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Miss Point Mallard Jessica Headley, who is preparing for the Miss Alabama Scholarship Pageant, tries on her gown for evening wear competition during her send-off party at the Walker home in Decatur.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Miss Point Mallard Jessica Headley, who is preparing for the Miss Alabama Scholarship Pageant, tries on her gown for evening wear competition during her send-off party at the Walker home in Decatur.

Miss Point Mallard stays on her toes
in preparation for
Miss Alabama competition

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Jessica Headley would prefer to be known for her diplomacy and character education program, rather than taking a fall.

But elegant high heels and a form-fitting skirt with no split can lead to disaster.

Miss USA Rachel Smith from Clarksville, Tenn., hit the floor during the televised Miss Universe Pageant last week, and Headley knows it could happen to her — again.

It brought back memories of the first Miss America preliminary she entered several years ago.

"At the Miss Homewood competition, we were practically running down the aisles and up some steps to get on stage, and I fell and tore an 8-inch hole in a rented dress," she recalled.

Headley said she learned from watching Smith "how to stand back up gracefully after a fall."

She will keep that in mind this week as she rehearses and competes in the Miss Alabama Scholarship Pageant in Birmingham, where she will represent Decatur as Miss Point Mallard.

She tried on a beaded black evening gown with cut-out sides, halter neckline and train in back to show Miss Point Mallard board members what she will wear for her evening gown competition and on-stage questions on Friday night.

"This gown is very tricky to walk in, and I'm going to have to be very careful," Headley said Friday evening.

Though she didn't place at the Miss Homewood competition, she did win the People's Choice award.

But Headley doesn't plan to settle for that this week.

The 22-year-old from Hoover has a lot more experience in competitions, and this will be her third time in the Miss Alabama program. She made the top 10 and was second runner-up both her first year, as Miss Leeds, and her second, as Miss Center Point.

She's been looking forward to this week because she enjoys performing and getting to know the other contestants.

"And you get so many wonderful notes from people who've known you through the years," she said.

She is expecting a week that's "the most fun yet, because things really have fallen into place easily this year."

At the cookout and send-off party at the home of pageant director Beverly Walker, they also got a look at her black suit for the judges' interview and a say in whether she should wear a leopard-print gown or a red one for other stage appearances.

She described her white swimsuit for competition on Thursday and the gold-trimmed, black outfit "with military appeal" that she will wear Wednesday in the talent division, when she combines jazz and lyrical dance to "Annapolis" from the movie.

"This will have to be my 'last supper,' and I'll be going for a run later," she said after polishing off a steak.

"Just kidding," she added, because she tries to eat right to stay healthy. Headley described some "gourmet meals" they get while staying in a dorm at Samford University and rehearsing at the Wright Center.

"I have to keep my energy up for my dance routine, and we all eat healthily because we recognize we are role models for younger girls, and in today's culture, they need to see us eating right," she said.

The competition week includes participation by 6- to 11-year-old "Rising Stars," a program that builds confidence in girls who may be interested in competing for scholarship dollars later.

Headley said children around Decatur and elsewhere have helped build her confidence this year as she visited schools and school boards and made sure each school got a binder with the keys to her character education program, or PRAISE Inc. (Promoting Responsibility, Awareness, Integrity, Service and Education).

Headley recently earned a degree in political science from Birmingham-Southern College. The $3,250 in cash scholarship dollars she received as Miss Point Mallard helped, as did winnings in other pageants.

In the coming year she will apply to graduate schools, including the Tufts School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, where she would like to pursue a master's degree for a career in diplomacy.

Those skills already have been tested by life backstage at pageants and at home as the youngest of seven in the blended family of Mary and Art Headley.

"Jessica was a total tomboy when growing up," said her mother.

The first time she ever entered a pageant was the Shelby County Junior Miss. She won that title for 2003 and was second runner-up at state.

Along with her family, Miss Point Mallard committee members will be going to state competitions all week to support Headley.

"I'm planning to go to Birmingham every night," said Sally Jo Green, the committee member who finds the money for Miss Point Mallard scholarships and gifts. "I'm looking forward to the music, because the theme is 'American Bandstand.' I love bandstand music, and I'm going to be in my element."

"I remember those days," said Beverly Walker, director of the Miss Point Mallard program since 1992.

After being involved for about 26 years in all, this year she plans to retire as director, along with her daughter, Tish Hazel, who has been co-chair of the program held annually as part of Decatur's Spirit of America festivities on the Fourth of July.

As one of her final projects, Walker made the gray poodle skirt appliquéd with a pink poodle that Headley will wear for the "American Bandstand" number.

6 Miss Alabama contestants have area connections

While Jessica Headley will represent this area as Miss Point Mallard, she is not the only young woman with area connections in the Miss Alabama Scholarship Pageant this weekend.

Three former Miss Point Mallard titleholders are back at the competition with other titles, including Jessica Wheeler, a Decatur High School and Vanderbilt University graduate who also has competed in Miss America preliminary pageants in Tennessee and Arkansas. This year she holds the title of Miss Center Point.

Other former Miss Point Mallards include Katie Boyd, now Miss Tombigbee, and Jamie Langley, Miss Painted Rock.

Ashley Kraft of Vinemont will participate in Miss Alabama as Miss Wallace State Community College, while Amber Dodson from Cullman will compete as Miss Marshall County. Young women from Russellville, Huntsville and elsewhere who have been seen on the Point Mallard stage will be there, too.

Contestants are divided into three groups for the preliminaries on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights in the Wright Center Concert Hall at Samford University. Finals will be held Saturday night. For tickets, call the box office at the Wright Center, (205) 726-2462, between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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