The final two candidates, junior Olivia Harlan and her roommate Mackenzie Eveland of the Miss Kansas Teen USA Pageant 2010, stood next to each other and began laughing in front of the audience and the judges. It could either have been from shock or because it was the first pageant for both of them, Olivia doesn’t know. But she does know that she never expected what came next.

“They announced the runner-up first and I looked into the crowd with the blankest face,” Olivia said. “The runner-up was hugging me and saying ‘You won! You won!’ My family and friends rushed on stage after I won, and all I said was ‘Well ladies, we’re going to the Bahamas.’”

Olivia began thinking about entering the pageant last summer. She had thought about it before, but never seriously. She called family friend and former Miss Wisconsin Anne Peterson to clear up questions that she had. Peterson told Olivia about how the pageant experience gives girls a chance to mature and allows them to learn more about themselves. To further convince Olivia to enter, Peterson, Olivia’s mom Ann Harlan, and Peterson’s friend, pageant coach Linda Loveless, went out to lunch and answered all of Olivia and Ann’s questions. They discussed the stereotypical “pageant girl” and whether or not she would fall into that category, saying that she wouldn’t because she’s beautiful in both personality and looks. They also told her about the benefits of doing the pageant.

“We encouraged her to be herself, because her beauty is inside and out, and to let that shine,” Peterson said. “She needed to enjoy this experience, to be relaxed and to look at this as a wonderful opportunity. Not put too much emphasis on winning but rather enjoy the experience of the whole event.”

Since winning the pageant, Peterson said Olivia becomes a delegate for Kansas around the country and throughout Kansas. Since she’s Miss Teen Kansas, Olivia will get to throw the opening pitch at a springtime Royals’ game. She will also be traveling with Miss Kansas, Bethany Gerber, volunteering in various places around Kansas, talking at elementary schools and meeting with the winners from other states, all while wearing her sash and crown. Olivia stays Miss Teen Kansas until after she participates in the National Pageant in August.

“I am excited to get to get to know Olivia. One thing that we will do for each other is that we will support each other at our national pageants,” Gerber said.

In order to get into the pageant, Oliva had to fill out an information sheet and a questionnaire. Olivia also sent in a head shot taken at her grandparents’ anniversary party. After about three weeks she was contacted about her application.

“They call you for a phone interview, which I thought would be a little bit scary but it really isn’t,” Olivia said. “They are just trying to figure out who you are and why you want to do this.”

During the interview they asked her questions about the activities she does, what she is involved in, what she likes to do and why she wants to participate in the pageant.

Olivia started preparing in August, with Loveless coaching her through the process. She taught her how to walk the pageant walk, which meant learning to walk confidently and widen her stride.  Olivia also learned that she needed to be relaxed in the pageant and enjoy the experience.

“Practicing feeling good about yourself and practicing feeling confident in your high heels is important,” Loveless said. “Also, not worrying about tripping, especially if you are coming downstairs, so that your heel doesn’t get caught on your gown.”

Since this was her first pageant, she thought that all of the other girls would be experienced and able to do it mechanically. But Loveless reassured her that the judges would be looking for a fresh face and not someone who could be associated with “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Olivia also found out that other girls were just as inexperienced as herself.

Another step in order to get ready for the pageant was purchasing three different outfits; a swimsuit, an interview outfit and an evening gown. For all of these she went to Sassy Chic in Overland Park, a store dedicated to pageants and prom.

By the time the pageant rolled around in December, Olivia had been working towards it for five months straight. She had been doing things from practicing interview questions and picking out outfits, to feeling confident in a swimsuit and learning how to be relaxed in front of the audience and judges. Olivia and her mom loaded up their car, with all of the pageant gowns, make-up and hair supplies, along with clothes for lounging around in the hotel and headed for Lawrence. The rest of Team Olivia, which included two of her friends, her hairstylist, her coach and Peterson came up on Sunday for the pageant.

At the pageant, Olivia took photos with all of the other contestants in their various outfits. On Saturday they rehearsed their opening number wearing sweats and rollers in their hair while awaiting preliminaries that night. Saturday night they had their interviews.

“In order to work on the interview, Olivia and I would go on walks and practice questions and answers over and over again,” Ann said. “We would go over current events, in case they asked her questions about that.”

Sunday came with more rehearsals in the morning and the big show at night.

In the future, Olivia doesn’t plan on participating in any more pageants other than nationals, but she does plan on milking this year for all it’s worth. She will be going to as many public events in her sash and crown as planned, and more.

“Right from the very beginning, Linda and I looked at each other and knew that if anyone is going to win this pageant, it’s going to be Olivia,” Peterson said.