As a veteran member of the pageant game, Chelsea Killman has got the idea of “poise” down to perfection.
So one could forgive her if she dropped her guard momentarily to celebrate one of the top honors of her life so far: winning the Miss Teen Kentucky United States pageant.
“I was stunned,” said Killman, laughing as she reflected upon her own facial expressions upon hearing her name called. “The first thing I did was I started crying. I had this really shocked face.”
The competition, held this past weekend in Lexington, pitted Killman — a 2012 graduate of Southwestern High School and current freshman at the University of Kentucky — up against 13 other girls from around the Commonwealth, all vying for the crown to represent their home in the upcoming Miss Teen United States pageant.
It wasn’t a title Killman expected to win; in fact, as she stood awaiting the final word on stage, she knew she’d already received a potential kiss of death in the form of the “Miss Congeniality” superlative.
“It’s rare for the Miss Congeniality winner to win (the pageant),” said Killman. “I remember standing there with the first runner-up holding hands. She said, ‘I hope you got this. Everyone loves you.’ I thought that was the sweetest thing, but I thought she had it.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting to win,” added Killman. “This was probably the toughest competition I’ve ever had.”
Killman has been participating on the pageant circuit for six years now, and has over 20 under her belt. She’s even advanced to the national level once before — with the Miss Junior Teen United States pageant four years ago.
“I went to Vegas and had the time of my life,” she said, and though she didn’t place that time among the field, she knew it would be an uphill battle. “I was really just going for the fun of it.”
This time will be different. The Miss Teen Untied States nationals will be In Washington D.C. during the Fourth of July holiday, appropriately enough. It’s another city Killman hasn’t yet seen with her own eyes and would love to visit, but don’t think for a moment she’s taking her eyes off of the prize.
“This time I’m going to fun, but I really want to win this one,” she said confidently. “This time will be completely different from Las Vegas.”
The Miss United States organization is the fastest-rising pageant in the country, noted Killman. It’s similar to the familiar names like Miss USA and Miss America but there are differences. For one, there’s no talent portion. Instead, Miss United States pageant put a focus on rigorous interviews, research into personal endeavors, and the key aspect — how well-rounded a girl is.
“You have to fill out very detailed paperwork,” said Killman. “(They want to know) all the clubs you were in, even freshman year of high school, any project you’ve worked on in community service.”
That played right into Killman’s wheelhouse. Killman says that community service is her “passion,” having racked up over 4,000 hours of contributions to good causes over the years. She’s taken trips to Peru to help with earthquake disaster relief, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, helped raise money for the Special Olympics and March of Dimes, and much more. “Anything you can think of, I’ve worked with them,” she said.
Her crowning achievement, however, is likely SPICE — ”Serving People In Crisis Everyday.” It’s a project Killman started when she was a student at Southern Middle School eight years ago, and has grown to touch seemingly countless lives in this area.
“We collect stuffed animal and take them to the fire departments in Somerset to give to kids whose houses burned down, or were in wrecks,” said Killman. “Since it started, we’ve collected over 6,000 stuffed animals, and collected close to $10,000 for disaster relief.”
And it’s not like it’s a vast organization either — SPICE is more or less just Killman and her mother Dana, going into middle and elementary schools and getting kids involved to bring in the stuffed teddy bears, making it a very intimate endeavor close to Killman’s heart.
That’s part of why she made it her platform for the Miss Teen Kentucky pageant, stressing how involved she is in the community and how many people she’s had the privilege of helping. That was a major factor in Killman’s victory — but not the only one.
There are four different components to the competition — swimsuit, evening gown, interview and on-stage questions.
The “beauty” aspect of the pageant is it’s own kind of challenge. In order to look good in the outfits contestants must wear, Killman says, there’s “a lot of working out and getting swimsuit ready.” That doesn’t mean you starve yourself, though — anorexia is not what the judges are looking for. Rather, “it’s living a healthy lifestyle, being healthy all around rather than beauty. They’re looking for someone who is toned and healthy and a good role model for younger girls.”
That means a lot of time in the gym for Killman and a lot of watching what she eats — she admits she treated herself to a piece of cake after her win but then declared, “It’s back to the diet” — but the more verbal portions of the competition come easier to Killman, a gifted speaker and student, as well as a creative talent, having taken part in Somerset Community College drama projects.
“I think I’m just an outgoing person; I love to talk,” she said. “I was on the speech team in middle schools. That’s when I first got past the fear of talking to people. I’ve won interview awards, read up a lot on current events, and I just love talking.”
Also helping put Killman at ease on stage are her coaches, including George Tiomothy Reed from Bowling Green — “He’s been with me since I started; he’s like a second dad” — and of course, her mom, who has thrown herself heart and soul into her daughter’s efforts and provides an invaluable support system.
“She loves it,” said Killman of her mother. “She helps me with everything, reviews my paperwork, helps with my hair. I think there’s only one pageant I’ve been to that she wasn’t there, and I just about died without her.”
Killman — a member of grace Baptist Church in Somerset and the reigning Miss Pulaski County — wants to help others achieve the kind of success she’s enjoyed, whatever one’s goals may be. She’s available to speak at schools or to various civic organizations, and promote SPICE in the classroom, and invites those interested to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Majoring in hospitality management and tourism at UK, her goal is ultimately to become a wedding planner. However, thanks to her win — and ideally, another win to come — Killman is getting an early crash course in what it’s like to manage a girl’s big day.
“I am definitely looking forward to the challenge of Miss United States,” she said. “It’s so hard to imagine I could be (the winner), coming from a small town like Somerset compared to the girls you see winning Miss America or Miss USA. ... I’ll probably have to prepare a lot more.”
Something one has no doubt that the driven Killman can accomplish as well.