Emilee Ketron and Jessica Larkin, Miss Historic Jonesborough and Miss Tri-Cities respectively, both say they’re excited that they’ll get to experience the pageant together.
It’s the second trip to Miss Tennessee for each of them - Jessica went in 2011 as Miss Kingsport, and Emilee went in 2012 as Miss Johnson City – but it’s their first time competing together in the same pageant.
Michele Ketron, Emilee’s mom, said the girls chose not to compete against each other for local titles, but the Miss Tennessee pageant is a different level of competition. She said the whole extended family hopes to sit together in June to cheer for both of them.
Twenty-one-year-old Emilee and 20-year-old Jessica, meanwhile, say they’ll be supporting each other every step of the way.
"Yes, we’re going to be competing with each other but, at the end of the night, she’s still my cousin; she’s still family," said Emilee, who is majoring in speech pathology at Middle Tennessee State University. "No matter which one of us does better than the other, I want her to do well and she’ll want the same thing for me."
Jessica, a broadcast performance major at East Tennessee State University, said she and Emilee will be cheering each other on.
"Going to the Miss Tennessee pageant for the second time is a huge honor," Jessica said. "Being able to enjoy the experience one more time with my cousin is also very special to me."
Both girls dance for their talent - and each has competed at the national level in her style of dance, independent of pageants. Jessica does modern clogging, while Emilee does acro dance, a style that combines dance and acrobatics.
Ketron said Emilee and Jessica are well-rounded, community-oriented and smart; both are seniors in college. They also share another beauty-queen cousin, Julia Hale Mitchell, who placed in the top 10 at the Miss Tennessee pageant after being crowned Miss Historic Jonesborough in 1990.
Ginger Walters, Jessica’s mom, said the Miss Tennessee title isn’t just a crown; it’s a full-time job. Whoever wins the pageant, she said, will spend the next year as the governor’s spokesperson for character education and the state’s goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network.
Even if no one in the family wins the crown, Walters said, the pageant will be a wonderful experience that gives all participants the opportunity for new friendships, confidence and personal growth.
"It’s going to be a more enjoyable, more memorable experience because I am doing it with my cousin," said Emilee. "Twenty years from now when we’re at family reunions we can talk about how we had this experience together."