There was a strong buzz among pageant people about Miss Missouri throughout the week of preliminaries: Her stunning white beaded gown was a showstopper, and her outgoing, genuine personality won so many people over. Believers of Lacey Fitzgerald felt she would be in contention for the crown of Miss America.
So, it was understandable that hearts sank when Richmond’s Fitzgerald didn’t make the cut of 15 in Saturday’s Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. But for Fitzgerald, Saturday was her crowning moment of a 20-year commitment to pageants.
“I’m actually very pleased,” she said adding, “I did it for the people back home. They have given me so much support.”
“It was fun and she did well. She got to compete in Miss America,” said Don Fitzgerald, Lacey’s father.
Katie Stam was crowned Miss America, a first for the state of Indiana.
“They earned it. They definitely deserved what they’ve got,” Fitzgerald said of Stam and the four runners-up.
Afterwards, the naturally diminutive Fitzgerald seemed at ease and relieved. She and the other 51 contestants have been working at a grueling pace since Jan. 15 for the show. Fitzgerald put herself on an intense three-hour daily workout to be in top form, according to her boyfriend Patrick Whitt. After long days of rehearsals and preliminaries, contestants were sequestered in their rooms, having to ask to use the restroom or to get a drink of water to leave their dormitory-style housing. At age 25, Fitzgerald said she was ready for a little freedom.
Around 30 people in the Missouri delegation were in Vegas to support her. Tim and Rosemary Collins, former Miss Ray County pageant directors, have known Fitzgerald for many years, and felt she was well prepared and a real contender. Some had mixed feelings about her exposure on the reality show, “Countdown to the Crown.” Kendell Misemer, pageant director for northwest Missouri, said the show spinned a snobbish persona of her, instead of showing her real and candid nature. However, he said Fitzgerald won over many of the crew of the show.
“The TLC guys on the elevator [who worked on the reality show] stopped to tell me how wonderful she was,” Misemer said, who has been a fan of Fitzgerald since she was crowned Miss Northwest Counties 2007.
“I think the world of her. She’s Miss America to me already,” he said on Thursday.
A 14-plus hour day of shooting on the Queen Mary for the reality show destroyed her original gown, forcing a last-minute custom dress from Oklahoma City-based designer Sherri Hill. Hill tore apart three dresses to make one spectacular gown, according to Fitzgerald’s mother Dalana. Misemer said they were fitting the gown up to the last minute before Fitzgerald left for the pageant on Jan. 15.
At the pageant on Saturday, the crowd was nearly a fashion convention within itself. Each state was represented with signs and photo buttons of their girl. Noisy fans literally shouted out their love for their contestant. Many of the Missouri delegation held up letters that said, “LACEY” and “MISSOURI.”
Fitzgerald introduced herself as she did all week, “Hailing from the Mushroom Capital of the World …” She said it was her “shoutout to Richmond.”
The audience was in an absolute frenzy before host Mario Lopez named the final 15. After that, it was noticeably subdued, and with the exception of the states still in the hunt, the rest gave polite applause.
Miss North Carolina and Miss Texas were visibly in tears from the outcome. But Miss Missouri was not. She consoled Miss Mississippi Christine Kozlowksi on the side stage.
Fitzgerald left Las Vegas Sunday and will get a well-deserved break – of one day.
She returns to her duties on Tuesday, kicking off a week of scheduled appearances, including a pageant in St. Louis.
Photo: Miss Missouri Lacey Fitzgerald poses with her family during a reception after the Miss America pageant on Saturday. From left: brother Jamie, mother Dalana and at far right, father Don. (Photo by JoEllen Black/The Daily News)