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Barefoot Ortonville hooligan competes at Miss Teen

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August 11, 2010 - In a week, Catherine McGhee went from showing hogs and chickens at the Oakland County Fair to showing off her pink evening gown and dancing (or trying to) at the Miss Teen USA Pageant in the Bahamas.

The 16-year-old Brandon Township resident, the current Miss Michigan Teen, competed to be Miss Teen USA at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island from July 20-25. While she didn't win the coveted title, she made some great memories, met a lot of cool friends and has been presented with new opportunities.

"Even at the pageant, I was thinking, 'Who would think last week I was showing my chickens and now I am here at a national beauty pageant and next week I'll be modeling for Jonathan Kayne,'" said McGhee. "I'm so fortunate. There are so many options for me now, I never imagined it's happening to me. I'm incredibly lucky and still the homeschooled, barefoot hooligan from Ortonville."

McGhee was crowned Miss Michigan Teen USA in September and has had a whirlwind year full of photo shoots, speaking engagements and charity work. She was excited to learn the Miss Teen USA pageant, a joint venture between Donald Trump and NBC Universal that is affiliated with the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, would be held in the Bahamas. She met most of her fellow competitors in the months prior at different boot camps for the teens, where they learned about the business aspect of the pageant, networking, and how to conduct themselves.

When they arrived at Paradise Island, the girls were treated like royalty. McGhee had a room with an oceanfront view that she shared with her friend, Miss Teen Ohio and all the girls had bodyguards. She recalls that when she awoke the first full day in the Bahamas, she walked downstairs and people were everywhere with cameras. She got to feed stingrays that first day, but then it was off to rehearsals, which offered a special challenge for McGhee, who lacks dancing ability.

Everyone had to practice dancing for the opening number. McGhee said it was easy to find her because she was always two beats off. Each day they rehearsed six or seven hours. Guests at the resort thought the contestants were celebrities.

"It was a lot of fun," McGhee said. "I felt like a superstar."

She was treated like one— receiving free gifts from sponsors including a Chi hair straightener and makeup kits with sparkles and a crown. She felt like a diva, but was still the girl from Ortonville— showing the other contestants pictures of her hogs and chickens from the county fair to their disbelief.

"Some of the girls would be like 'Catherine, you're such a dork,' and I was like, 'Yay,'" she recalls, clapping softly and smiling.

Friday night was preliminary night, when the girls competed in swimsuit and evening gown categories. The girls all wore the same blue, green and white string bikinis with flowers, ruffles and a wrap, but the evening gown competition was one of McGhee's favorite parts of the week. She wore a gown custom-made for her by Larry Kralowski, who also designed the gown that Kristen Haglund wore when she won Miss America in 2008 and the gown for this year's Miss USA, Rima Fakih.

McGhee had just one requirement for her gown— it had to be pink. She describes the 25-pound gown as "Barbie in Paris," with lace, beading, a big pink ruffle and a satin train. While seven other girls also had pink gowns, hers, she said, was the only obnoxiously heavy one. When she wore it, it hit her that she was actually there and she "felt like one of the luckiest people ever."

The morning after preliminaries there was the interview portion of the pageant— a 6-minute interview with six judges. She told them about the county fair and about the A&W, TSC, and Cook's Farm Dairy.

"I told them when I went home, the first thing I was doing was getting ice cream," she said.

McGhee told them about her travels to Africa, where she participated in a medical mission, and about how her great-grandmother was the one person she would have wanted to meet because she survived the Great Depression. When the judges asked her what the problem was with education today, she responded that it needed to be more of a team effort. She talked about her mother, Elizabeth, and about homeschooling.

"Before I knew it, it was over," McGhee said. "I made them laugh and smile and I felt on top of the world."

That night was the final competition. Right after the opening number, during which she managed to be off by just half a beat instead of the usual two beats, the girls who made the top 15 were announced. McGhee wasn't among them and cried at first, feeling she had failed her state and family, but then she realized she did her best.

"It just wasn't my time," she says, smiling now. "I have no regrets."

McGhee's reign as Miss Michigan Teen USA ends Sept. 11 in Ann Arbor when she will crown the new Miss Michigan Teen. She advises girls who are entering pageants to know themselves and be proud of who they are.

McGhee knows exactly who she is and that description includes model, county fair and Miss Michigan Teen USA winner, soon-to-be nursing student with a full ride to Baker College, and, of course, barefoot Ortonville hooligan.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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