Monday, June 29, 2015 | 4:31 p.m.
The dreaded onstage final questions at the 2015 Miss Nevada Pageant over the weekend included race relations, South Carolina church shootings, gun ownership, Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, online dating sites, Los Angeles to Las Vegas high-speed train, Electric Daisy Carnival and college tuition fees being paid by taxpayers.
Then came a Caitlyn Jenner question: Jenna Holdrige, 19, from Reno was asked, “If you were a Kardashian, what would you say to Caitlyn?” It took less than a second of thought, and she answered, “I love you, Dad.”
It brought her stunning applause from the audience at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts watching the 67th year of the Miss Nevada Pageant, a preliminary to September’s Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
But it didn’t win her the title and crown.
That went to 23-year-old Katherine Kelley of North Las Vegas, who entered as 2015 Miss Summerlin. She dazzled playing classical piano and looked elegant and radiant in her red pageant gown. Katherine also won an award for Outstanding Academic Achievement.
Sixteen-year-old Lauren Watson of Las Vegas won the Miss Nevada Outstanding Teen Pageant. She’s another beauty pageant winner from hair genius Michael Boychuck at his salon Color in Caesars Palace. He’s been the mane man for numerous beauty queens, including 2014 Miss Nevada USA turned 2014 Miss USA Nia Sanchez — the first from our Silver State and first runner-up at Miss Universe — and 1995 Miss USA Shanna Moakler.
Our thanks to Las Vegas Sun photographer L.E. Baskow for his beautiful photo gallery of the winners and contestants taking part in swimsuit, talent and evening gown.
This year’s judges included “Jersey Boys” Musical Director Keith Thompson, actress and entertainer Susan Anton, Vegas Magazine Editor in Chief Andrea Bennett and our own Las Vegas Sun Editor at Large John Katsilometes.
They had a tough assignment with the high quality of contestants. Entertainers Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton Holmes, were MCs for the pageants.
The contestants entertained with modern, acrobatic and tap dance, piano, monologues and singing. All showed incredible poise and confidence in their gorgeous gowns, and nobody stumbled over the questions even if they didn’t answer the questions exactly.
Sam Haskell, Miss America CEO who flew in for our state competition, said: “You have reached new heights. The changes made in the Miss Nevada Organization are really good, and I look at these young women who have competed and know that America’s future is secure.
“As we approach the 95th anniversary of the Miss America Pageant in September, I am confident that we will be more alive and successful as in years past.”
Sam introduced Las Vegas resident Lynn Weidner, Miss New Jersey in 1971, as the first chairwoman of the Miss American Organization’s new Board of Directors.
Katherine, who has a 4.0 GPA in her master’s program at UNLV, moved here from Alabama to teach grade school mathematics. Her platform is “Improving Public School Attendance: Every Day Counts.”
2014 Miss Nevada Ellie Smith of Henderson pinned the tiara on Katherine. Ellie is a first-year student in the music, dance and theater program at BYU. She represented our Silver State last September and won special recognition for her talent performances.
Ellie told me: “This is a little bittersweet, but I’m excited to pass on the crown. It has been an incredible year, especially with my little sister Amy, who was Miss Nevada Outstanding Teen for the same year. That was an added bonus — the best! We just hit the ground running.
“It was life-changing. It was such a journey with my personal platform and getting my book out there. An incredible year. I will always look back at it for being so amazing, but I’m ready now for somebody else to take over.
“I grew up. This year has changed me. I’m still who I was a year ago. I stayed true to myself, my values and my morals. I was a little 17-year-old, and now I’m an 18-year-old. That’s a jump. Completely more mature and big shoes to fill. I never thought I’d win being just 17, so it was an eye-opener. I had to make changes, and I grew.
“Now I have three more years of college at BYU, then flying right to New York to pursue Broadway, which has been my dream since I was 3 years old. Fingers crossed, and God surprises you along the way.”
Moments after she was crowned Miss Nevada, Katherine told me: “I am totally surprised. I’m very excited and thankful for this opportunity. I’m overwhelmed. It’s going to take a few days to realize what happened. I have to start packing and preparing immediately for the Miss America Pageant. There’s not a lot of time.”
Although she wowed with her classical piano, Katherine continued: “I don’t think I want to be a professional musician. I am a teacher in North Las Vegas. I’ve always had a love of mathematics, and I want to continue teaching it. So many students don’t love it, and I want to inspire them with it.”
Miss Nevada Organization President and Executive Director Jodi Hale Fonfa commented: “We awarded scholarships upwards of $57,000 raised in just five months, and that’s more money than was raised in the last five years combined. The future of the Miss Nevada Scholarship Organization is a bright one, and this year’s milestones are steppingstones for the future.
“I feel with our new organization and pageant that Nevada has officially arrived.”
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.