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Miss Mississippi Pageant

Miss Mississippi Pageant

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Several on-stage personalities at the Miss Mississippi pageant are familiar to the audience.

Each has returned to the Vicksburg Convention Center for personal, yet similar reasons.

Miss Mississippi 2008 Christine Kozlowski is making her final appearances before her successor is named.

And sharing emcee duties are Miss Mississippi 2006 Taryn Fosheeand longtime entertainer and host Michael Young.

The return for Kozlowski is bittersweet, marking the end of a year she says passed by much faster than she expected.

"I feel like Vicksburg is my second home," said the D'Iberville native.

It was her base before heading out for public appearances, tours and speeches.

"I have loved this year," she said.

"And I love the entire family of people who make up this program.

But ...

I'm ready to return to where I started, knowing that I will never be the same Christine who stood on this stage this time last year." The 20-year-old said she has had more wonderful experiences in one year than most have in five.

"My favorite memories all are with children," she said.

"They are so innocent and look at you with such unconditional love." Kozlowski has spent her year helping promote diabetes awareness and prevention, especially among children.

She's seen first hand what the disease can do and how it can run in families.

"My grandmother died two years ago from this disease, and my mom was diagnosed with it when I was 11 years old," she said.

"Genetically, I'm at risk for diabetes, so I do everything I can to fight it." Young said he's lost count but figures this to be about his 12th pageant appearance.

And what brings him back? "Bertha Cobb's rum cake!" By the time he finished rehearsals Wednesday afternoon, the cake was waiting in his dressing room.

"See what I told you," he joked, without offering to share.

"I come for the cake, and stay for the pageant.

"I enjoy the people, the place and everything about this pageant.

I'll come back as long as they want me." Coming back to Mississippi each year gives the Los Angeles-based independent producer an opportunity to visit relatives in Jackson and McComb.

The Montgomery, Ala., native also is busy rounding up investors for a musical he hopes to have in production in time for a Christmas 2010 release.

Foshee, a Clinton native who moved to Nashville after her reign as state queen, comes back to visit family.

"Clinton will always be my home," said the Mississippi State University graduate.

"I have friends coming in for the pageant, and I can't wait to show them my city." As for her trips to Vicksburg, "I can't come to visit without a trip to the Tomato Place for a smoothie," she said, holding up a watermelon-flavored drink.

"And everyone in the Miss Mississippi program treats me like family." Foshee moved to Nashville for a 2007 internship with the CMT cable-music network and stayed for a career in orthopedic medical sales.

She credits her business success to the confidence she gained through the pageant system, starting with the Junior Miss program as an 11th-grader.

"For five years, I did nothing but prepare and compete," she said.

"Now, I get to enjoy the show from a different perspective.

It feels good to come back and know I don't have to worry about how I'm going to look in a swimsuit.

I even had Shipley's doughnuts for breakfast," she said.

"I'm 24 now, and I'm enjoying every minute of being young and independent," Foshee said.

None of the three hosts will make a guess on tonight's outcome.

"I am no judge, even though I've judged pageants before," Young said.

"In fact, I judged the Miss USA pageant the year that Halle Berry came in second, and I never even noticed her! What does that tell you?" The new Miss Mississippi must be ready to accept her title as a full-time job, Kozlowski said.

"When you wear the crown, you are a role model," she said.

"You must always remember that and act accordingly." She's put together a booklet of tips for her successor.

The No.

1 tip - be flexible.

Accept delays, appearances, whatever comes your way with grace and dignity, Kozlowski said.To comment on this story, call Susan O'Bryan at (601) 924-7142.
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