Plugged-In Junior Miss: The Northwest's Hottest Teen is Hopping
It's 9:00 a.m. Monday and Amy Kerr, the Northwest's 2002 American Junior Miss, is in music class at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.. Or she may be on a plane heading to Houston, Mobile or other far-flung city. Or perhaps she's being interviewed on national television by Deborah Norville or Diane Sawyer; doing the weather on "Fox and Friends;" or preparing to sing an operatic rendition of "God Bless America" at a nationally televised football game or starring in the television road show "Go for It." If you're trying to catch up with Amy Kerr, Oregon's first teenager to win the coveted title of America's Junior Miss, put on your track shoes. This is one young woman who's on the go.
"It can get hectic," Amy admits, when talking about her non-stop schedule. Since winning the national title in Mobile, Ala., in June, her life has moved into hyper-drive. Her job is to be a role model and inspire America's youth to be their best with the Junior Miss "Be All You Can Be" campaign. To that end, she criss-crosses the country, speaking and performing at schools, nonprofits, civic events, community groups and sporting venues. She's so busy that she has a full-time public relations firm to maintain her schedule.
In addition to numerous speaking engagements and appearances each month, Amy is required, like all previous titleholders, to attend college full time. She's currently a freshman at Willamette University. "With all the traveling, I do miss a lot of school," she says. "That's why it's important for the Junior Miss to be intelligent and be able to do well in school. Scholastic achievement is a huge part of the judging."
Amy shines in the scholastic arena. The former McNary High School honor student graduated with an overall 4.205 grade point average. She's won local, state and national Junior Miss titles that have earned her more than $76,000 in scholarship money. Enough, she says, with other scholarships she's won, to pay for both undergraduate and graduate school.
Technology, and the understanding of her professors at Willamette, makes it possible for her to keep up with her studies. When she's on the road, she emails in homework assignments and takes proctored exams. Her trusty laptop allows her to receive, work on and deliver assignments, even when she's miles from campus. A cell phone enables her to keep in touch with friends, teachers and her close-knit family.
"My professors here at Willamette have been very accommodating," she says. "I make sure I do the reading and do the homework. I may miss a few class discussions, but if I'm careful about studying, I'm okay."
Doesn't her hectic schedule mean she misses out on the all-important college social life? "Well, I don't miss the party scene because I'm not big on parties," she says smiling broadly. "I'm gone so much that I do feel I miss out on building strong relationships with friends. I don't have time to hang out with my friends much. But I'm going to be here four years so I figure there's plenty of time for that."
Fearing that the title of America's Junior Miss might put off or give the wrong impression to students who don't know her, Amy rarely reveals her royal status. She says when school started, Lee Pelton, the president of Willamette University, gave a speech to incoming freshmen and mentioned that one of them was America's Junior Miss. She was relieved that he didn't say her name.
"I try to let people get to know me before I tell them about the title because some people have the wrong idea about America's Junior Miss," she says. "They think I run around in swim suits all the time and that I must be a stuck up, self-centered beauty queen. They don't understand that America's Junior Miss is a scholarship pageant not a traditional beauty pageant."
In fact, beauty doesn't enter into the judging for America's Junior Miss. Contestants are judged in the following categories: 20 percent scholastics; 25 percent interview; 25 percent talent; 15 percent fitness; and 15 percent poise.
One of the first things you notice about Amy is her poise and sense of calm. She's only 18 years old, but little seems to ruffle her. For instance, after winning the title, she was invited to be interviewed on "Fox and Friends" in New York City. Instead of an interview, the producers had her forecast the weather -- without any instructions or rehearsal. They threw her trick questions like asking her if American's Junior Miss Pageant is owned by Hugh Hefner (it isn't). She says she looked "like a goof." However, she came through that media trial by fire more confident and able to laugh at herself.
"After the 'Fox and Friends' interview, I was almost in tears," she says. "But those kinds of experiences have taught me to laugh at myself. I've learned to wing it and roll with the punches."
Not all of her appearances have been so challenging. A gifted soprano, she sang Quando m'en vo' from Puccini's La Boheme at the national pageant and won the $10,000 talent scholarship. Amy says performing before large audiences is "fun." She fulfilled a childhood fantasy when she received standing ovations for her performance from both David Foster (Whitney Houston's songwriter/producer) and Ed McMahon. "It felt like I was on Star Search," she says, her eyes shining at the memory. "As a little girl, I was obsessed with appearing on Star Search and earning four stars from Ed McMahon. After I sang, he stood in the front row applauding and yelling "four stars.""
A soft ring comes from Amy's brief case. "Excuse me," she says reaching for her cell phone. It's her public relations representative calling, updating her schedule. "Ok, Houston on Tuesday; then three days in New York City. I've confirmed the speech with the Chamber of Commerce in Bend. They want me to sing too? Ok. Yes, I can squeeze in another elementary school."
A few minutes later, she hangs up the phone and glances at the clock. "Oh my gosh, I've got to go," she says gathering her books. "I've got a class in 10 minutes."
It's just another day in the life of America's Junior Miss.
Being Your Best Self
Amy Kerr works to promote the AJM's "Be Your Best Self," a nationwide outreach program to help young people develop positive self-esteem and encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyles. The program encourages youth to:
-Live by moral principles.
-Get a good education
-Get proper nutrition
-Participate in community service
-Work to reach goals
For more information about America's Junior Miss program, call (800) 256-5435 or log onto www.ajm.org