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HomeNewsArchivesV.I.'s First-Ever Miss America Entrant 'Still in Shock'

V.I.'s First-Ever Miss America Entrant 'Still in Shock'

Sept. 11, 2004 – As Lavern Francis makes last minute preparations for a trip to Atlantic City, she is greeted all over St. Thomas by well wishers. "Bring back the crown," they say.
She's on her way to the Miss America competition where, along with dozens of other Virgin Islanders, she'll root for her daughter, 24-year-old Kinila Callendar.
Callendar is the first Virgin Islander eligible to win the oldest beauty pageant in the United States. Francis, who has shied away from attention her whole life, is enjoying this brief moment of recognition.
"I'm not used to this kind of stuff. I'm normally a shy person," Francis says, taking a break from running errands. "But I have no choice now. Everyone is wishing me the best."
Francis giggles over the phone. It seems the whole family has come down with a case of the giggles, including Callendar's two younger sisters and brother, and her father, Kirby Callendar, from behind his desk at University of the Virgin Islands.
"This kind of stuff doesn't bother me, doesn't move me, until my daughter is part of it," Callendar says. "Right now I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to going up there and seeing her perform."
Kinila Callendar has never suffered from performance anxiety, but if she had, the Miss America rehearsal schedule would have cured her. Leaving St. Thomas Sept 1, she spent several days in Washington, D.C., with the other contestants rehearsing production numbers from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
"That's all we've been doing is practicing," Callendar says. "Those first couple days were tiring, getting only four or five hours of rest." The rehearsal schedule has mellowed in the week since the contestants were moved to Atlantic City. Callendar's day is now a much more manageable 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rehearsing segments for swimwear, sportswear, evening gown and talent.
But Callendar's training actually began long before this trip. From the moment she was crowned Miss Virgin Islands, she was taken under the wing of Shannon Skokos, president and executive director of the Miss Virgin Islands Scholarship Organization, and a former Miss Arkansas.
Skokos jetted Callendar off to Arkansas where more than two dozen people took part in refining the pageant skills of the girl from St. Thomas. She practiced her talent, a dance set to calypso music, discussed her platform of Domestic Violence Awareness and was put through hours of mock interviews with professionals from different fields. She had wardrobe fittings at Applause Clothing of Little Rock, Ark., whose owners Gregg Frizzell and Matt Mitchell donated her pageant wardrobe. By the time Callendar left for Washington, D.C., she said it was as if she'd been doing this her whole life.
"That's the beauty of the Miss America system and the Miss Virgin Islands system," Skokos says. "It's made up of volunteers. No one person could prepare someone for this. It takes a lot of hard work. It's a big group that has to get together to help someone."
Right now Callendar is enjoying her time in Atlantic City. She has two traveling companions at her beck and call to make sure everything goes perfectly for her. And, she says, she's enjoying the company of the other women and discovering the little-known facts about what goes on behind the scenes.
"They feed us a lot!" Callendar says. "I don't know if people would think that, but we eat constantly, and good food too. We also have lots of security. We can't even go to the bathroom without security. They're doing everything they can do to keep us safe."
Although the broadcast isn't until Saturday, the competition actually takes place Monday, Sept 13, through Thursday, Sept 16. Those are the preliminary nights of swimsuit, sportswear, evening gown, talent, and the interview. Friday is the boardwalk parade, which has been a tradition since the first Miss America pageant in 1921. Saturday, Sept 18, is the big night. The Miss America Pageant will be aired live on ABC at 9 p.m.
"It's a little nerve-racking but exciting. I've never done anything like this before. So many times I pinch myself. I feel wowed. I'm still in shock," Callendar says.
Callendar works as a reporter at TV 2 on St. Thomas. She says they've been very cooperative about the new demands on her schedule, but if Callendar is crowned Miss America on Saturday night, that will become her full-time job. According to pageant officials, Miss America travels 20,000 miles a month, and is on the move every 24 to 48 hours.
"If she wins, she won't be my daughter for a whole year," Kirby Callendar says. "I'm scheduled to come back the day after the show, but if she wins, we'll be on the plane to New York. Kinila is now a celebrity. She'll be moving up and having positive things happen to her as result of this event no matter what."
And no matter what happens, there will be that big cheering section from the Virgin Islands to give her support. "I just told her to have fun, regardless," her mother says. "Win, lose or draw, I'm already proud of her."
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