Aksana Wallace and Paris Titus are typical young girls. Aksana loves shopping, “Hamilton” and eating chicken alfredo while Paris enjoys playing with her 3-year-old brother, the Disney movie “The Descendants” and eating Thin Mints cookies and pizza.
The two girls also love taking part in pageants and will be taking the stage once again during the USA National Miss Maryland competition March 5-7 at the Holiday Inn Solomons-Conference Center & Marina.
“I like them because I can meet new friends,” said Wallace, who lives in Waldorf and is a second-grader at Grace Christian Academy. “And I like the slumber parties and parties for girls. [Competing] makes me feel happy.”
“I want to meet new friends and I like the outfits,” said Titus, who lives in Fort Washington and is a first-grader at St. Philip the Apostle School. “It’s about having confidence and believing in yourself.”
A total of 28 contestants — including Sidnei Williams of Oxon Hill — in six age groups will compete for the right to advance to the national competition July 4-10 in Orlando, Fla.
“We have been all over [the state] and we were hoping to tap into Southern Maryland and the venue was perfect,” USA National Miss Maryland State Director Stef Williams said. “We are definitely excited to be here and we can’t wait for our pageant weekend.”
Maryland has never had a national winner, though Odenton’s Aniya Nelson was the 2020 first runner-up in the Princess division.
Williams said the pageant would like contestants from each county but said that pageantry “has taken on a new meaning over the last few years. There are so many different pageants so it has become very competitive.”
Wallace’s mother, Naomi, said she started looking into pageants for her then 4-year-old daughter who was exuding a certain stage presence.
“I thought pageants would be good for her,” Naomi said.
Aksana was the first runner-up in the Junior Princess division — for ages 4 to 6 — the past two years.
“I want to win my crown and be happy,” said Wallace, who will compete in the 7-9 Princess division this year. “[On stage] I’m just trying to remember the things that I learned like how to walk and don’t be afraid and don’t be shy.”
“This year we have our fingers crossed,” Naomi said, “and we’re hoping we can get the crown this go-around.”
The pageant judges the contestants on runway, evening gown and an interview.
An optional contest has competitors vying for awards in such categories as community service, talent and casual wear.
“Really I’m just hoping that as we go she gains more confidence,” Naomi said. “I’m not really focused on winning so much; it’s really for her to help build her self-esteem and to gain more confidence, to have fun. We are definitely hoping to win, but if we get stuck with first runner-up that’s totally fine. Second best is not bad at all.”
Miya Jackson competed in several pageants when she was younger and said they helped her break out of her shell.
“It’s something I had a passion for and now that I have a little girl I wanted her to experience it,” Jackson said, referring to Paris. “And now that pageants are definitely showing the community service side, I felt this would be a great avenue for her to get her to meet new friends and also to have her do more things for her community.”
In August 2020, Paris was named Miss Metropolitan Princess for the 7-9 age group.
“It was really exciting and unexpected,” said Paris, who practices twice a week for an hour each, “and I was really happy.”
Paris, who also donates time and money toward assembling adukt care packages for various organizations, said the key to doing well in pageants is about “having confidence and believing in yourself.”
She particularly likes the evening wear competition because “it’s graceful like a swan. It feels amazing, like you’re famous in so many movies.”
Williams said today’s competitions have a family atmosphere.
“We consider ourselves a family and even though the girls are competing, they’re not competing against each other,” said Williams, who adds the girls will take part in team building exercises such as roasting marshmallows and a photo shoot on the Solomons boardwalk. “They’re competing against the best version of themselves. We stress that with them.”
Because of COVID-19 and a capacity limit set by the hotel, the competition is not open to the public.
For more information, go to www.marylandgirlspageant.com.