On a recent Saturday, Miss Fresno County Hannah Huyck stood inside the northeast Fresno home of a former Miss Fresno County. Facing four of her mentors and peers in the living room, the 21-year-old was bombarded with personal and political questions to which she pointedly and skillfully answered without a hitch.
The 10-minute run through was practice for the real deal – a panel-style interview that Huyck, who was Miss Fresno County Outstanding Teen 2012, will undergo during the 93rd annual Miss California Pageant at the Saroyan Theater. The pageant begins Tuesday.
Acting as judges were Kristin Safian, the owner of the home and 2003 titleholder; Abigail Paxton, Huyck’s roommate, friend and a drama teacher at Buchanan High School; Christina Tetreault, a former Miss Arizona contestant and current KSEE 24 reporter; and Kara Duran, Miss Fresno County Outstanding Teen, who will also practice her interview later this day for the Miss California Outstanding Teen division.
They tell Huyck to watch her “valley girl” talk and not to speak so fast. “Be fun, be relatable,” Tetreault tells her. “Be honest and take a breath.”
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Huyck, a student at Clovis Community College, makes notes on her phone and nods.
The fact that this program is helping me to fund my education is a giant step for women.
Miss Fresno County Hannah Huyck, a contestant in the Miss California pageant
It might seem like Huyck’s job as a receptionist at Fresno’s cycling studio Ride54 and her extensive theater background would give her a leg up in the upcoming statewide pageant, but part of the allure of the winner is that she is down-to-earth and relatable, Huyck says.
“Some people have public speaking anxieties, but with my theater experience I didn’t have that.”
Growing up in Clovis, Huyck started acting as a young child, and hasn’t looked back. She’s been in more than 50 plays around the central San Joaquin Valley, and most recently she’s played one of the titular characters in Fresno State’s “Heathers.”
Although memorizing lines is something she does, Huyck knew that wasn’t going to earn her the confidence that came with being able to take questions on the spot. That’s where the Miss Fresno County pageant has come in. “My interview skills have improved immensely,” she says. “I think that’s a lifelong skill that I can take with me forever and I am very grateful for it.”
Huyck dismisses the notion that she cannot be a beauty pageant contestant and a feminist. “The fact that this program is helping me to fund my education is a giant step for women,” she said. “Helping women gain the education and interview skills they need to be successful is exactly what we need to get women into higher-ranking positions and help close the pay gap.”
Huyck says not all pageants are created equal. She points to the scholarships that contestants win as the reason she competes. “You have to be a student to run. It’s education-driven and they promote women in STEM,” referring to science, technology, engineering and math.
The pageant also offers the added benefit of networking. Huyck says the young women who compete gain immeasurable life experiences, and most of all, friends.
While the stereotype may be of contestants fiercely battling each other, Huyck said the competition is actually friendly. “There’s horror stories about girls cutting other girls’ dresses,” she said, adding that it just doesn’t happen. Especially in the Miss America track, which is what Miss Fresno County and Miss California will lead to, most of the competition’s points come from the talent and interview sections, not the evening wear or swimsuit.
My interview skills have improved immensely.
“It’s an interesting group because everyone stays close,” she says about the 45 other girls she will compete against. “I think if you go into it with the idea of just wanting to win, you are missing an opportunity to make relationships, to make friendships.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a beauty aspect to Miss California, but Huyck isn’t particularly worried.
“I definitely don’t hard-core diet,” she says. “I try to eat healthy just for energy’s sake, (and) I try to drink a lot of water.” The only change Huyck’s made to her diet in recent weeks is trying to limit her carbohydrate intake.
It also doesn’t hurt that Huyck gets a free membership at Ride54, the cycling studio, which she takes advantage of a couple of times a week.
A lot of Huyck’s time is consumed with preparations for the pageant, like making appearances for the charity she is representing, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and practicing her talent routine, which is musical drama.
Yet, it’s Tetreault’s advice that echos back to Huyck in everything she does: Be relatable.
As she listens to her critiques during the interview practice, Huyck sits sideways in an oversized chair, her feet up on the armrests. “People are watching,” critique her mock judges. “There’s a camera here. Maybe you should take your feet off the chair.”
Huyck smiles. “I’m just a regular gal,” she says.
Miss California Events
▪ Friday: Contestants officially arrive at Fresno City Hall at 8:30 a.m. Mayor Lee Brand will welcome them. Friday evening will be appearances by contestants at a Fresno Grizzlies game, which begins at 7:05 p.m.
▪ Sunday: Contestants will tour the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and have lunch, 9 a.m. to noon.
▪ June 30: Miss California Outstanding Teen coronation at 5 p.m. at the theater, live stream and tickets available.
▪ July 1: Miss California State Finals at 5 p.m. at the theater, will be broadcast on CBS 47, 8 to 11 p.m, tickets and live stream available.