AUTHOR: CAROLY

Year-long efforts launch Miss Tupelo on pageant path

By Carolyn Bahm

Daily Journal

Time management comes as second nature to Brandi Holliman of Tupelo, thank goodness. She has juggled academics, social service, physical fitness work and her duties as Miss Tupelo for the past year.

She doesn't seem to mind the hectic pace. In a recent interview, she said, "I feel like I'm more productive when I have a lot of things going on."

Holliman, 23, has been on a year-long sustained effort to remain in competitive shape for the Miss Mississippi Pageant. She is also breaking new ground. For the first time in more than a decade, the reigning Miss Tupelo will venture to the state pageant without her successor.

Director Myra Guyton explained: The Miss Tupelo Pageant began in the early '30s and has been on a one-year delayed schedule for the past 12 to 15 years. That means each year's newly chosen Miss Tupelo will wait out one year, attending the Miss Mississippi Pageant with the reigning Tupelo title-holder. This one-year orientation period lets each Miss Tupelo have extended preparation time.

Just before this year's June 1 Miss Tupelo Pageant, two of the four contestants dropped out, forcing the event's cancellation. (The city event is affiliated with the Miss America system, which requires a minimum of three contestants at the local level.)

A Miss Tupelo Pageant will be rescheduled for this fall, and the one-year delayed schedule will resume next year.

The year's preparation time has been helpful and challenging for Holliman. Most of her state-level competitors will have held their titles for only three to four months, requiring fast preparations. Holliman said, "I've had to be diligent and focused for over a year."

The schedule matched her methodical temperament, she said. "I had a lot of mental preparation to do just to feel like I could go down there and present myself to the best of my abilities."

Guyton said, "She's ready. I am excited about her. I just think she will just go down there and do wonderful things. ... She's intelligent, warm, very talented, and her platform is something she has lived."

Mentoring matters

Holliman's pageant platform, encouraging others to be mentors for young people, is close to her heart and her ideals. This spring Holliman participated in School Time Friends, a program that lets well-screened older students develop mentoring relationships with younger children during school hours. The program is affiliated with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.

Holliman's young friend saw her during his free period at the end of the school day at least once weekly for talking, tutoring on class assignments, encouraging and friendship. They also took time out for just plain fun.

"I taught him the basics of geometry and the basics of algebra, and he taught me the finer points of a Michael Jordan hook shot," Holliman said.

It's made a difference in both their lives. "According to his teachers and the staff at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, it's really had some good effects," Holliman said.

The experience also has deepened her appreciation for her own background and broadened her awareness that each person's actions, activities and words affect others' lives. "It really makes you put things in perspective."

Today she encourages people of all ages to volunteer time to mentoring programs. It's particularly valuable for high school students who volunteer as mentors, she said. "It's great to remind people at that age that they have responsibility to someone other than themselves."

Ready for the stage

For her talent presentation at the Miss Mississippi Pageant, Holliman will sing "Art Is Calling for Me," also known as "The Prima Donna Song," composed by Victor Herbert. The classical song is taken from the musical "The Enchantress." Holliman's talent costume is designed to reflect qualities of the character portrayed, a person bored with court life and longing for the stage.

Holliman has developed her own singing style through two years of voice training. "It's something I enjoy, something I wanted to develop," she said. "I just didn't have a lot of confidence. It's amazing how something mental can keep you from doing your very best."

She also has discovered a wider vocal range. Throughout high school performances for Wave Connection, a show choir, she sang alto and even tenor if needed. Holliman smiled and said now she is "suddenly soprano."

'Excited, not nervous'

During the last few weeks of pageant preparations, time has flown for Holliman. About a month ago she was nervous about whether all the details and decisions would be handled in time, but now she's fine, she said. "I'm excited, not nervous anymore."

She smiled and knocked on the wooden tabletop for luck. "Instead of focusing on just the competition, I've been able to focus on the opportunities available to me."

She said her close-knit family will be there to support here. "I'm not the only one who'll be on that stage on the 13th my family will be there with me. So I don't have to be nervous. They'll be nervous for me."

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