CHINA — A week later, Alison Clair still hadn’t simmered down after what she calls “the craziest weekend of my life.”

That was Nov. 19 and 20, during the Miss Maine USA pageant, in which the 22-year-old China resident competed as Miss Kennebec County.

Clair — you can call her Ali — finished as third runner-up (fourth place overall) and, as a novice in the pageant world, is very proud of herself for finishing that high.

It was the culmination of months of training and hard work, involving clothing, the excitement of the actual pageant, new friendships and personal lessons, she said.

Clair’s story begins at the University of Maine, where she majored in advertising with a minor in dance. She enjoyed performing in the dance program.

After graduation in May, she realized, “I’m not going to be on stage again unless I get myself there.”

She discovered the Miss USA pageant, owned by Donald Trump and NBC television. The Maine division is directed by Mackenzie Davis, a 31-year-old Chelsea resident who was Miss Maine USA in 2004.

Unlike the Miss America pageant, there is no talent competition for Miss USA, but there is an evening gown show, a bathing suit show and an interview with judges.

After deciding to enter, Clair faced two challenges: Raising money for the entrance fee and expenses, and preparing herself physically and mentally.

She collected sponsors countywide, including from family, friends and local business people to become Miss Kennebec County. She worked with a trainer and a coach. She shopped, finding her bathing suit online and her dress at the Falmouth consignment shop Zeus’s Closet.

Including alternations, Clair ended up with a perfectly fitted $500 dress for less than $100, one of the many accomplishments she recounts with pride.

Learning to walk on platform shoes with four-inch heels is another new skill.

“Our legs looked great,” she said.

Pageant weekend involved rehearsing group numbers and doing individual interviews with judges. On Nov. 20, the 22 contestants were winnowed to 10 and then to five, and each time Clair was still in the running.

Each of the top five was asked a randomly selected question. Clair was lucky: She was asked to tell the judges and audience why she thought she would be a good representative of Maine in a national pageant, giving her a chance to extol the abilities of young Maine women.

Although she did not become Miss Maine USA, Clair believes she is a winner in many other ways.

“I know more about myself and how hard I can push myself,” she said. “It gave me a new level of confidence in myself. And I met girls who’ll be my friends forever.”

Pageant director Davis said the best thing about the pageant is watching the young women gain confidence and make new friends. The part she likes least, she said, “is the end of the pageant when only one girl takes home the crown, because they are all worthy of it.”

Davis described Clair as “outstanding to work with, extremely driven and very professional.” She would not be surprised to see Clair as a company CEO in the future.

Clair noted that last year’s third runnerup, Rani Williamson, was chosen as this year’s Miss Maine USA.

Does that mean she’ll try again next year? “Possibly,” she said. “It’s addicting … such a fun thing to work toward.”

As one of this year’s top five contestants, Clair has been invited to model at a charity Jimmy Choo event in Boston and might find other pageant-related activities.

Meanwhile, she is finishing up an internship at L.L. Bean and plans to enroll in a summer program at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, as a step toward a master’s degree.


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