Pageant notes: Teen runner-up was struck by lightning, but that’s not her biggest fear

In my story recapping the Miss Maine USA pageant from Sunday night, some of the interesting details from the event ended up on the cutting room floor for time and space reasons. One such detail came when Miss Bonny Eagle Teen USA, Marisa Butler, was asked during the short interview round by reality TV star co-hosts Ashley Hebert and Ashley Underwood how she got the nickname “Sparky.”

“I was struck by lightning when I was in the sixth grade, and my friends were kind of making fun of me,” Butler, pictured above, responded nonchalantly.

Co-host Ashley Underwood, right, reacts to the Miss Bonny Eagle Marisa Butler's story about a lady bug flying up her nose. Photo Robert F. Bukaty for the BDN

And yet, Butler didn’t identify thunderstorms as her greatest fear. She told the Ashleys she’s “petrified” of lady bugs.

Naturally.

She said one flew up her nose when she was young, “and I’ve been afraid of them ever since.”

I guess that makes sense. One is much more likely — I would say hundreds, if not thousands of times more likely — to be attacked by lady bugs again than to be struck by lightning again. So, moving forward, the lady bugs remain a greater threat.

Fellow Miss Maine Teen USA finalist Devon Drake, Miss Belfast Teen USA, said she’d pick retired professional basketball star Michael Jordan as the one person she’d want to go to lunch with, which surprised me considering Jordan’s vintage. I found him begrudgingly amazing to watch when I was in high school, but I was caught off guard to hear somebody in high school today recognizing that greatness.

‘Watch out for the Maine girls’

Miss Southern Maine Heather Elwell was runner-up at the Miss Maine USA pageant. Photo by Robert F. Bukaty for the BDN.

The runner-up on the Miss Maine USA side of things was Miss Southern Maine USA Healther Elwell, a musician and Florida State University graduate who comes from my old journalistic stomping grounds of Bath. It’s worth mentioning the runners-up in these pageants, because if the winner ever has to abdicate the proverbial throne, the runners-up have to carry the sash.

Ashley Lynn Marble was the runner-up at last fall’s state competition and ended up representing Maine at the Miss USA pageant in June after winner Emily Johnson opted to attend her sister’s wedding on the date of the nationwide competition.

It’s also worth noting that Mainers are starting to turn some heads in the Miss USA field.

Marble stepped in and finished in the top eight last year, continuing an up trend for the Pine Tree State.

“For the first time ever, both Miss and Maine Teen made the semifinals, and the previous year, Miss Maine USA had a fifth place finish, which was a new high for us,” said Miss Maine USA Executive Director Mackenzie Davis, herself a winner in 2004.

With that momentum, perhaps Miss Maine USA 2012 Rani Williamson, once picked by Maxim Magazine as a “hometown hottie,” will rise up even further in the ranks during the NBC telecast of the Miss USA pageant next June.

“We’re putting Maine on the spot,” Marble said during an on-stage interview with Hebert and Underwood. “Watch out for the Maine girls.”

‘Miss’ Understood

Seeing some of the Miss Maine USA contestants wearing sashes representing municipalities, while others seemed to be from counties or regions, and still others had sashes with business names, I asked Davis how they got their titles coming into the pageant to begin with.

Knowing very little about the Maine pageant world, I sort of imagined there being some kind of playoff system in which local pageants fed into this central, state pageant — which then, of course, feeds into the Donald Trump-backed Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, etc.

But that’s not it. Mackenzie said the Maine organization holds rolling casting calls, during which they interview and size up applicants, and the ones chosen to take part in the Miss Maine USA pageant can gloss themselves “Miss Whatever-they-want.”

If a major sponsor steps up and covers all of the considerable cost that goes into preparing and dressing for a pageant, that sponsor can be the name on the sash. Miss Maine Teen USA after last night is Miss Body By John Molly Fitzpatrick, for instance.

Others pick their hometowns or a region where they think they’ll be able to generate fundraising support, Davis said. Those evening gowns are not cheap.

Beauty bracketology

Get out your Miss Maine USA office brackets and see how you did. Entering the weekend, the field consisted of the following contestants:

  • Miss Androscoggin County USA Jaime Hart
  • Miss Arundel USA Allison Robida
  • Miss Auburn USA Sarah Simpson
  • Miss Bangor USA Samantha Hall
  • Miss Bar Harbor USA Rani Williamson
  • Miss Berwick USA Erin Reil
  • Miss Body By John USA Brianna Shepard
  • Miss Coastal Maine USA Olivia Luksic
  • Miss Cumberland County USA Nichole Croteau
  • Miss Diamond Island USA Natasha Furbish
  • Miss Falmouth USA Rebecca Morrell
  • Miss Gorham USA Kathryn Cyr
  • Miss Kennebec County USA Ali Clair
  • Miss Moosehead Lake USA Meghan Marie McIver
  • Miss Old Port USA Cortney Goodin
  • Miss Poland Springs USA Katherine Meservier
  • Miss Portland USA Julianna Clare Strout
  • Miss Regency Spa USA Bogdana Vignjevic
  • Miss Saco USA Mary Reed
  • Miss Somerset County USA Carissa Lynn Theodore
  • Miss Southern Coast USA Stephanie Pennell
  • Miss Southern Maine USA Heather Elwell

After a series of interviews as part of the preliminary show on Saturday night, the field was whittled down to 10 semifinalists early in the Sunday pageant.:

  • Miss Bangor USA Samantha Hall
  • Miss Bar Harbor USA Rani Williamson
  • Miss Regency Spa USA Bogdana Vignjevic
  • Miss Old Port USA Cortney Goodin
  • Miss Gorham USA Kathryn Cyr
  • Miss Berwick USA Erin Reil
  • Miss Kennebec County USA Ali Clair
  • Miss Diamond Island USA Natasha Furbish
  • Miss Southern Maine USA Heather Elwell
  • Miss Portland USA Julianna Clare Strout

After the swimsuit and evening gown competitions Sunday night, the panel of judges knocked it down to five finalists:

  • Miss Old Port USA Cortney Goodin
  • Miss Portland USA Julianna Clare Strout
  • Miss Southern Maine USA Heather Elwell
  • Miss Bar Harbor USA Rani Williamson
  • Miss Kennebec County USA Ali Clair

Then each contestant fielded a warm-up question by the celebrity hosts and a tougher question randomly selected from those submitted by the judges. The hardest judge question came from hairstylist John Reny, who asked whether the contestant agreed with Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to give drug tests to welfare recipients. Strout drew that question, and ultimately said it’s important for the state to make sure welfare dollars are being spent by recipients appropriately, so drug testing seems like a prudent step.

Other questions included “Which reality show would you most like to be on?” and “What do you want the world to know about you and about Maine?” Eventual winner Williamson was asked by judge — and “Survivor: Redemption Island” contestant — Francesca Hogi, “If you could go back in time, where would you go and would you change anything?”

Williamson said she’d go back to the European settlement of the New World and advocate for better early treatment of the Indians who were here first.

The final rankings, after interview responses were thrown into the mix, were as follows:

  • Fourth runner-up: Miss Portland USA Julianna Clare Strout
  • Third runner-up: Miss Kennebec County USA Ali Clair
  • Second runner-up: Miss Old Port USA Cortney Goodin
  • First runner-up: Miss Southern Maine USA Heather Elwell
  • Winner: Miss Bar Harbor USA Rani Williamson
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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.