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Organizers revive local pageants

Two ex-participants prepare for “Miss Ashland” and “Miss Hopkinton”

Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe

A rehearsal for the upcoming Miss Ashland event, “A pageant for the 21st Century,’’ drew a half-dozen girls to the Federated Church’s basement.

The word “beauty’’ is a hot coal. Your mother can say you’re beautiful. Your friends. But when people think of a beauty pageant, they don’t think too deep.

However, ask Paula Baccari and Lindsey Grassey, who were voted “Miss Congeniality’’ during their own pageant days in Natick years ago, and they’ll tell you that beauty comes from within.

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They’ve walked the walk in 4-inch heels, and as they prepare a small group of girls to compete for the titles of Miss Ashland and Miss Hopkinton, they’re pushing for confidence, kindness, and community service. Their motto at Tiara Productions is “Changing the World, One Tiara at a Time.’’

Just don’t make “man-hands’’ - fists - during the walk down the runway.

“Now we stomp the yard,’’ Grassey announces during a recent rehearsal in the basement of the Federated Church of Ashland. She grabs a girl’s hand and they practice walking, one foot directly in front of the other, along an imaginary runway to what in pageant talk is called the apex, an “X’’ taped to the practice floor, which will also be taped on the real runway.

“We’re walking, walking, walking, and ‘Oh! Hello, judges!’ ’’ Grassey narrates as “Naturally’’ by Selena Gomez thumps through speakers attached to her iPhone. ‘ ‘Give me lots of points, OK? Thanks! . . . And over here, hello auditors! Make sure you count all my points. See you later!’ ’’

The actual pageant will take place March 31 at Joseph P. Keefe Technical School in Framingham, with more events planned later for girls from other towns.

The area’s pageant scene had been dormant for about eight years until Tiara Productions revived the Miss Natick contest last year at the Natick Mall. The girls modeled gowns and tasteful casual wear you could use to visit your grandparents - there is no swimsuit competition.

Both the daughters of Natick police officers, Baccari (then Paula Whelan) was named Miss Congeniality in 1995, and Grassey in 2003. Both work as hairdressers, and Grassey, who still lives in Natick, is about to graduate from Bridgewater State University with a degree in business. She plans to start graduate school in the fall to pursue a master’s in business administration.

They decided to revive the pageant because they found it sad to see something that was part of growing up in Natick die, said Baccari, who now lives in Ashland.

“Why not keep something that was good and wholesome and true?’’ she said.

As for competing in other pageants, there’s no obligation, but if a girl wants to, Baccari said, she and Grassey will do whatever it takes to help.

“We do tell them,’’ she said, “that other pageants may have different values. It may not be about what’s inside, but a beauty show.’’

During the recent rehearsal, six girls, all from Ashland, squashed together on the church’s Sunday school couch, one spilling onto the floor, to hear details of the pageant.

They stood and introduced themselves. Ashley Forrest is 13, likes circus arts, and can hang by her ankle and wrist; Caitlyn Baccari, 13, (Paula’s daughter) studies dance; Amanda Rosadio, 12, loves to sing; as does Maddie Maguire, 13. Vanessa Cefalo, 14, is the veteran catcher on her softball team, and Alexa Feizidis, 11, loves romance novels.

Baccari handed out copies of interview pointers: “Listen . . . relax . . . speak clearly and slowly, smile . . . be sincere and honest.’’

Practice question: “Do you think a woman should be president?’’

Grassey reminded the girls, “Don’t just say ‘yes.’ ’’

Practice question: “How would you describe a friend?’’

“A friend is someone you can tell anything to, someone who sticks up for you,’’ Baccari answered, by way of example. “Someone who steals your umbrella in the rain.’’

Girls compete in two divisions, “junior’’ for those ages 10 to 14, and “miss’’ for ages 15 to 17. In Ashland, because there are few contestants, there will simply be one Miss Ashland chosen. Each girl pays $95 to cover sashes, hall rentals, promotional material, and awards. After the pageant, win or lose, they all do community service projects nine or 10 times a year.

“Giving back is so important, and if we can help these wonderful young ladies to see that, then we all are winners,’’ Baccari said.

Laurie Carlson, Vanessa Cefalo’s mom, says Baccari is the reason her daughter is taking part in Miss Ashland. Baccari has also coached Vanessa in cheerleading.

“Paula has a great influence on the girls,’’ Carlson said. “From being around her, the girls have better social skills, a better outlook on who they are as a person, they’re not overly concerned about weight issues, they all get along, they have good confidence and self-esteem.’’

Carlson added, “This pageant stuff teaches them how to talk about themselves, how to come across.’’

As for pageants in other towns, it depends on where they find interest, Baccari said. They have girls in Framingham who’d like to compete, so they will combine Framingham into this year’s Miss Natick pageant. Then, they’ll plan a regional version.

“Depending on the feedback we get from Miss MetroWest,’’ Baccari said, “we’ll definitely put more pageants together.’’

Like the Tiara Productions motto says, they’re out to change the world.

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