For as long as she can remember, the Miss America pageant has held a fascination for Lee Gibbs.
She watched it as a young girl.
She watched it as a teenager.
She watched it as a young adult.
And she’s going to watch it again on Saturday. Only this time, the lifelong Ashland resident is going to watch it in person.
Not only that, but she’s going to be a participant as part of Miss Kentucky Jessica Casebolt’s entourage. Gibbs will be doing the makeup for the Pikeville beauty in the preliminary competitions that begin on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Just being there will be a thrill for Gibbs, a longtime fan of the pageant.
“It’s a bucket list thing for me,” she said Thursday. “It will be a lot of fun.”
Lee will be enjoying the pageant with her daughter, Lauren Burgess, who joined with her mother to work the Miss Ashland and Miss Goldenrod pageant in 2012. It was as Miss Goldenrod that Jessica Casebolt qualified for Miss Kentucky, which she won in a landslide.
Many are saying the 20-year-old is Miss Kentucky’s best hope for Miss America since Heather French Henry of Maysville wore the crown in 2000.
“I feel extremely strong about her chances,” Gibbs said. “She just has the total package. Sometimes a girl is real strong in interviews but may have a weaker talent. Or they may be strong in talent but weak in interviews. Jessica is strong across the board. There is no area of competition where she has deficits.”
The personable Casebolt has been preparing for the opportunity to be named Miss America all year. She’s traveled throughout the state visiting elementary schools, doing speaking engagements and even working out with John Calipari.
The University of Kentucky coach listed her as one of the most beautiful people he met in 2012 during an interview in the Wall Street Journal.
Coach Cal and the rest of Kentucky seem truly charmed by Casebolt, who is a student at Georgetown College.
“Once you meet her, you feel like you’ve known her forever,” Gibbs said. “She’s just special.”
Casebolt will be one of three Miss America candidates featured in an ABC television show prior to the pageant finals on Saturday at 8 p.m. The live pageant begins at 9 p.m.
Gibbs said the Miss America pageant is something she’s always wanted to attend but never did.
“It was just one of those things,” she said. “It was in Atlantic City for years and it’s been in Vegas the last three years. I’ve been to Vegas, but never this pageant.”
When Gibbs married her husband, Rocky Gibbs, the two ran the Miss Ashland pageant from 1979 to 1988. Then they had a family and Gibbs’ daughter, Lauren, participated in pageants. When Gail Sammons decided to give up the Miss Ashland pageant after last year, Lee and her daughter took it over again.
“I kept saying ‘No, no, no,’ but Lauren said it was time to give back,” Lee said.
Casebolt was so impressive in the Miss Goldenrod that she literally walked away with the title. The same thing happened in the Miss Kentucky pageant. Those officials were the first to say she has a shot at becoming Miss America.
Casebolt has a link to Heather French Henry, the last Kentucky woman to wear the crown. She models for Henry’s clothing line, and Henry is making the gown that Casebolt will wear in the Miss America pageant.
“Heather French designed her evening gown,” Gibbs said. “It’s totally something different.”
While most of America only witnesses the final day of the pageant, the event actually lasts most of next week. The interviews begin on Monday, and each day brings something new, Gibbs said.
Gibbs will be doing her makeup for the preliminary round but won’t be allowed backstage for the finals. That’s because nobody extra is allowed backstage to allow for more secrecy heading into the dramatic final.
“Miss America is one of the very first realty shows ever, if you want to look at it that way,” Gibbs said. “It’s done totally live.”
The drama can be suspenseful, and it will be especially that way for Gibbs and her daughter. They are on the list of 25 invitees to the Queen’s Reception afterward should Jessica Casebolt win the crown. Many of the invitees are board members while there are 11 at-large invitees.
So it’s quite an honor to be invited, Gibbs said.
“We’re crossing our fingers,” she said. “Jessica has a lot of the same qualities that Heather French has. We hope that’s what will translate for her.”
Gibbs said watching the Miss America pageant up close and in person will be a thrill for her. “I remember watching it as a little girl,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever missed seeing one on TV.”
That is until this year, when she’ll be front and center and maybe, just maybe, standing with Miss America right beside her.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.