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Summer beauty pageant season brings queens to Billings; new age limit rules aim for inclusion

Miss Montana USA and Miss Montana Teen USA hits Billings in June; Miss Montana Scholarship set for July 13, 2024
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Posted at 2:29 PM, Jun 19, 2024

BILLINGS — Dozens of women from all across Montana are in Billings this June competing in the Miss Montana USA and Miss Montana Teen USA pageant.

The beauty pageant industry this year in Billings has a big economic impact, estimated at a quarter of a million dollars, according to Visit Billings. The impact extends far beyond the dollars, especially now, in light of historic changes aimed at making pageants in Montana and beyond more inclusive.

Two of the main pageants are at MSU Billings, and while the competitions look a little bit different as far as the rules, the directors say they all empower women as they compete for the crown.

UPDATE: Miss Montana USA and Miss Montana Teen USA crowned; appear on Montana This Morning along with Billings' first Miss Juneteenth.

Twenty-five delegates are in Billings this June for Miss Montana USA and Miss Montana Teen USA. In July, the qualifier for Miss America and Miss Teen America hit the same city and stage with about 20 contestants and their entourage.

While beauty pageants are always welcome in Billings, even drawing city council members as official judges, this year’s competitions do look different thanks to historic rule changes.

“I think it's a great, great opportunity to bring people to Billings to see what we are and who we are,” says Mike Boyette, Billings City Council member and Miss Montana Scholarship Judge.

“Last year, that change was for the first time in pageant history, women who are married, divorced, mothers or even pregnant, are able to compete for the title of Miss Montana USA and then to go on and compete for Miss USA and then to eventually compete for Miss Universe if they were to win Miss USA,” says Lisa Pierce, executive director of Miss Montana USA and Miss Montana Teen USA.

“I'm able to compete this year because of a recent rule change allowing married women to compete in the Miss USA pageant system. I'm the CEO and founder of a tech company called Maro that sits at the intersection of healthcare and education for youth,” says Kenzie Butera-Davis, Miss Hyalite USA.

This year, the 28-year-old age cap is removed, an inclusive move proving popular in Montana.

"Hi, my name is Dr. Alexandria Rutherford, and I'm competing for the title of Miss Montana USA. I grew up watching beauty pageants. The queens were elegant and poised and beautiful, but their careers and educational backgrounds wasn't necessarily something that was focused on,” says Dr. Alexandria Rutherford, Miss Whitefish USA.

“Today, as a married 35-year-old woman, I can tell you that as women, our dreams don't stop just because we become a wife, a mother, or we reach a certain age,” says Juliana Wilson, Miss Paradise Valley USA.

From beauty to brains, many directors say pageantry teaches it all.

“There are a lot of skills and life, really important life qualities that kids get from pageantry that they also get from sports. They learn how to be good leaders. They learn how to be good teammates. They learn sportsmanship, how to win and lose gracefully, but in pageantry, they learn how to be great communicators, which I think is so important,” says Pierce.

Little girls are watching, as they take the stage in Pierce's pageant as ambassadors for the main event.

“I want to tell young women, as a pageant queen, as hopefully Miss Montana USA, as a black belt in Japanese jujitsu, as a woman with a bachelor of science degree, you don't have to choose between beauty, brains and brawn, you can absolutely be all three,” says Jessica Picker, Miss Copper City USA.