SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Celeste Marshall will represent the Bahamas in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas. So now, she’s working with some of the world’s top names in fashion to prepare.
The coastal Maine town of less than 20,000 year-round residents has quietly become a go-to spot for top pageant winners from around the planet looking to claim international titles and make the leap into successful careers.
It’s not because hunter orange is the new black. Rather, the activity follows Old Orchard Beach native Ashley Lauren Kerr, who has become a star among the pageant glitterati as a consultant and burgeoning fashion mogul.
Kerr, Miss Congeniality at the 2008 Miss Maine pageant, has ASHLEYlaurenKerr dress showrooms in New York and Beijing. But she recently moved her company headquarters back from Los Angeles to the Pine Tree State.
And now, aspiring beauty queens such as Marshall are finding their way into the brisk October air of Scarborough for consultation by Kerr and her partners, renowned lifestyle coach Grace Fontecha and cosmetologist Noel Garcia Rivera.
“We bring them to Maine to learn grace and charisma, and to learn about hair and makeup,” Kerr said. “It’s almost like a boot camp.”
Like a boot camp in that it’s intensive, she said, but not similar in stress levels.
“For us, this is a great place to train them,” Kerr said. “It’s very calm and relatively quiet. For Celeste, she can rest and focus on preparing for that pageant.”
What’s involved in preparing for a beauty pageant? Well, competing in a highly scrutinized pageant, such as the Miss Universe production coming up Dec. 19, doesn’t begin and end with what people see on the primetime television broadcasts, Fontecha said.
“You have to have the charisma, the attitude, the projection,” Fontecha said. “You have to know how to move yourself.”
For these contestants, striding across a stage in a bikini is just one task in an exhausting pageant schedule designed, in part, to stretch the limits of each woman’s patience and poise, Kerr said. Separating the legions of also-rans from the eventual queen could be anything from a subtle eye roll after a Tuesday TV interview to a bored stance during a Wednesday charity event.
“They’re on the go from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. for two weeks meeting with the press, going to red carpet events, attending dinners,” Kerr said. “They’re getting judged that whole time. A lot of what Grace is teaching is mental and emotional strength, so when [Marshall is] getting up at 5 a.m. for her hair and makeup, she’s ready to go.”
Fontecha resists the idea that beauty pageant coaching is useful only for beauty queens, or that it’s “superficial.”
“Sometimes your body language can say many things you don’t realize, if you’re angry or if you’re scared,” Fontecha said.
She said learning how to make good impressions, navigate mixed company, exude confidence and reach deep for patience in trying times are good lessons for anyone trying to get ahead in a competitive job market — or even at home with family.
“I think it’s key for any successful person,” she said. “This will help her during her career or to raise her children.”