PALENVILLE — After placing first runner-up in the state competition for National American Miss Pageant in Rochester in August, 13-year-old Almitra Guart of Palenville is on her way to the national competition in Cailfornia later this month.
The competition begins Nov. 18 and Almitra, who won the title of Miss Albany, will be in Hollywood until Nov. 27. An awards ceremony is held on the last day of the competition where the contestants learn their ranking.
“You don’t know how you did compared to the other girls, but you do find out who won and who’s first, second, third, fourth runner-up,” she said.
Almitra hails from Palenville and is an eighth grader at the Albany Academy for Girls. Her parents, Al and Kathy Guart, own the Catskill Mountain Lodge on Route 32A in Palenville.
Almitra competed in her first pageant when she was a toddler. Almitra has been a contestant in the National American Miss Pageant for three years and likes how it’s focused on confidence and becoming a better public speaker.
“I started doing it and I’ve been going back ever since,” Almitra said.
The main program in the state division comprises three competitions: formal wear, which consists of contestants walking onstage in a gown; personal introduction, where a contestant tells judges about themselves and their ambitions in life; and an interview in which a judge will ask contestants questions to see if they are suitable to hold the title of Miss New York, Almitra said.
Her favorite competition is the interview segment.
“There’s no audience, really. It’s intimate with the judge and it’s nice to get to know them and they get to know you,” she said.
The competition is judged more on how contestants carry themselves, rather than how they look, Almitra said. The contestants are advised not to wear makeup or flashy jewelry.
“Your personality is a bigger part of it than how you look,” she said. “They want to get to know you, not just from the outside appearance.”
Talent is not a required part of the main competition, but contestants can showcase their talents if they wish. Almitra has danced, sung and played the piano in past competitions.
The pageants have helped Almitra gain confidence with public speaking and given her experience to use in the future when she goes for job interviews because, she said, the interview portion of the competition is similar.
“They’ll tell you how important it is to know how an interview works and what kind of questions they might ask at a job interview because this essentially is a job, being Miss New York,” she said. “Pageantry has really helped especially in the speaking aspect — when I’m at school and if we have to give presentations, I feel so much more comfortable.”
After competing for three years in the American Miss contest, Almitra was happy to win first runner-up and to see how much she’s improved.
Improvements notwithstanding, plenty of time has to be set aside for rehearsals.
“Nationals is a whole other thing, but even for the state pageant it takes a lot of time, dedication,” Almitra said. “When I found my hard work paid off, that was a big relief and I was very happy.”
American Miss winners are considered ambassadors for their hometowns and Almitra has gotten to know many residents through her community service, including volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House in Albany and marching in parades with Vietnam veterans in East Durham and Windham.
“When I do the community service I get to know so many people that live in my area,” Almitra said. “It’s very important I know who I’m representing.”
Al Guart wholeheartedly supports his daughter and he and Kathy suggest ideas for speeches and offer constructive criticism where necessary, he said.
“We try to help her and encourage her that way, too. We’re part of the team,” he said. “We’re happy to be part of it and help her. This is her dream.”
During the optional spokesmodel contest, Almitra gave a speech about interracial children helping to end racism worldwide. It is a topic that’s personal to Almitra, her father said.
“We’re an interracial couple, she’s biracial,” Al Guart said of Almitra. “It’s something that has to be personal, but also should be meaningful to the rest of the people listening.”
Almitra encourages her contemporaries to compete in pageants because they help girls become confident leaders.
“It makes you better with people. You have a lot of social skills,” Almitra said. “It helps you learn how to carry yourself.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.