BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tess McNerlin had not walked across a pageant stage since she was a sixth grader. She entered and won the Miss Abingdon pageant earlier this year, and now she says a whole new pathway could be opened with her entry in this weekend’s Miss Virginia Teen USA event.
“I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner,” McNerlin, 18, said following run-throughs for Friday night’s preliminary competition for her event and Miss Virginia USA — both being held at the Paramount Center for the Arts with the finals scheduled for tonight beginning at 8.
A senior at Abingdon High, McNerlin said she has learned the art of networking, poise, posture and all the other tools she will need for a career in business, something she wants to pursue after graduation next spring.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned in the few short hours I’ve been here is not to go in with pre-conceived judgments about people because everyone here has been super nice. They are so caring. The other thing is being confident and being your best, especially under pressure. I think being on this stage fits that right now.”
Miss Virginia USA Executive Director Kim Nicewonder Johnson has coordinated this event for the past 20 years and she says the business and city leaders of Bristol have given her and the organization high marks for making the pageant a nice fit for the downtown area.
“It is definitely an economic development asset for Bristol because we have girls and their families coming from all parts of Virginia to be here,” Johnson said.
Most of those families turn the event into a weekend getaway and Johnson said that means local merchants and restaurants reap the benefit of those visits.
“A lot of people thought the state stopped at Roanoke, but Southwest Virginia has really been a fantastic host for those folks coming from as far away as Virginia Beach and other northern parts of Virginia. That may be why Bristol has hosted this pageant more than any other city in Virginia.”
The pageant is also a homecoming of sorts for Miss Virginia USA host Lauren Barnette. A graduate of the former J.J. Kelly High School, the Wise, Va. native now makes her living in Los Angeles where she hosts her own sports-based webcast called “Tackle This,” has appeared in a country music video featuring artist Randy Houser and was a briefcase model on the NBC game show series “Deal or No Deal.”
Barnette says she owes her current success to the skills learned during her reign as Miss Virginia Teen USA in 2002 and as Miss Virginia USA in 2007.
“Without winning, I would not be where I am,” she said. “It put me on a path. This was my dream and it has opened so many doors and all of the tools I use as a professional were gained while working here.”
More information on the event is available at www.missvirginiausa.com.
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