MJM Watch


Sept. 8, 2000










Just your average beauty queen

Body glitter, fake nails — it’s all part of life

for your run-of-the-mill teenager — and for one potential pageant professional.

Story by Emily Kuhl

Photos by Amy Drewry

Manassas Journal Messenger

Much of the world sees beauty pageants through a very small

lens – one that usually consists of strict regimens, glossed-over smiles

and catty contestants. As an audience, it is not often that you get a glimpse

into the lives of the people being judged. But one 13-year-old from Haymarket

demonstrates it’s often those who are put on a pedestal who lead the most

average of lives.

At 7 a.m. Saturday, Mischelle Holohan woke up from what

had been a short and restless night’s sleep. Though intending to go to bed

early, she was kept awake by nerves and thoughts running through her head

of last weekend’s pageant. Mischelle had entered the American Coed Pageant

one year ago on a whim. She finished strong, placing among the top five

for Best Spokesmodel and the top 10 for overall finalists as Miss Pre-Teen

Virginia. This year, she said, was different. She had more of an idea what

to expect, and what she expected was to have a good time.

“She’s a little more nervous than last year,”

says her mother, Mitzi Turner. “Last year there were only about 50

girls.” This year, though, Mischelle would be competing against 120

other 13- to 16-year-olds.

Following the Miss Junior Teen pageant in Richmond on

Saturday, Mischelle Holohan exits the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott hotel

to meet her family. She carries roses from her boyfriend, Benedetti, 14,

of Haymarket, carries her shaw, and her stepsister, Nichole Holohan admires

her trophy. Mischelle Holohan was a top 10 finalist in the Miss Pre-Teen

Virginia pageant last year, but moved to a higher division this year since

celebrating her 13th birthday. Below, Mischelle escorts Rose Davidson, 97,

from social hour back to her room in Annaburg Manor in Manassas. Mischelle

volunteers at Annaburg regularly, doing such activities as reading books

and playing games with the residents.

Around 8:30 a.m., she slumps down in the bathroom as her

stepmother Shari Holohan winds strands of her dark hair around hot rollers.

Mischelle has already gone over her schedule with her father, Tim Holohan,

and is prepared for the upcoming escort orientation at 9 a.m.

“I have a feeling I’m going to do good,” she

announces, sitting patiently while Holohan sporadically clips the rollers

to her head. “If I don’t win, that’s OK. If I know in my heart I did

a good job, that’s all I want.”

She sits with her hands folded between her knees, silently

talking to herself, while Holohan starts applying makeup. Mischelle’s nerves

are apparent.

Following the orientation, Mischelle is taking part in

the Spokesmodel Competition. She will have little-to-no time to rehearse,

so the time to go over lines is now. Though her posture seems sluggish and

sleepy, her mind is racing at 100 miles an hour.

“Can you do my body jewels?” she blurts out,

already thinking ahead to her costume for the Talent Competition.

She and Holohan continue making small talk, occasionally

interjecting comments about the upcoming events. By 9 a.m., her hair and

makeup are complete, and she has calmed considerably.

Before leaving for the orientation, she stops to admire

her outfit – a khaki and T-shirt ensemble from American Eagle. Like just

about any other teen-ager, Mischelle loves shopping. She and her friends

frequent the malls, and American Eagle in particular is one of her favorite

stores – so much so, she chose the store as her product to “pitch”

for her spokesmodel routine.

“She’s in there all the time, so they helped me put

an outfit together,” says Turner. “They were really excited about

the whole thing.”

The package now complete, Mischelle heads downstairs to

the Grand Ballroom where the orientation and competition will take place.

Before stepping on the elevator, her mother rushes from around the corner

and hands a small plastic bag to her.

Inside is her lucky penny.

The next Britney?

The American Coed Pageant is divided into several divisions,

ranging by age group. Mischelle’s division, Junior Teen, consists of girls

aged 13 to 16 years old. While all contestants take part in an evening gown

competition and interview process, the pageant includes several optional

contests. Mischelle has chosen to participate in all three: Spokesmodel,

Sportswear and Talent. It leaves her little time to get ready, as each competition

starts only 15 minutes after the previous one ends. But as 11:30 a.m. rolls

around, she’s getting ready for her Sportswear event and is too hooked on

Britney Spears to be nervous.

“You drive me crazy …” she sings under her

breath as Holohan begins restructuring her hairdo. Mischelle, in an uncanny

facsimile of Britney Spears, is dolled up in a plaid schoolgirl miniskirt,

white button-up shirt and fitted V-neck sweater. White knee socks and clunky

platform shoes complete the outfit. Were she not a brunette, she and the

teen idol would look like twins.

“Society is one

vast conspiracy for carving one into the kind of statue it likes, and then

placing it in the most convenient niche it has.”

-Randolph Bourne, “Youth

and Life”

Holohan begins weaving her hair into pigtail braids when

Mischelle breaks out in song again, this time to “Oops, I Did It Again.”

She seems oblivious to the fact that in less than 20 minutes, she’ll be

parading around in front of other contestants, countless parents and three

very important judges. Her mother isn’t surprised.

“She’s not overdoing it,” she said, while waiting

between competitions. “It’s not like she’s in the Olympics or is practicing

10 hours a day. She volunteers, she does cheerleading, she hangs out with

her friends. I don’t think she’d want [anything different]. She’s too well-rounded.”

“I’d still like you even if you looked like this,”

teases friend Kelly Colgan, 13, of Gainesville. Mischelle and her friends

spent a recent afternoon at Bowl America in Bull Run. In addition to bowling

Mischelle’s mother said she and her friends are frequent visitors to the

mall and love to have sleep-overs.

Pageantry, though fun and exciting, is still new to Mischelle,

and she doesn’t take it too seriously.

“It’s not at all about winning,” she explains.

“It’s about being yourself, having inner beauty. If I could, I’d like

to do this professionally. If I could be Miss America, that would be great.

But I don’t like being judged just on beauty. That’s a waste of money, a

waste of time, and I don’t like those pageants.”

Before long, she is sauntering down the hall toward the

elevators again, still doing her best Britney imitation.

“You drive me crazy … “

A natural performer

Less than an hour later, Mischelle is morphing once more

– this time for the Talent Competition. Having been a cheerleader for about

five years, she has the moves for her upcoming dance routine down to perfection.

Holohan is once again stationed in the bathroom with her

pupil in place for hair and makeup.

“I did something different from everyone else,”

she laments when asked about her Sportswear routine. Steeped in adolescence,

she acts disappointed to be standing out from everyone else. Unlike before

when she was making jokes and laughing with relatives, Mischelle seems more

stressed. It’s a feeling her mother can relate to.

“It is stressful, but more so at the end than at the

beginning,” Turner says. She admits the process of putting everything

together can be trying, but says she’s thankful for the helping hand family

members and friends provide.

Whispers and giggles echo from the bathroom as Holohan

and Mischelle discuss how she should be decorated for the talent portion.

Holohan begins drawing designs on Mischelle’s forehead and chest using gold

body glitter. Fake shimmery jewels complement the artwork. Wide-eyed and

grinning, Mischelle gazes into the mirror, pleased with the finished product.

According to her mother, getting made up has been a routine

of Mischelle’s since she was a child. Turner recounts how often Mischelle

would give her grandmother “makeovers” using all her makeup and

hair ribbons.

“I would get home, and my mom would have makeup all

over,” she says, laughing.

Pretending also came natural, says Turner.

“[Mischelle] had her Little Tykes Kitchen, and she’d

play waitress and serve us ‘food’ in the kitchen,” Turner recalls.

“I’d tell her what I want and she’d say, ‘I don’t have that.’ “

Whether trying out her mother’s Mary Kay kits on friends

or getting garbed out in a bikini with toe socks, Mischelle always has loved


Stepmother Shari Holohan puts her glamour knowledge

to good use as she helps Mischelle with her hair and makeup. Holohan was

the manager of Glamour Shots in the Springfield Mall for several years.

“I must have done 10,000 makeovers,” she says while carefully

curling Mischelle’s hair.

Mischelle gawks at the length of

the acyrlic tips that Phillip Le glues to her fingernails at Sun Nails in

Manassas. In addition to the fancy new fingertips, Mischelle received a

French manicure and a pedicure — all part of the pre-pageant preparations.

Though now only two months from her 14th birthday, Mischelle

is still at the age where she’s wavering between growing self-confidence

and clinging to insecurities. It’s a feeling that almost kept her from trying


“[Initially], I kind of looked at this as a beauty

pageant,” she says, “and I don’t think of myself as the prettiest

girl in the world. I realized, though, they don’t just judge on beauty.

I thought, this is pretty neat. I want to do this. I want to go all the


One of the keys to keeping Mischelle grounded is her friends.

Like many girls her age, she hoards her free time at the mall, the movies

and having sleep-overs. It’s something, she says, she has integrated into

her pageant life.

“They’ve been so supportive, it’s great,” she

says, adding that her competing doesn’t cause a rift with those who aren’t

participants in pageants. “None of my other friends really give it

any thought. They do support me, though. They’re all really proud of me.”

It’s 5:30 p.m., and Holohan has returned from dinner, ready

for another bout of battles with Michelle’s hair and makeup. Having just

awoke from a nap, Mischelle reluctantly rises and slowly ambles back to

the bathroom. In less than an hour, she will take the long, tedious trip

back down to the elevator and toward the ballroom. But now, she has more

immediate concerns:

“Mom, I hate this shampoo …” she moans, the

13-year-old shining through again.

And the winner is …

The evening gown contest concludes with the announcement

of the optional competition winners. When the announcements come, Mischelle

has less to show for her efforts than she’d like. Though placing as a runner-up

in Sportswear, she did not beat out any other girls for a title.

It wasn’t a lost cause, though. She received a Spirit of

America Award, an award for selling advertisements and a participation trophy.

The tokens aren’t what are most important, she says.

“My favorite was the escort, because my dad and I

make a great team,” she says, a coy smile peeking through.

After interviewing with judges nearly all day Sunday, she

reconvenes with the other girls in the ballroom at 5 p.m. Before the crowning

of the winner, Mischelle gets her chance in the spotlight. Each girl takes

her turn walking across stage, and for a last moment, all eyes are fixed

on Mischelle.

Wearing a floor-length, ice-blue dress, the lights pick

up on her flowered sequins, illuminating her slightly. She proudly takes

the microphone and introduces herself. A barrage of applause follows.

Mischelle performs a spirit dance for the judges during

the talent competition. Mischelle has been cheerleading for about five years

and regularly attends cheer and tumbling classes in Manassas.

Whatever loss Mischelle is handed doesn’t seem to be much

of one for her. She cites the experience as being valuable and mentions

friends she met up with again over the weekend. Even the final crowning

of the winner didn’t seem to phase her. She avidly claps and cheers for

the young ladies on stage, and as she exits the ballroom, she makes sure

to congratulate the contestants as they brush past.

“If I don’t win, that’s OK,” she says. “I

came here to have fun, and that’s what I’m doing.”

After the curtain has closed

The pageant has ended.

There is no crown on her head, and no tears on her face,

but Mischelle sighs when reflecting on the weekend’s events. There’s a hint

of exhaustion in her voice and disappointment in her eyes.

“I think next year I have a better chance, being 14

and knowing what to expect even more,” she says, remaining optimistic.

For a few seconds, she remains slightly sullen. Then a

thought races across her mind.

“I just want to get out of these clothes – take off

my dress, take off my shoes and get into something casual,” she says,


Her stepsister Niccole interjects, “And get something

to eat!”

The two girls nearly collapse in giggles.

Down the hall, Turner is searching for her daughter in

one of the mass dressing rooms.

“I think it was a little disheartening for her,”

she says. “You tend to see a little more serious competition the older

you get.”

But Turner says she believes the experience will help her

daughter in the long run.

“I think it was a great experience. She learned that

if you want something, go out and get it. Don’t be inhibited by your fears,”

she says.

And no regrets, right?

“Nope, not at all.”

So she’s ready to do it again next year?

“Probably not,” Turner says immediately, breaking

into laughter.

Visibly disappointed at not winning more awards in the

optional competitions, Mischelle composes herself among other winners. She

was one of the youngest in her division, which, she says, may have been

to her disadvantage. She later voiced her desire to return to the pageant

next year and compete again.

Like mother, like daughter? It’s hard to say. Participating

in pageants automatically creates a kind of facade for the competitors because

the audience sees only one dimension. Sometimes the view they get is accurate,

sometimes it isn’t, but until you get a look inside their lives, you’ll

never know either way.

Mischelle personifies something most girls also possess

but rarely publicly demonstrate: the desire to be accepted. Feeling awkward,

confused and scared is what makes a teen-ager a teen-ager. The feeling of

acceptance and self-assurance we grow to have rarely seems to come before

the end of adolescence.

So how well can you know a beauty queen until you’ve walked

around in her tiara?

The world created by pageants and those who idolize them

can absorb the teen contestants so deeply that it’s easy to lose sight of

the fact that underneath it all, the contestants are mostly just normal


Contact Emily Kuhl at [email protected]

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