Reporting can take you places you never thought you'd go.
In the last two years, I've been in a high-speed chase with local law enforcement, been inside a burning building during a training structure fire and seen more lake trout than the world's best fishermen at the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery.
I also think I've learned a lot, too, especially covering the school board, city council and other municipal organizations. But nothing prepared me for what I was asked to do on Monday night serve as judge at the Warren County Fair Queen Pageant.
Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton
The Warren County Fair Queen Pageant was held Monday night at the First Niagara Pavilion. From left are contestants Samantha Tome and Savannah Pollow, 2013 Fair Queen Tyler Dziendziel, 2012 Fair Queen Kellie Lindstrom, 2012 second runner-up Michelle Cantrell, 2013 first runner-up Kirsten Beardsley, 2013 second runner-up Angela Renninger and contestant Daymara Haskins.
When Doris Labowski asked me to judge a couple months ago, I was perfectly honest with her. I told her I had absolutely no background or experience. When I found out it wasn't required, I figured I'd give it a shot.
About a week ago, the three judges myself, Sue Ward and Casey Hall, who was the 2010 Pennsylvania State Fair Queen received the contestants' essays and were instructed to have them scored before Monday.
When I made it to the First Niagara Pavilion on Monday, we jumped right in to the speech portion of the contest where each contestant gave a two-minute speech. After the speeches and the photogenic portion of the competition, the judges and contestants shared dinner and I felt that it really helped to be able to talk to each of the contestants about why they were in the contestant, what they most excited for and to be able to interact with them without the pressure of a scored activity.
I know it helped me as a judge to be able to add demeanor and personality to a name and face.
After dinner, it was time for the interviews. All six contestants responded fluently and gracefully. Before the interviews, I thought I had a sense for who the top three might be, but the phenomenal responses in the interview portion showed that the field was really wide open.
Then came the pageant.
While quite a bit of the final score is judged beforehand, presentation, evening gown, impromptu question and talent are the scored parts of the pageant.
Now my background is in education so judging speeches, interviews and question answers was relatively straightforward.
But the wide range of talents, abilities and personalities that were vying for the title Fair Queen made those other categories very challenging. Fortunately, we were given fairly specific criteria for evening gown which helped (because I really had no idea there).
The talent portion was definitely the most fun to watch because each contestant brought the best they had to the table.
Daymara Haskins and Samantha Tome both sang and did a phenomenal job. Angela Renninger joined with a piano player and wowed the crowd on the saxophone and Savannah Pollow rocked the stage with a dance.
Those types of talents were what I was thinking when I thought about what the talent portion might entail.
The other two, well, I didn't see those coming.
Kirsten Beardsley put on an archery display, walking the crowd through the main parts of her equipment before drilling the bulls-eye three times. Tyler Dzendziel really commanded the stage in acting a scene from a Broadway play.
With the vast array of talent, it was really tough to distinguish one act from another. It helped that we were given some criteria to look for that transcended all the talents, such as whether the contestants were prepared and how comfortable they were on stage.
After all the scored events were complete, the judges were given the names of the three highest scorers and asked to assign one to queen, one to first runner-up and one to second runner-up.
That was tough because all three, let alone all six, did a great job and could have finished the night on the top of the podium.
When all the scores were tallied, Dzendziel was crowned Fair Queen, Beardsley first runner-up and Renninger second runner-up.
All six were deserving and they all earned my respect for their willingness, as many said during the interviews, to step out of their comfort zone. Several talked about hoping to gain confidence in their public speaking ability and I hope they were able to take away those lessons along with the experience they gained through the process.
For me as a judge, I was just glad we were set up off stage because, looking over my shoulder, that crowd was huge. But, seriously, I'm glad I took Doris Labowski up on the opportunity. It's always great to learn new things and I definitely know more about judging a fair queen pageant than I did before.
Like I said, this job can take you some places you never thought you'd be.
And that's a good thing.