For a girl who prefers t-shirts and sweatpants over gowns and high heels, Ashley Gray did pretty well for herself in her first beauty competition.
Gray, 17, of Palos Hills, competed in the 2015 Miss Teen-Chicago Beauty Pageant on April 19 and won fourth runner up.
The top placement among 165 girls in the pageant came as a complete shock to Gray, who graduated from Stagg High School earlier this week.
“This is overwhelming,” said Gray. “I’ve never been in a beauty pageant before. A t-shirt and sweatpants is my favorite outfit.”
Those ranked in the top 10 are invited to compete in the 2015 National Competition, hosted in Orlando, Florida at the posh, Rosen Centre Hotel in December.
Gray said her family has always told her she would make a great model but she never took them seriously.
“I love sports. I’ve played volleyball, ran track and basketball; I started basketball in 6th grade and played through sophomore year. I had to stop due to a torn meniscus,” said Gray.
Actually, basketball is what connected her to this opportunity.
“One of my old teammates asked me to be in a prom fashion show at Hannah’s Boutique, in Palos Park. Her aunt is the owner and needed extra models.” Gray said, “I’d never been in a fashion show either. I told her ‘no’ twice, but, she’s my friend and I wanted to help her so I finally said, ‘okay.’”
Trina Evans, a photo editor who serves in various other roles in the Miss Teen organization her organization looks for more than just whistles and bells.
“Our slogan is ‘Pageantry with a Purpose.’ ’’ Evans said. “We are not a glitzy pageant, it’s not about expensive gowns, we’re looking for natural beauty.”
Apparently, what they were looking for, also caught the attention of a pageant coach, unrelated to Miss Teen, at Hannah’s Boutique prom fashion show.
“We were approached by a pageant coach who introduced us to the director of Miss Illinois United States,” Gray’s mother, Carmilla, said. “They suggested Ashley register for the Miss Teen United States pageant. We thanked them, it was humbling, but registration was expensive.”
Hannah’s Boutique owner, Susan Shaban said, “The Director of Miss Illinois United States [Derrick Lee], he also handles Miss World United States. He and two pageant coaches were at our prom fashion show, there may have been more, it was busy. I had at least 90 girls here; about 30 were experienced pageant girls. It’s nice to have them; they help the girls who haven’t modeled before.”
Evans said Miss Teen doesn’t scout for talent; candidates’ names come by referral. The family is not sure how Miss Teen received Gray’s information but she was referred by someone who saw her at the prom fashion show.
“I received a letter from Miss Teen inviting me to a seminar to learn about their pageant,” Gray said.
The seminar provided prospective Miss Teen contestants with information about their pageant. Interested parties were then put through a screening process.
“We select about 50 percent of the candidates to compete,” said Evans.
“I was told they would get back to me within seven days but I heard from them within 24 hours,” Gray said. “I didn’t have to pay for anything, the local businesses in my community sponsored me.”
A few of those businesses included, Zacarelli’s Pizza, in Bridgeview, Durbin’s Pizza, in Palos Hills, State Farm agent, Laurie Evans, and Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies, in Chicago. Dashan Harris Designs sponsored her custom-made gown.
She said her dream is to attend Duke University but for now, she plans to enroll at Moraine Valley College for her first two years while trying to decide on a specific field of study.
“I’d love a career working with kids. Since my freshman year I’ve been working with 4-7 year olds at Hickory Hills park district summer camps in Krueger Park. I’ve completed over 200 community service hours with those kids.” Gray said. “God’s got my whole life planned. Being in this pageant is evidence of that, everything happens for a reason. Look at how many doors opened just by saying yes to a prom fashion show.”
Gray said her faith is strong because of her mother Carmilla, father Richard Sr., sister Adorea and brother, Richard Jr.
“It is because of my family, especially my mother, and her words of wisdom and encouragement, that I am who I am today!” Gray said.