestants moved steadily through the four judging categories, beginning with the pageant’s youngest Pre-Teen contestants. When asked during the Interview category to describe herself, Kaitlin Graybeal – a middle-schooler from Le Roy – chose her words confidently but carefully.
“I’m giving, kind and loving… and a good friend to my friends,” responded Graybeal, before leaving the stage to change for the pageant’s next round.
By show’s end, after each contestant had completed the four successive rounds, four winners were announced. Alisia Reese Glick of North Chicago was the first girl to win the newest category of Miss Pre-Teen Illinois International. Greater Chicago resident Kennedy Starcevich took the title of Miss Illinois International, while Jacey Johnson of Barrington won Miss Teen Illinois International. Kaili Kaminski of Elmhurst was crowned Mrs. Illinois International, and Rebecca Banner was named Miss Pre-Teen Land of Lincoln.
“As a former Mrs. Illinois International, I learned so much from the experience,” said Randi Moxi. “I know what doors God can open through these titles.”