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Peach Fest pageant changes format, contestants flourish

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Evening gowns and tiaras were the order of the day for the Queen Dixie Gem Peach and Princess Peach Pageant during the 71st Annual Louisianan Peach Festival. After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the fabled pageant graced the campus of Cedar Creek School to crown the new Queen Dixie Gem Peach and Princess Peach.

Raegan McCulloch was crowned the 2021 Queen Dixie Gem Peach. McCulloch is a junior at Ruston High School and a member of the soccer team. Tonya and Eric McCulloch are her parents.

The Princess Peach title will be held by Ester Allen, a first grader from Cedar Creek School. She is the daughter of Ashley and Grayson Allen. Both young ladies competed with a small group of girls who bonded almost immediately according to Suzy Nations, Director of the Dixie Gem Pageant.

The young ladies who competed in the Queen Dixie Gem Peach pageant were Chloe Brashear, Emily Palmer, Hannah Reader, and Hannah Rollins. The girls who competed in the Princess Peach Pageant were Amelie Hebert, Annastyn Whitehead, Blake Burt, Blakelyn Posey, Caroline Wise, Charleigh Gatlin, Eden Lewis, Joanna Smith, Mackenzie Taylor, Molley Mikel Flowers, Natalie Parker, and Peyton Haddox.

This year’s pageant featured a more concise number of contestants and slight modifications to make the girls more at ease.

“We had lower numbers than we usually do because of the busy weekend,” said Nations. “We added the Dixie Gem Peach for the ninth through 11th grade girls which helped make up numbers for the Princess Peach.”

The pageant also featured a different format as opposed to other years that the event has been held. For the Princess Peach, there was an ice cream social for the contestants to get to know each. During the social the girls had to complete a fiveminute interview and go through rehearsal. In competition, Princess Peach contestants also had to do on-stage modeling as scorable events. Queen Dixie Gem Peach segment of the pageant featured an interview, outfit of choice, and evening wear. Nations expressed how there weren’t that many young ladies interested in participating in the pageant because of fears that they may need a talent to compete.

“We were very careful in planning to make sure everyone was comfortable and not completely out of their element,” Nations said. “We wanted to make sure it something an average everyday girl could participate in.”

She also spoke about the new format of having Queen Dixie Gem Peach stand apart from the Miss Louisiana pageant.

“Years ago, it used to be a Lincoln Parish high school student. Years past, since I’ve been doing it (the pageant), our Queen Dixie Gem Peach has gone on to Miss Louisiana,” said Nations. “People had always questioned why Queen Dixie Gem Peach was in August and that was because usually Miss Louisiana was always the same weekend as the Peach Festival.”

This small conflict was always the root of the pageant’s scheduling in addition to a rule set by the Miss Louisiana Organization. The rule states that a preliminary competition cannot be held until after Miss Louisiana is over. It also led to Miss Queen Dixie Gem Peach never being a local young lady. Pageant officials decided that a standalone event was needed, and Miss Spirit of Ruston would be the competitor to represent the city in the Miss Louisiana Pageant. “This year, we decided to bring it back to the high school girls and let Miss Queen Dixie Gem Peach be from here, an everyday Ruston girl. From here on out, Miss Queen Dixie Gem Peach and Princess Peach will be Peach Festival weekend. So, no one would have to wonder when the pageant is or when it’s coming up,” quipped Nations.

With the Peach Festival queens and princesses crowned, Nations and her staff move on to the Miss Louisiana Outstanding Teen Pageant taking place on Saturday and Sunday at Monroe Civic Center in W.L. “Jack” Howard Theatre. The preliminary round will be on Saturday at 6 p.m. with the finals on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Miss Louisiana pageant will be held from June 17-19 at the same location.

Miss Mary Laura Hunt will be competing as Miss Spirit of Ruston Outstanding Teen. She is the daughter of Trotter and Nancy Hunt and will be a sophomore at Ruston High School in the fall. Ms. Spirit of Ruston is Anna-Katherine Thompson. She is the daughter of Tommy and Donna Kay Thompson and will be attending Mississippi State University majoring in marketing with an integrated digital concentration. Thompson is a recent graduate of Ruston High School.