Columbus resident Shelby Rice waves to the crowd after being crowned Miss Gwinnett 2012 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Saturday night.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Officially one week before the start of fall, smiling and eager faces from all over Gwinnett came out to the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds to enjoy everything that a county fair has to offer.
Dizzying rides, challenging carnival games and the chance to fill their bellies with fair mainstays cotton candy, popcorn and funnel cakes will be on the agenda for everyone attending for the next week and a half.
To kick off the special fair events, Saturday night featured young women competing in the Miss Gwinnett County Scholarship Pageant. Although the pageant is considered a "Gwinnett" pageant, the new territory requirements allow contestants to live in areas that cover 100 counties from central to north Georgia, while still being eligible to compete as long as they have lived and gone to school in the same county for a minimum of six months.
Eleven contestants, ages 17 to 24, competed in different stages of the pageant by answering questions, modeling swimwear, showcasing their specially chosen talent, and lastly, dressing up in their most formal evening gowns.
The different talents ranged from impressive vocal performances, energetic dance routines, outstanding instrumentals and even a thought-provoking monologue.
Capturing the hearts of the judges and audience, Shelby Rice from Columbus was crowned as the overall winner of the pageant.
Rice, 22, goes to Columbus State University.
"Oh my gosh, it's so surreal, I'm shaking right now." Rice said, "It's an honor to represent Gwinnett County." Rice won a $1,200 educational scholarship and will go on to compete in the Miss Georgia Pageant.
Executive Director Becky Roberts has headed up this pageant for the past 26 years. Roberts says her biggest joy of putting on this event is, "knowing that this is the world's largest scholarship program for women." She added, "Over $45 million will be raised at the local, state and national level this year alone."
"Competing and winning this event can change these girls' lives," Greg Woodlief, director of the Miss Atlanta Scholarship, said in regard to the scholarship opportunities.
In some cases, having success in these pageants can be a launching pad for lucrative and successful careers. Each pageant participant must also be actively involved in a community service project in order to be eligible to compete.
The sponsors for the pageant will also help the winner prepare for the state pageant. The winner of state will go on to compete in the Miss America Pageant. Notable sponsors for the Miss Gwinnett Pageant included the Gwinnett County Fair Association, Cinderella's Closet, Keith Pittman Lasting Impressions and Allegra Print and Imaging.