| WEB EXCLUSIVE|
Life's Rich Pageant
A Rittenhouse resident hopes to become the next Miss Pennsylvania USA.
by Daniel McQuade
When Melissa Uhniat was 4, she saw a picture of Miss America, picked it up and took it to her mother, pointing at the smiling modern-day princess.
"That's what I want to do," she said.
Uhniat placed second in her first beauty pageant later that year.
"My final question was, 'What's your favorite cartoon?'" she recalls. "I said The Smurfs."
Though she didn't win the crown, she'd caught the pageant bug. But after not placing in the top 10 in the Miss Teen New Jersey pageant while in high school, she sort of put it on the back burner.
It didn't stay there for long.
This weekend Uhniat will compete in the Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant. Now 26, the Rittenhouse Square resident says she realized this was her last shot to try for a win.
"I feel like time is slipping away," Uhniat says. "If I were ever going to achieve this goal, now is the time."
It's actually is her last shot. Contestants need to be under 27 by Feb. 1, and so next year is the final year Uhniat is eligible to enter the pageant, which has a minimum age of 18. The winner goes on to the Miss USA Pageant, which is held in April.
Last year's Miss Pennsylvania USA winner Brenda Brabham was from Philadelphia. She was a 1999 graduate of Dobbins Tech. She was one of 10 semifinalists at the Miss USA pageant last April.
Miss Pennsylvania USA is part of the Miss Universe pageant, which is owned by Donald Trump. The differences between it and the Miss America competition are chiefly that Miss America offers scholarship prizes and that there's no talent competition in the Miss USA pageant.
Getting into the Miss Pennsylvania pageant was a fairly simple process for Uhniat. She interviewed with the local office and sent in headshots. She says about 110 contestants will take part in the weekend's festivities in Pittsburgh, which begin Friday and consist of swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions.
Although this is the first pageant she's been in since she was a teenager, Uhniat says she isn't nervous.
"Everyone keeps asking me, 'What are you most nervous about?'" she says. "And I'm not nervous about anything. I'm more excited. I'm confident in who I am, and I think that'll show."
But for Uhniat, this isn't just a one-time attempt at pageant glory. With a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware, Uhniat says she's hoping to use Miss Pennsylvania to jumpstart her career in broadcast journalism.
"A lot of girls who've won national and state titles have become on-air talent," she says. "I feel it's a really good avenue for me to take. It helps you because you get a lot of experience being in front of a large crowd."
She adds that she doesn't agree with critics who say pageants degrade women.
"A lot of people do think it's degrading," she says. "[Picking a beauty pageant winner] is almost like picking a senator or congressperson. You're picking someone to represent your state. When Hurricane Katrina hit, a lot of the [beauty pageant] state representatives were down there, helping out.
"I think to look at is as degrading is contradictory. You want someone smart and intelligent. You want someone who can carry herself really well."