Miss Washington Kailee Dunn heads for Atlantic City next month for the Miss America pageant, and surprisingly, she hasn't had a case of the jitters yet.
"I'm in a good place right now and feeling good," Dunn told the Herald last week. "But I'm sure the nerves will hit me once I get to Atlantic City."
Dunn grew up in the Tri-Cities, graduating from Kamiakin High in 2010. She won the Miss Tri-Cities crown in 2011. She went to the Miss Washington pageant as Miss Spokane this year, winning the title and a chance to become the next Miss America.
Contestants are allowed to compete often at the state level in scholarship pageants, Dunn said. But the Miss America program is a one-shot deal.
"I have this one opportunity to earn the crown," she said. "I'm ready and feeling confident."
She wouldn't trade for a moment the education she has received earning titles of Miss Tri-Cities, Miss Northwest, Miss Spokane and now Miss Washington, Dunn said.
At the pageant she will sing Someone Like You, from the Broadway musical Jekyll and Hyde.
Dunn credits her parents, Jim and Diane Dunn of Kennewick, for instilling confidence.
"My parents always believed in me," she said. "And when you have parents like that, it helps build confidence when you're young that stays with you for a lifetime."
That support will follow her to Atlantic City as her family and several of her friends plan to accompany her for the weeklong event.
One of those friends shares the same first name with Dunn.
"Kailee and I met through our sorority at Eastern Washington University," said Kailee Sax, 21, of Snohomish. "I think our names are what drew us together. We also have matching scars on our left shoulders, so we were meant to be friends.
"We share of love of baseball, nights on the couch watching our favorite shows and sweets," Sax said. "Kailee has the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I've every met."
Their friends distinguish them by calling Dunn by her initials, KD, Sax said. Sax also never doubted her friend would find her way to the Miss America competition.
"Whenever she talked about it, you could see a fire in her eyes," Sax said. "Kailee will sparkle on the Miss America stage, and I can't wait to go and support her. I believe she can bring the title home to us in Washington."
The competition runs from Sept. 8-14. The final will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sept. 14 on ABC.
Americans also have the opportunity to vote one woman into the top 15 by voting online at http://bit.ly/1ACyaLq, Dunn said. Tri-Citians can view Dunn taking part in a comedic sketch, then cast their vote for their hometown girl.
The Miss America pageant is a nonprofit organization that maintains a tradition of empowering young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to express their opinions, talent and intelligence, according to the event's website.
The organization gives away millions in scholarship money each year, Dunn said.
"Competing is a lifestyle that teaches you to be a good role model," Dunn said. "I've won $30,000 in scholarship money so far, which has paid for my college degree. That alone is priceless."
Whatever happens in Atlantic City, Dunn plans to continue motivating young women to achieve their dreams through education.
"I never gave up on my dream," she said. "I wanted this shot at Miss America and I got there. I would love to inspire other young women to do the same."
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dorioneal