When someone asked Chantelle a question, she would turn bright red, mumble something and flee the room. She went home desparate one night, bemoaning her severe shyness yet determined to find some way to overcome it. She decided entering a local pageant was the answer to push her out of her shyness.

When she discussed this idea with her mother, the first reaction was, "No child of mine will ever be in a pageant!" But Chantelle talked through her reasons and researched pageant systems that were good and wholesome. Ultimately, she set her sights on America's Junior Miss, and entered various local, state and national pageants to prepare for Jr. Miss. Read on for Chantelle's Story...

I heard about the Junior Miss program when I was 15 -- too young to enter since they accept only juniors in high school -- so I had to wait two years. I used that time to build up my interview ability, polish my singing and poise onstage, and work on my social skills. I asked the state leaders if they were open to homeschoolers and they said they loved them!

Some counties have an entire pageant where girls compete against each other and the overall winner receives scholarship money and goes on to compete in the state program. For girls in counties without official programs, they can enter through "At-Large" placement, where the competition is against a score and not against the other girls. If you beat a certain score, you become a state finalist.

Five of the six girls in my At-Large program proceeded to the next level. A volunteer was assigned to the "At-Large" finalists to help them with interviewing, wardrobe and any other questions or needs we had. Interview ability counts as 25% of the judging score, so we had a mock interview session where past state finalists and volunteers asked us questions ranging from personal opinion to current events. I also had mock interviews with bank officers, friends, and business people. This helped me formulate concise answers quickly.

Hints for homeschool candidates: the questions seem to concentrate on why your parents homeschool you, if homeschooling is your "issue of concern" or if you can broaden your view to include educational issues in the public and private sectors. Know your state and local officials (Senators, Representatives, Governor, Secretary of State, etc.), and national politicians. Give personal stories when they apply, and honestly answer "I don't know" if you don't.

Nine weeks before the state program, we met for Orientation and to learn a 10-minute choreographed aerobic routine to be performed onstage at the state finals. Fitness counts for 15% of each candidate's score, so we went home with videos of the routine and advice to practice it daily. To get myself in top physical shape, I also swam daily, worked out at the gym and lost a few pounds in the process.

The state program began on a Saturday. I left home to spend a week in a volunteer's home with four other state finalists. We spent the week practicing routines and going to fun places: meeting with our state's Governor and Secretary of State; climbing rock walls and rope bridges, line dancing and more. I had a blast!

On Friday, we presented our fitness routine and poise before a live audience of family, friends, and Junior Miss volunteers where the judges scored and ranked us against each other. For the first time during the entire week, we were allowed to see our parents after the program! It was wonderful to tell them about the week, and thank them for all the flowers and letters they sent to encourage us during our absence.

The finals were held on Saturday, where our talent was judged, scores tallied and winners announced. I won "Overall Poise" and scholarship money for college! Even though I didn't win the state title, would I do it again? Yes. I gained so much from my preparation, that I wouldn't trade it for anything!