After two and a half grueling hours of competition and 45 anxious minutes of judges’ deliberation, the winner of Lincoln County’s first Distinguished Young Woman title was announced.
But where was she?
Chloe Whitaker.” But center stage was still vacant.
Several seconds passed before a circle of evening-gown wearing young ladies at the back of stage finally separated to allow a teary-eyed Whitaker to step into the spotlight and accept her title.
Whitaker, the daughter of Eric and Tracy Wooldridge of Stanford and Dean Whitaker of Somerset, tentatively moved to center stage to accept her Distinguished Young Woman medallion, roses, silver tray and $4,000 cash scholarship from last year’s Junior Miss Leanne Kirkpatrick.
“I was just in shock,” said the 17-year-old Lincoln County High School senior. “I mean, I dreamed of winning but I just thought it would always be a dream. Now my dream has come true.”
Whitaker was deemed by the judges as the top candidate to hold the title out of a field of 22 candidates Monday night at the Stuart Underwood Auditorium at Lincoln County High School.
Even after winning awards in three of the five preliminary categories judged (self expression, talent, interview) and other top preliminary-winning participants being awarded fourth through first place, Whitaker was not feeling confident about her chances of winning the title.
“I knew I could do anything I set my mind to but I didn’t know there would be so many good girls participating. They were all good and a lot of people were winning awards so I didn’t really think this (title) was something I could win,” she said. “I really didn’t think it could be me.”
Whitaker admitted she was hit with a case of butterflies as she considered Monday night’s program and her competition, but that she found a way to combat her nerves and fears.
“I just decided not to worry about it and to come out and have fun with it and do the best I could. And I prayed through a lot of it,” said Whitaker. “I prayed every time before I came out and that took away a lot of the nervousness. But it was still like a, ‘Whoosh!’ It was crazy.”
“Especially in fitness,” she added. “I messed up the Junior Miss move and thought I’d messed it all up but, apparently, that didn’t matter.”
In addition to the $4,000 scholarship she received as the Distinguished Young Woman, Whitaker also received $1,160 in preliminary awards. She received $420 in both interview and talent and $320 in self expression. Whitaker was also named as a co-winner of the Spirit Award which earned her an additional $250.
For her talent, Whitaker took on the role of Miss Hannigan, the drunk and cruel tyrant who ran the orphanage in the Broadway musical “Annie.” She donned an old robe and slip, wore her hair in a tied up mess and wore tattered stockings as she performed the song “Little Girls.”
Whitaker’s comedic performance of the song won over the audience but it was a performance that almost didn’t happen.
“It wasn’t supposed to be my talent,” said Whitaker. “My friend was at the lake with me and I told her I was going to do a monologue and she said ‘That’s too boring for your personality.’ And so we just kept thinking about different talents I could do and that’s what we picked.”
As the new Distinguished Young Woman, a name change made this year from Junior Miss, Whitaker will now represent Lincoln County at the Kentucky Distinguished Young Woman program in Lexington in January 2012.
“I just can’t believe this. I won it all!,” Whitaker exclaimed. “This is a small-town honor and now it’s going to be an even bigger honor to represent us at state.”
Almost half of the Distinguished Young Woman judging was completed before Whitaker and the other participants ever took the stage Monday night.