Janna Harner reflects on positive pageant experience
Union County’s Janna Harner has achieved several accomplishments both in and outside the pageant world. She recently made the county proud by finishing as first runner-up at the Miss Illinois pageant.
Harner is no stranger to pageants; she’s been competing since she was 14. However, it was her sister, Jenna, who convinced her to try them out.
“I had no interest,” Harner said.
When her sister Jenna competed in her first pageant, Harner read a book the entire time.
“I am a firm believer that every girl needs to do a pageant once and Jenna was the one who instilled that in me,” Harner said.
Her first pageant was Miss Marion Main Street. She was terrified.
“I didn’t get anything,” she said.
Harner said it was upsetting because she was in front of so many people, not because she didn’t receive anything in the pageant – “Which is one of the reasons why Jenna wanted me to do it, because that feeling of being in front of people, you can’t find that in a lot of places,” Harner said.
The next year, Harner tried again and didn’t receive anything again. The third year, Harner won.
Since then, she has won several titles as a teen and miss including, Miss Teen Princess Flame, Miss Festival Teen, Miss Skyline Outstanding Teen, Miss Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative, Miss Skyline, Miss Southern Illinois, Miss Heartland and Miss Cache River.
A lot goes into preparing for the Miss Illinois pageant. For the past six months, Harner had been exercising, eating a regulated diet and prepping for interviews.
She also kept a detailed pageant binder that is separated into different sections like platform, biography, current events and more.
While preparing for the pageant, she was also finishing her undergraduate degree at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
She received a bachelor’s degree in English literature, with a minor in mathematics.
In August, she will begin working on her master’s degree in English studies. She aspires to become a teacher. This semester, she will also be a teaching assistant.
She said preparing for the pageant and completing her undergraduate studies was stressful at times, but she credits compassionate people in her life for her success, including her bosses at work.
The pageant is a process and takes nearly a week to complete.
Competitors from all over the State of Illinois arrived in Marion on June 11 and participated in several activities throughout the week, leading up to the pageant on Saturday, June 17.
On Tuesday, June 11, contestants went to a business meeting in Williamson County. They then practiced their opening number, walking patterns and staging. Interviews were also conducted that day.
Harner said Tuesday was the most stressful day.
“In interview, you have to be mentally checked in. It’s easy to do practices and go through motions. Interview is not muscle memory, it’s being active in a conversation,” Harner said.
Wednesday was the opening ceremony, when the community got to meet contestants. It was the first preliminary night for the young women. They also announced the finalists for the Quality of Life scholarship, which Harner won.
The Quality of Life scholarship is based on women who use their platform to increase the quality of life for others.
“It was really special. Just being nominated, I cried,” she said.
“People see the work that I’m doing and people are being helped and there’s a need for adoption, which is my platform.”
On Thursday, contestants visited the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center and also held their second preliminaries.
On Friday, the young women went to a princess luncheon, a ribbon cutting, practice and watched the Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen finals.
Harner won the talent preliminary award, along with the Quality of Life scholarship and first runner up.
“It was really special to me because I love to sing,” she said.
“You spend so much time prepping for talent and you have 90 seconds for them to remember you.”
Harner got to know the winner of Miss Illinois, Abby Foster, very well prior to pageant day.
Contestants are separated into two groups and Harner and Foster were in the same group and shared a dressing room.
“She’s a very neat person,” she said.
Every girl in Harner’s dressing room made top 11 in the pageant.
Harner said this pageant was the best group of contestants she’s ever competed with. This was her fifth year competing, twice in the Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen and three times in Miss Illinois.
Ashley Hatfield, also from Union County and a former Miss Illinois, has been the head of the organization for the past two years and Harner said they have been incredible.
“It’s been the best experience I’ve ever had in this pageant. Ashley Hatfield and the board of directors should be praised for that,” Harner said.
Harner said pageants have helped her learn about herself.
“There is a negative stigma around pageantry and that it promotes negative body image and I’ve been a victim of that. I think a lot of women in general have a lot of issues with negative body issues, but pageants have taught me to be comfortable,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily that I’ve been in love with my body. It’s not that I hate my body. I’m comfortable with it.”
Eventually, Harner would like to compete in Miss Illinois again, even if it’s just for self-advancement and to become a better version of herself.
For the time being, she wants to focus on receiving her master’s degree.
She also encourages girls and young women to take advantage of local pageants, such as the Union County Fair pageant and the Peach Festival pageant.
Harner said Miss Illinois can be stressful, but the local festivals are more about just having fun.
“I think people take it for granted that we have cool things like that in Southern Illinois when it’s literally for no other reason than to have fun,” said.
“Young women should take advantage of the opportunities.”