by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—When Madeline Cole first inquired about competing in the Miss American Teen Pageant, she was told that the Illinois competition had already passed for the year—but that she could compete in the Midwest section instead.
The only problem? The pageant was just three weeks away, leaving Madeline, 17, with little time to prepare to go up against experienced competitors from across the Midwest.
“Some girls start when they’re little; they’ve been doing it all their lives. (Madeline) had done a couple of pageants previously, so it wasn’t like she was going into it cold turkey, but this was her first time in this one,” said Kim Cole, Madeline’s mother.
The two researched the pageant, bought an evening gown and prepared Madeline for the three sections: an eveningwear competition; an introduction, in which contestants are scored on their poise, personality and appearance; and an interview with the judges.
“This is a Christian-based pageant, so they are not looking superficially at outer beauty, but they are looking for the complete package. They want to see that you’re giving back and have strong academics. It’s about standing for something,” Kim said.
Madeline, who volunteers at soup kitchens and as an ambassador for Feed My Starving Children in Aurora, said she knew immediately she wanted to stand for hunger relief.
“I’ve gone to church my whole life, and to Lord of Life in La Fox since I was three, and our church is really active in the community,” she said. “We have different places that we go to monthly, and most of the ones I was doing were for the hungry. (I enjoy it because) you can make immediate impact and can make a difference.”
Neither mother nor daughter expected Madeline to win in her first attempt. They thought the experience would prepare her for next year’s pageant, Kim said.
Madeline was not only crowned Miss Midwest Teen, winning a $500 scholarship and a chance to compete in the national pageant, she also won the Volunteer Service award for the Midwest region and was named in the top four for the Academic Achievement award.
She will compete in the national pageant, which will be held at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., from Nov. 19-24. The national winner receives a $2,500 scholarship, plus a travel allowance to return to Disney World and crown the next queen, said Meg Hemphill, Assistant State Director of MAC Pageants.
The interview with a panel of judges, which counts for one-third of the overall points, is considered the most challenging part of the pageant.
“The judges can ask them any questions; they just can’t be political or religious questions,” Hemphill said. “There’s no right or wrong answers; they are looking for poise and personality, the overall package.”
Approximately 400 girls will compete in six different age divisions, Hemphill said.
If Madeline wins, she said she hopes to use her crown to promote hunger relief nationwide.
“It’s not about being in parades, it’s about being out there meeting with state officials and being able to truly make a difference,” Kim said.
Winning Miss Midwest Teen has already given her the opportunity to meet some Illinois politicians. Rep. Randy Hultgren visited her parents last week while Madeline was at school, and Gov. Pat Quinn’s office is supposed to contact her and make arrangements to meet.
Madeline said that although many assume all pageants are about beauty, she wanted to be taken seriously and chose to participate in the Miss American Coed Pageant system because it is more about inner beauty than outer beauty.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about it. This is not the kind of pageant you go to with a fake tan. It’s a natural pageant with minimal makeup. It’s not like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras,’” Madeline said. “(Winning Miss Midwest Teen) has been opening doors (for me). People respect me now, and they see that I’m dedicated and driven and I have goals for my life.”
For this Kaneland High School senior, those goals include attending Hope College, a Christian college in Holland, Mich., and majoring in communications.
“I want to be a photojournalist and travel globally, to photograph third-world countries, so I’m minoring in Spanish so I can talk to people there,” she said. “I really want to go to Haiti. I helped a lot after the catastrophe there; I did a lot of drives for them through my church and raised food and clothes, so I’d like to go with (my church).”