The chances are one in six that a Chattanooga area representative will be named Miss Tennessee 2003 Saturday night, but the host city of Jackson is overcoming the greatest odds as it is rebuilding from the devastating May 4 tornado that resulted in several fatalities and millions of dollars in damage.
The 50-year home of the pageant, the Carl Perkins Civic Center better known to locals as “The Perk,” sustained over $2 million in damages. However, thanks to almost round the clock rebuilding, the Perk is expected to be ready for the 36 contestants, their families and friends when the preliminary competition gets underway Wednesday night.
One casualty of the tornadoes was the planned telecast of the finals. Due to the equipment being destroyed, there will be no television coverage.
The winner will succeed Valli Kugler and represent the state at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in September. She will also be the spokesperson for A Drug Free Tennessee visiting schools throughout the state encouraging students to abstain from illegal drugs.
The field is evenly divided this year with 18 returnees and the same number of newcomers. Of the six Chattanooga women competing, four are veterans and two are making their debuts on the state level.
The last Chattanooga representative to be named Miss Tennessee was Desiree Daniels, the 1982 winner, who was 1st runner up to Miss America 1983 Debbie Maffett. The Cleveland area has had three winners in 14 years – Lisa Robertson (1989), now a host on QVC and among the judges selecting the new Miss Tennessee; Beth Hood (2000), recently the 4th runner up at Miss USA, and Stephanie Culberson (2001), a Lee University graduate who was 2nd runner up to Miss America 2002 Katie Harman.
Introducing the area representatives vying for the job of Miss Tennessee 2003:
Miss Chattanooga, Cara Allison, 24, a graduate of UTC with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a minor in Vocal Performance; This is the third trip to the state finals for the Ringgold resident who is in her last year of eligibility due to age restrictions. Allison will sing for her talent presentation and her area of community service focuses on Music, the Language of Life.
Miss Tennessee Valley, Ashley Carol Brooks, 22, was last year’s 4th runner up and 3rd runner up in 2001 and has been a talent preliminary winner both years. Brooks is a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University where she received her degree in Music Performance. The classical pianist was named Who’s Who Best All Around Female at MTSU in 2001. She will be attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Brooks is also making her third appearance at Miss Tennessee. Her platform theme is Music to Build Self Esteem. She is from Medon, which is near Jackson.
Miss Chattanooga, Alia Crutcher, 21, is a rising senior at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance at Fordham University in New York City. A member of the Chattanooga Ballet, Crutcher is making her first appearance on the Miss Tennessee stage. Arts in Education is the community service platform for the graduate of the Chattanooga School for the Creative Arts.
Miss Southeast Tennessee, Lisa Marie Saalwaecther, 22, is a recent graduate of Lee University and plans to attend law school. At Lee, she was a member of Delta Zeta Tau and performed with the University Singers. This is her second trip to Jackson where she won a swimsuit preliminary last year. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America is her platform of choice.
Miss Scenic City, Jamie Watkins, 23, of Soddy-Daisy was 1st runner up to Culberson at the 2001 pageant and finished in the top 10 at the 2000 event. Watkins represented the state at the 2001 National Sweetheart Pageant in Hoopeston, Ill., where finished 4th runner up. The music education graduate of UTC has traveled around the world as a member of the University Singers. She recently finished her student teaching at Ringgold Middle School. Keeping Music Education in Our Schools is her community service focus.
Miss Metropolitan, Autumn Leigh Wiggins, 23, of Dublin, Ga., joined Delta Zeta Tau sister Saalwaecther in Lee’s recent graduation class. Wiggins joins Crutcher as the other area newcomer in Jackson. Literacy is her platform and she will sing in the talent portion of the contest.
The women will compete in talent, swimsuit and evening gown preliminaries Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The private interviews take place on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 10 ladies with the highest preliminary scores compete Saturday night for the title.