With Round 4 being a daytime performance, my night was open, so I decided to check out the Miss Rodeo America Pageant Kickoff Party at the MGM Grand. Contrary to my sarcastic friends’ theories, I: 1. Have not been banned from covering MRA events for perpetuity, and; 2. Was not attending the event solely because it featured a group of women who are routinely clad in leather.
In all seriousness, my interaction with Miss Rodeo Americas through the years has always been great, and I’ve found them all to be great representations of all that is right in the sport of rodeo. They have to be in 1,000 different places throughout their year of reign, and their travel schedules would make even the most organized person pull their hair out.
But they do it all with grace and a smile, never letting on what stresses or inconveniences they have to deal with as they represent the sport they love. So, I’ve always been a supporter of the MRA program, and not for the reasons most people think.
Granted, I appreciate the fact that the state queens are beautiful women, but I recognize they are much more than just great photo subjects. With the Las Vegas Marathon in full swing, I parked in the MGM Grand’s massive parking garage located behind the casino and weaved my way through hallway after hallway.
I arrived early in order to attend Elevation Sunday, a church service gathering held at each Wrangler NFR, because I heard there was going to be a special tribute to a trio of young cowboys who passed away this year. It was held at the KA Theater, and host Jennifer Smith said it was the first non-Cirque du Soleil event ever held in the amazingly beautiful theater.
The massive stadium seating was partly filled with a nice crowd of hundreds of members of the rodeo family. Susie Dobbs sang a couple of songs, and Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk Ministries was the keynote speaker.
After Dr. Dobson’s poignant address, Clay Walker came out and sang a song called “Jesus Was a Country Boy,” which he’d written in honor of his father, who passed away earlier this year. During the song, a photo slide show tribute for Aaron Custer, Brody Beaver and Reagon Walker – three young cowboys who left the world way too soon this year – played on the big screen behind the stage.
It was a touching tribute to the beloved youngsters, and an emotional time for family members who were in attendance. Walker also sang an inspired version of “Amazing Grace” that soothed the crowd and provided a moment of solace for those who’d lost loved ones.
Stran Smith, the 2008 world champion tie-down roper, provided the final prayer, and Dobbs and her band concluded the program with another nice song.
After the hour-long service, I made my way toward the conference rooms where the MRA party was beginning. I was welcomed by MRA staff and enjoyed a tasty buffet dinner. The barbecue chicken was very nice, the chili was tremendous and desserts were way too delicious.
The theme of the night was “Vintage,” and all of the 27 MRA contestants were dressed in throwback fashions. They were introduced by emcee Creed Roberts and paraded onto the dance floor, where they had 45 seconds to describe their outfits, which ranged in style and color.
Miss Rodeo Kansas Alyssa Morrison won the best outfit contest – which was voted on by the party attendees – but all of the queens looked great. Many of their outfits reminded me of old-time advertisements, and most of the women were very well-spoken.
The queens are in the middle of a lengthy pageant, which features a variety of competitions. From horsemanship, appearance, public speaking and even scrapbooking, the queens are judged on a number of criteria before the winner is crowned. MRA 2012 will be announced on Dec. 10 prior to Round 10 of the Wrangler NFR, and after seeing the contestants, I think it’s going to be a heck of a competition.
MRA Executive Director Raeana Wadhams agreed with me at the party, which was attended by more than 300 people, including Miss Rodeo America 2011 McKenzie Haley.
“It’s a wonderful group of girls, and we love our new home at the MGM Grand,” Wadhams said. “I think it’s going to be a very close competition this year. We’re off to a good start, and we’ll have a new Miss Rodeo America for you on Saturday afternoon.”
The pageant was moved from its longtime home at The Orleans to the massive MGM Grand this year, and the schedule was also shifted. In years past, the new MRA was crowned on the first weekend of the competition, but next year’s queen will receive her coronation on the rodeo’s final day this year.
I talked to Miss Rodeo Wyoming Brittany Richards, who was dressed in vintage clothing reminiscent of an old and famous advertisement from decades ago.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and the girls have been great,” Richards said of the pageant and her fellow queens. “There’s no way you can expect what (the pageant will be like), because it’s so much more than you could ever imagine. It’s been great, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”
The queens are seemingly always smiling, so I asked Richards if she was tired of constantly having to “flash her gums” yet.
“With this group of girls, you can’t be tired of smiling,” she said. “They keep you on your toes, that’s for sure.”
Miss Rodeo Nevada Ann Clemmitt recognized me from my ProRodeo Sports News days, and stopped me to check on how things were going. I had been thinking about the tons of clothing and accessories the queens have to bring to the pageant, so I asked Clemmitt how many bags she’d brought.
“I actually brought a horse trailer,” she said, laughing. “Some girls flew here, and I know Miss Rodeo Minnesota brought six bags. I have 17 pairs of boots, four hats and a jewelry rack that is part of it all. I did pretty well though, considering I only used the tack room.”
Clemmitt said the queens have enjoyed the change to the MGM Grand.
“Oh, it’s been amazing, and they’ve been so accommodating,” Clemmitt said. “They’ve been absolutely wonderful, and we’re very excited to have them on board for Miss Rodeo America.”
Miss Rodeo Illinois Brooke Owen said the girls are holding up well and aren’t wilting under the pressure just yet.
“We’re going strong, and no one has hit the wall yet,” Owen said. “There are a lot of girls here who’ve held a lot of titles before, so they definitely know what they’re doing.”
It was a fun night in all respects, and I can’t wait to see who the next Miss Rodeo America will be. I’m going to cover the coronation ceremony Saturday afternoon, so stay tuned to NFR Insider for more details this weekend!