There She Is

Thanks to shows such as TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras, it seems as if American beauty queens go straight from diapers to evening gowns. This wasn’t exactly the case for the June 8 winner of the 2013 Miss Missouri pageant. The newly crowned Columbia native, Shelby Ringdahl, is somewhat of a newbie in the competition.

It wasn’t until she left Columbia in 2010 to study musical theater at Texas Christian University that Ringdahl thought about translating her love of the stage to the pageant world. Her voice teacher mentioned to her that at 5-foot-10 with a strong singing talent, she could win scholarship money competing in pageants. So just below “audition for ‘American Idol’  ” and “be on Broadway” on her bucket list, Ringdahl penciled in “compete in Miss Missouri.” Although the challenge was fresh, this kind of up-for-anything attitude is nothing new for Ringdahl.

Ringdahl, the daughter of Bruce and Erika Ringdahl, grew up in Columbia and learned early how to juggle her many interests. In high school, she was a member of Rock Bridge High School’s choir, show choir and musical theater programs, and she kept busy playing varsity basketball and volleyball, participating in student government and the National Honor Society. During her freshman year at TCU, she joined Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

“I’m definitely used to being busy and go-go-go all the time,” Ringdahl says.

Her on-the-move attitude came in handy when she competed in her first pageant and won. It was timing, rather than geography, that led to Ringdahl’s decision to compete in the Miss Texas County 2012 pageant. She selected a pageant that took place during one of her breaks from school. After claiming the Miss Texas County crown, she spent the next year flying back and forth between school in Fort Worth and Miss Texas County appearances in Houston, Mo. All the while, she maintained the roles of student with an 18-hour class load, chief recruiting officer for her sorority and actress with daily rehearsals at TCU.

This local pageant title was Ringdahl’s “golden ticket” to Miss Missouri 2012, where she placed as second runner-up. The following year, she competed in Miss Springfield 2013, and as winner, repeated the same process of racking up frequent flyer miles for appearances before heading to the Miss Missouri pageant in Mexico, Mo., this summer. Now, Ringdahl is wearing the Miss Missouri crown.

“I’ve only done four pageants my whole life,” she says. “It’s such a God thing. He totally had this planned, and I was oblivious to it.”

Even though she has been competing for a relatively short time, Ringdahl says it’s the atmosphere of the contest that keeps her coming back. The camaraderie between the contestants is like the sorority sisterhood she’s become used to in college.

Last year, Ringdahl didn’t know she needed another gown for the Miss Missouri production number. Her roommate — and fellow competitor — for the week pulled out two dresses and told Ringdahl to pick whichever gown she wanted to wear and said she would wear the other one. During the pageant finals this year, just as Ringdahl was about to go on stage, one of her earrings broke. Four girls ran up to her, hands outstretched, offering replacements. This kind of support continued even after her crowning.

“After I did my first walk as the new Miss Missouri, I went to turn around, and all the girls just swarmed me,” she says. “I don’t remember anything from crowning night except that. I think that really shows what a sisterhood it is.”

From here, though, Ringdahl is on her own for a while. She drives by herself to most of her Miss Missouri appearances, which include speaking engagements, performances, other local pageants and events to support her platforms. As Miss Missouri, she promotes Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children as her personal platform and Children’s Miracle Network as the national Miss America platform. She’s even agreed to record a CD as a fundraiser for CMN.

Ringdahl’s business manager, Ann Jolly, says past Miss Missouri queens have traveled nearly 50,000 miles and made 300 appearances, and Ringdahl’s numbers will likely be in this range.

“Some people can just walk in a room and immediately take control of it,” Jolly says. “Shelby’s one of those people.”

In the meantime, Ringdahl is preparing for the national stage. When she’s not at events, she fills her time with emails, wardrobe alterations and workouts. She leaves Labor Day weekend for the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. The preliminary competition starts Sept. 10, and finals will be Sept. 15. There, Ringdahl looks forward to representing the place she calls home.

“Who doesn’t want to give back to a state and a community that’s done so much for them?” she says. “The schools, the churches and the events of the Columbia community are what have molded me into who I am.”