Thursday, August 25, 2016

Very Smart Gals Salon

I lead the most fortuitous life - somehow stumbling into amazing situations – the most recent being the opportunity to judge a very large and highly regarded statewide pageant for girls in Dallas.  I knew nothing about judging a pageant when I went into this gig, and maybe I still don’t but I did learn three things.
  1. It’s a lot harder than it looks,
  2. The girls who won were the ones with the most poise, character, authenticity, grace, articulation, attitude, smile, and an ability to connect, and
  3. The girls who didn’t win were working on developing those skills.

And the bonus for me other than the honor of participating and getting to meet about 350 of the smartest little gals in Texas, was that I got to bond with six very smart grownup gals – my judging compatriots, Gina Johns, Andrea Nicole Sledge, Carol Lawson Johnston, Robin Dudasko, Mara Lee Burton and Leslie Hillin (pictured l-r above).

When I accepted the invitation to participate in the judging I was all aflutter, worrying about what to wear, how to be a judge, losing 50 pounds in a couple of weeks, but the six gals above were as centered as the earth’s core. They’d all judged before, they knew what they were doing, and they were kind enough to help me know where I was supposed to be, when, and how to get there. In spite of the fact that I donned an actual evening gown for the first time in a decade (photo) and got my hair (thanks to Victoria Doss) and makeup done (thanks to Ashley Sweeney) for the occasion, there’s not a lot of glamour in roaming the bowels of a convention center looking for the “backstage”. But then there eventually came my introduction as a judge, under a very bright spotlight, to an enormous room full of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors, all of whom were exceedingly proud of a courageous little girl on the stage who wanted to be her very best. And that made me feel much more important than I really was or am. And it was fleeting but exciting, and very gratifying. 

Here’s a little about the Very Smart Gals who were my partners in judging:
Gina Johns is a 27-year educator with certifications in English as a second language, Dyslexia and Special Education, and says “she has a heart for students with special needs and has spent many hours tutoring, teaching and helping those students gain the best education possible”. She has also trained and coached volleyball, softball and cheerleading. Gina has been involved in pageantry for many years, not only judging throughout Texas, but also coaching girls for competition. She is an active volunteer in her community and church and enjoys supporting her two daughters, one of which is an NJCAA National champion in college softball.
Andrea Nicole Sledge is a Tax Accountant for GameStop, Inc. in Dallas, and a plus size model featured in Venus Diva, Skorch and Curvz Magazines. She has also competed in the Texas Plus America, Miss Curve, American Beauties Plus and All World (Queen of Queens Lifetime IV) Beauties Pageants, and has directed for Miss Plus America and served as the auditor and head judge for the DFW Miss America Pageant. Andrea believes that it is our duty “to live our lives with a servant’s heart” and as such, she is involved with many local charities.
Carol Lawson Johnston lives, as we say in Texas, “just up the road a piece” in Elgin, where she is the director of Down Home Ranch, a working farm and ranch where about 40 adults and children—including 32 with Down syndrome and other disabilities—live year round. She is the mother of four and says she “has watched with wonder as her children have fulfilled their dreams”. Her daughter is a former Miss Texas USA and her son has modeled with Tommy Hilfiger and Dillard’s. Carol is certified Christian counselor and has a ministry that reaches out to parents who have wayward children that are caught up in alcohol and drugs.
Robin Dudasko recently graduated with honors from Texas A&M and married her college sweetheart. She too lives just up the road a piece in Round Rock where she is Director of Youth Ministry at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. In 2013, after 8 years of competing, Robin captured the title of National American Miss Texas. She is also a former Miss Austin and placed in the top 10 at the National All-American Teen pageant in Hollywood, California. Throughout her reign as National American Miss Texas she traveled throughout the state speaking to groups about cyber-bullying.
Mara Lee Burton, another nearby neighbor from Round Rock, is a classically trained singer who has performed on stages across the country, including New York and New Orleans, and has sung the national anthem for many sporting events. Mara participated in many pageants as a young girl, including Junior Miss and Miss Teen Texas, winning the talent competition several times throughout her pageant career. She has a BS in History from Texas State University where she coached gymnastics and had back-to-back state champion teams. She also has a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies with a double focus in American Studies and Civil Rights and Social Justice from Southern Methodist University.
Leslie Hillin, a graduate of Lamar University with a Masters of Education, is currently a middle school counselor at Edwards Johnson Memorial Silsbee Middle School in Silsbee.  She has been working as a special education teacher for the past 26 years.  She has judged pageants at the state level and enjoys working with the Miss Amazing Texas Pageant.  She and her husband of 30 years have two children and one grandchild.  Leslie enjoys spending her summers at the lake with family and friends.

These Very Smart were just some of the most humble, nice gals you’d ever want to meet, and I so much appreciated their guidance, patience and camaraderie. 


  1. Love this blog post, SueAnn...and you look absolutely GORGEOUS in that formal gown. What a great chapter in your life book! Look out Atlantic stop, Miss America!
    XOX Loralee

  2. Thanks Loralee. It means so much to me that you commented. Appreciate the "gorgeous"!!! Miss America - well who knows. I know my mom is smiling down from heaven.