Paige Wagner wasn't supposed to compete in Saturday night's California Junior Miss program in Bakersfield.
But the 16-year-old incoming senior from Beyer High ended up making the trip and won the title. She is believed to be the first California Junior Miss from Modesto.
"It was just crazy," she said. "I didn't expect to win. I was just happy to be there."
Paige not only was named the state's Junior Miss, she won $15,500 in scholarships, plus a trip to take part in the national Junior Miss competition in Mobile, Ala., in June.
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Here's how it happened:
She was one of 25 young women — all juniors in high school — to take part in Modesto's annual Junior Miss competition, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Modesto. Girls from throughout the country take part in these local competitions, in which they show off their skills in five areas: personal interview, talent, scholastics, fitness, and self-expression (a short speech). Winners receive money for college.
Paige didn't win the Modesto competition in February. She was named first runner-up.
Then one of the two winners of the local event, Emily Kay Shrader, landed a lead in the YES Company production of "Bye Bye Birdie." The show coincided with the state Junior Miss competition and Emily, a veteran of many local productions, chose the show.
So Paige went to Bakersfield along with Modesto's other winner, Natalie Cleek of Big Valley Christian High School.
Paige dazzled judges with a performance on her violin, said the chairwoman of the Modesto Junior Miss competition, Tracy Walsh. Paige took the stage in a gypsy costume and performed a lively version of the classical composition "Czardos," playing along to a recording of herself on the piano. She won the talent portion of the contest.
Another thing that impressed the judges and fellow contestants was Paige's upbeat personality, Walsh said. "Everyone came up to me and said she was the spirit of Junior Miss," Walsh said. "She's one of the good kids, one of the nicest, most polite girls you will ever meet."
Walsh said Paige is the first California Junior Miss to hail from Modesto, although Modesto teens have won individual categories in the state competition. She follows in the footsteps of Oakdale native Colleen Hawks, who won the state title in the 1980s. Hawks now performs on Broadway.
Paige's aspirations are more modest. She hopes to attend Brigham Young University to study music and journalism.
What did she take away from the competition?
"I've realized a little bit more of what my potential can be," she said.
Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.