Thumbnail photo: Debra Defoe, Michigan director for Galaxy Pageants. Above: 2009 Michigan Galaxy Pageant title holders surround Maria T. Torres, president and CEO of Michigan Galaxy Pageants. Photos © Defoe Photography, 2009

The Michigan Galaxy Pageant will take place on March 20th, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Malcolm Field Theater on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University.  During this exciting evening, dreams will become reality for the seven new ladies who will represent Michigan at the Galaxy International Pageant for 2010.

To make this event a reality in Mid-Michigan has required the efforts of many. One of them is Debra Defoe, owner of A Girly Girl Boutique on Court Street in Saginaw, who in 2009 became the  Michigan director for the Galaxy Pageants. Although she herself had never participated in pageants, she began her career as a runway model in 1981 and has since taught runway and commercial modeling. In 2000 Defoe started directing and producing pageants when a member of  the committee for the Miss Victorian West Branch Scholarship program approached her. During her 3-year stint as director of that program, she noticed how committed contestants and title holders were to both their communities and themselves and decided to continue and even increase her participation in pageant management.

Like the image conjured by the words "beauty pageant," the Michigan Galaxy Pageant (MGP) is a traditional beauty pageant, with multiple age and judging categories. The age divisions range from Little Miss Michigan Galaxy, Miss Pre-Teen Michigan Galaxy, Miss Teen Michigan Galaxy, Miss Michigan Galaxy, Ms Michigan Galaxy, and Mrs. Michigan Galaxy, with some overlap among the age requirements. Competition focuses on both the physical and nonphysical qualities of its participants, though it does not include the talent competition that many people automatically associate with pageants because of the Miss America Pageant.  Although some pageants judge heavier in a particular category, depending on their focus, the MGP judges evaluate equally in all categories: Photogenic, Interview, Evening Gown, Fashion Wear and Swimwear (the later for older competitors only).

"Beautiful Inside and Out"

"For the Galaxy Pageants, we look for ladies who are beautiful inside and out," Defoe explains. "We look for title holders who are consistent in all categories, and they should be mentally, emotionally and physically fit." According to Defoe, most pageant participants work for months to prepare their bodies and minds and to become as polished as possible in their appearances and personalities.  In the process, "they develop a great sense of style, boost their self-esteem and polish their social skills"—like speaking and interacting in public—that they can use throughout  their lives.

The current Ms Michigan Galaxy, Shelly Lance, agrees with the possible benefits. The 43-year-old literacy coach from Lansing says that she's glad that she let her friend, a personal fitness trainer, convince her to look beyond the stereotype Lance had held that pageant contestants have to be perfect or wealthy to compete. "It's a process," Lance says, noting how much more confident she's become as she's worked on her own personal development and physical fitness. "I always thought that models had to be tall people, too, but I'm only 5 feet, and I even had to overcome a serious health problem." Financial resources don't have to be an overriding consideration either. To keep costs modest, Lance buys her evening gowns and jewelry at resale shops. When her students, many in the English as a Second Language program in the Lansing public schools, hear about her success, they gladly cheer her on.

While appearance is important, such as looking beautiful in photos for the Photogenic category, "a more difficult challenge for many of the women to tackle is the interview," Defoe says. This interview, during which the participants must be able to answer any question with dignity, grace and diplomacy, is very important because it is the first—and thus lasting—impression that the judges get of each participant. In this part of the competition, age and experience can be an important factor. For example, because she was already used to speaking to classrooms full of students, Lance felt she had an advantage over others less used to public speaking.

So too, Bay City's Monica MacKenzie, Mrs. Michigan Galaxy 2009, a certified nurse practitioner with a Master's degree from Michigan State University, believes that her knowledge and life experience helped her win her crown. This 36-year-old mother of two regularly deals with the public both in a CNP-patient capacity and as a volunteer instructor about health issues. For MacKenzie, the Swimwear competition caused the most anxiety "after being a mother and being used to being modest." Yet, she adds, "There are ways to use posture to hide a little extra stretched skin—and swimsuit is more than just the physical body but the over all confidence," which she amply demonstrates.  

Celebrity Provides Clout for Community Service

Like many MGP title holders, Lance and MacKenzie both have used their celebrity and people skills to bring public awareness to issues of their choice, such as autism, Alzheimers, Habitat for Humanity and heart disease. "Many former participants in the MGP have gone on to become wonderful representatives in their communities and throughout Michigan," Defoe says. For example, they have become public figures, models and coaches. Sometimes the opportunities are more glamorous than others. For instance, the reigning Miss Michigan Galaxy, Jessica Willis, has been on the hit MTV show Toddlers and Tiaras because of her work with young ladies and was recently featured in Supermodels Unlimited magazine. Yet, the ability of title holders past and present resides in what they choose to do with the clout they accrue. Former MGP title holder Maria Torres uses her talents as a businessperson and inspiration: She is president and CEO of the Galaxy Pageants and a product specialist for Daimler Chrysler.

The 2010 Michigan Galaxy Pageant includes three dozen contestants from throughout the state, even the upper peninsula. When asked to offer entrants tips, Defoe says, "Ladies who come to compete in the Michigan Galaxy Pageant should be very well spoken, in good physical condition and have great confidence." She stresses positive thinking: "It all comes down to confidence and believing that you are going to win a crown. Many times the competition is won in the mind."

Defoe promises a "fabulous production in store for all who attend, thanks to some business partners." She moved the pageant to Mid-Michigan from downstate specifically because she wants to help local commerce. Although she admits that it's challenging to start over when developing new sponsor relationships, the overall benefit to the community is important. Businesses willing to help with this or future events should feel free to contact her via Debra[at]MichiganPageants.com.

Noting that her experiences in pageant competition have been nothing like the drama seen on tv shows about pageants,  MacKenzie says, "If you're thinking about being in a pageant, a good place to start would be coming to watch a pageant live." Right here in Saginaw.  

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010