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In pursuit of a crown

Stidham to compete in Miss Alabama pageant

On Sunday, June 3, at 2 p.m., the Ritz Theater was the site of an informal "Bon Voyage" reception in honor of Ashley Stidham, Miss Camellia 2000.

Friends, family and other supporters came together to honor Stidham prior to her appearance at the Miss Alabama pageant, slated for June 13-16 in Birmingham. Those in attendance also had the opportunity to see Miss Camellia model her beautiful pageant wardrobe and perform her talent.

It also gave the Miss Alabama hopeful the chance to gain valuable additional practice time on stage in front of an audience.

Wendy McDougal, a former Miss Alabama and co-creator (with Bill Alverson) of the Miss Camellia pageant, served as the mistress of ceremonies for the afternoon.

She recognized and commended the program's board of directorsMary Neurendorf, Carol Lee, Debra Arthur, Tom Braxton, Teresa Stephens, Allen Stephenson, Laurie Martin and Tom McDougalfor all their support.

"Our Miss Camellia scholarship program was awarded as the best new preliminary in the Miss Alabama program last summer . . . and we were thrilled when our first Miss Camellia, Haley Spates, was chosen fourth runner-up at Miss Alabama.

We've been nominated for a number of awards again this year. It's been a wonderful year of growth for this program," enthused McDougal.

She went on to praise the hard work of Stidham, who made 140 appearances throughout the state during her reign, including 35 appearances in just 31 days as she shared her campaign resolution' to be alcohol-free with civic groups, schools and churches across the state in January 2001.

Stidham made her initial appearance on stage Sunday in a simple white interview suit (compliments of Ainsley Place of Andalusia), the first of eight outfits modeled by the reed-slim, dark-eyed brunette.

The theme for this year's Miss Alabama pageant is "Miss Alabama Travels Across America".

Purely through the luck of the draw, Stidham was selected to represent the neighboring state of Mississippi in one of the state pageant's first production numbers. She modeled an exquisite antebellum gown in sapphire blue that she plans to wear as a "Mississippi belle."

Ainsley Place of Andalusia also provided Stidham's evening dress for one of the production numbers, a sophisticated,

glittering

v-necked

halter-top gown.

For the swimsuit production number, Stidham modeled a fetching two-piece suit accessorized with Hawaiian leis handmade by her mother, Debbie, to match the suit's colorful design.

For the bathing suit competition Stidham showed off a striking teal two-piece swimsuit.

The audience was most visibly wowed' by the stunning ruby red gown Stidham modeled as her evening gown competition outfit.

"Ashley was in New York when she saw the gown Marilyn Monroe wore in "How to Marry a Millionaire" on display in Planet Hollywood.

All she could say was, THAT'S my dress!'" explained McDougal.

After studying photos of the original, Debbie Stidham created her daughter's glamorous gown, with its dazzling white rhinestone accents and sweeping train, without the use of a pattern.

Stidham truly looked like a million dollars' as she made a star turn in the unique gown.

The reigning Miss Camellia had the opportunity on Sunday to display more than her stage poise and interview skills.

Dressed in a flirty fuschia dress and toe shoes, she showed off her dancing ability as she skillfully performed a saucy, high-energy jazz en Pointe to Celine Dion's "Mountain High, River Deep".

Stidham made her final appearance on stage in another one of her mother's beautifully tailored creations, a princess-seamed sleeveless gown in palest pink, its bodice trimmed in beading both front and back.

"Now, that's the gown Ashley will be crowned Miss Alabama in," commented a smiling Alverson.

At the reception immediately following the event, a visibly moved Stidham fought off tears as she spoke of how much her reign as Miss Camellia had meant to her. "I want to say thank you' to all who have supported me . . . thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bill, Wendy . . .and the whole Miss Camellia Board of Directors have been like a family to me . . . all you sponsors, thanks especially for putting me through college!" said Stidham, adding, "Today would not be possible without my parents and their support."

The Miss Camellia program is the only open Miss Alabama/Miss America preliminary in this part of the state. This makes a large field of young ladies who are Alabama residents (including out-of-state full-time students here) eligible to compete as Miss Camellia.

The program's corporate sponsors include Whitney Bank, LV Stabler Memorial Hospital,

Terminex and Touchstone Energy.

The 2001 Miss Camellia pageant is scheduled for September 21, 2001 at 7 p.m. at the Ritz Theater with the theme, "Miss Camellia Goes to Hollywood."

To learn more about the program, visit the website at www.misscamellia.com.