The new Maryland North American Scholastic Ambassador has an answer for those who call beauty pageants superficial.
"I ask if they have ever been in one," said Joey Lynn Norwood of Westminster. "It takes a lot of work. You have to be focused on set goals. You can't be an airhead."
The 15-year-old sophomore at Highland View Academy in Hagerstown is too busy to worry about critics.
She carries an A average and is vice president and pastor of her class at the private school run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
She recently earned a governor's citation for community service and performs frequently with the Emerald USA Showcase at nursing homes and hospitals.
"Joey has been active with the showcase for three years," said Barbara J. Smith, director. "She is a very talented young lady."
She has been on the pageant circuit for four years and hopes one day to compete in the Miss America pageant.
The North American Scholastic Ambassador program, which has several national corporate backers, began six years ago in Pennsylvania, said Gail Holvey, president and founder.
"We encourage contestants to be good Samaritans, involved in community service," Ms. Holvey said. "Joey is really into helping the needy and is constantly entertaining in nursing homes. Of course, she has a voice from God."
Judging from past talent awards, Joey's voice may lead her to national events. In addition to winning the state ambassador contest, held last month in Timonium, Joey also took first place in the talent portion of the pageant.
"I have always sung from the time I was little on up," she said.
Judy Norwood said her daughter sang before she talked.
"She had a little guitar and she sang with it, even before she could talk," said Mrs. Norwood, who encourages and supports her daughter. "Now she loves to sing and to help people.
"We don't make an issue of the contests. We do it because it gives Joey a social activity with kids her own age," Mrs. Norwood said.
pTC "The first time I saw a pageant on television, I knew I wanted to be in one," said Joey.
Joey bristles at the "beauty pageant" tag. Judges also consider contestants' poise and knowledge during an interview process, she says.
"Joey is one of the most Christian candidates I have met," Ms. Holvey said. "She balances home, being a teen-ager, maintains her grades and leads a life full of Christianity."
When she selects performance music, Joey gravitates to country and theatrical numbers and whatever she finds "fun to sing."
For the state ambassador contest, she took first in the talent category with her rendition of "I Will Always Love You." She prefers the original recording by Dolly Parton (who wrote the song) to the '90s version popularized by Whitney Houston.
Talent also will play a major part in the national scholastic ambassador contest, set for July in Atlantic City. As Joey prepares for the pageant, she faces "a lot of hard work" and stiff competition from 40 other contestants.
She is working out, practicing new song routines and "keeping up-to-date on what is going on in the world."
"Contestants have to be aware," she said. "I try to read newspapers and news magazines all the time."
The winner receives scholarship money and a trip to Italy.
Joey said she wouldn't mind another trip to Europe. She spent three weeks in Russia last summer on a goodwill tour with several classmates. The group sang in concert, helped build two churches and gave a few English lessons.