Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 24, 2012

Mark Maynard: A lunch crowd and crown

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — How many times do you get to say this: I had lunch with Miss Kentucky.

In just a few months, I may be able to say this: I had lunch with Miss America.

By the way, my wife does not approve of these messages. (Just thought some political humor would lighten the mood).

Really, my wife wouldn’t mind. She knows she’s the only Miss Kentucky that matters to me. (Insert awwww here).

But it was cool meeting with Jessica Casebolt, the 19-year-old — “I’ll be 20 in December,” she reminded — from Pikeville who has her eye on the big prize in January in Las Vegas.

She has worn the crown of Miss Kentucky since mid-July and has endured a fullcourt press of a schedule ever seen. This week she was in the area visiting area schools, talking to them about healthy eating habits and being Miss Kentucky.

My lunch meeting wasn’t just me and Miss Kentucky. I was invited to the “Lunch Bunch” meeting of Dirk Payne, Steve Gilmore, Jim Lambert and Rocky Gibbs. They eat together almost daily and solve many of the area’s issues over lunch.

Rocky called and was nice enough to let me crash their party. Rocky’s wife, Lee Gibbs, who is heavily involved in the pageant scene on the statewide level, was also at the table along with Jessica’s cousin, Callie Daniels of Vermont.

They plopped me next to Jessica so I could interview her over lunch. Let me just say, Jessica Casebolt is polished and professional. She answers questions honestly and is down to earth. She looks and acts the part of a Miss America (although her plate of food was bigger than mine).

“She’s our best chance at Miss America since Heather French,” Gibbs said. “I really believe that.”

Lee will be involved in the Miss America pageant as well, serving as Jessica’s makeup artist.

“I’ve never been to Miss America,” Gibbs said. “I can cross that off my bucket list.”

Heather French was the Miss America in 2000 and she has a connection to Casebolt as well. She has been Miss Kentucky’s mentor for several years.

French talks to Casebolt in positives such as, “When you become Miss America, this is how you do it,” Jessica said.

French designed Casebolt’s wardrobe at the state competition and will make her gown for Miss America. The current Miss Kentucky has modeled for French’s design catalog.

But more than anything else, she has prepped Casebolt for the potential of the dream-come-true experience of becoming Miss America.

Casebolt is true to her Kentucky roots and takes pride in representing her home state in the pageant, which has a lot more substance than audiences are led to believe.

It’s not all about beauty, said Casebolt.

“It’s a constant self-improvement process,” she said.

Casebolt qualified for Miss Kentucky by winning the Miss Goldenrod crown in Ashland. She defeated a field of 32 for the crown of Miss Kentucky in Lexington.

Casebolt wasn’t expected to be a top contender after not finishing among the top 13 the previous year. But she came out of nowhere and won the crown.

Since then, she has enjoyed celebrity status in the state. While attending a University of Kentucky game a few weeks ago, she used her Miss Kentucky sash as a parking pass to a VIP lot.

She also had a meeting with John Calipari, who let her put on his championship ring. They took a picture of her with Calipari and it had 7,000 hits.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he put it on my finger!’’’ she said.

The photo of Calipari and Jessica drew even more attention than the UK coach posing with actor Charlie Sheen.

“I was kind of proud of that,” she said.

“Coach Calipari was great. He had some good advice.”

Casebolt will be part  of an ABC documentary about the road to Miss America that will air prior to the pageant in January.

“Coach Calipari is a national champion and I’d like to be that, too,” she said.

Casebolt, who will also be part of this year’s Ashland Christmas Parade, said she constantly fights against the stigma of being a beauty pageant winner.

“Pageants get a bad rap for being shallow, but there’s so much to them,” she said. “It’s not just about who looks the best in a bathing suit or who has the best gown.”

As the pageant winner in Kentucky, she is sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to be a motivational speaker throughout the state. She answers to a board of directors, which does most of her scheduling and planning and provides her with a Lexus to drive for a year.

“That has been fabulous,” she said.

Jessica finished her freshman year at Georgetown College last spring but has taken the year off to give full attention to her duties as Miss Kentucky. When she returns to school, Jessica will pursue a degree in political science with the hopes of becoming a lawyer.

For now, though, she’s happy with the Miss Kentucky gig.

A young boy from Ponderosa Elementary “proposed” to Casebolt on Wednesday morning. “I told him to come and see me in 30 years,” she said.

A preschool girl pulled the crown off her head.

“I said, ‘OK, you can be the princess today.’’’

Kentucky should be proud of Jessica Casebolt, who might well be wearing that Miss America crown come January.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.