Kendra Thurman, 19, didn’t grow up a girly girl.
“As a little girl, I didn’t care about fashion or anything,” she said. “I’d watch ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ but then I’d go out and play football with the boys.”
And, as a Native American, she didn’t see herself as pretty.
“The most beautiful women were always blond-haired and blue-eyed,” she said. “I always thought I looked dirty because I was so dark.”
But as she accomplished certain milestones in her life — graduating early from Silver State Charter High School and getting a job as an apprentice at Rupert’s Precision Gemcutting — she gained more confidence and started seeing herself in a different light.
Last year, she competed for the first time in the National American Miss Pageant and placed in the top seven in Nevada.
“That was a real confidence-booster for me,” she said. “I competed with extremely gorgeous girls, and I did well. I was accepted so quickly.”
She is returning to Las Vegas today to compete again this weekend.
“All week I’ve been so nervous but now I’m so excited,” she said. “This is so much fun for me.”
Contestants are judged in four categories: community service, interview, personal introduction and formal wear. The winner of the pageant receives a $1,000 award, along with paid transportation to the national competition. Nationally, the pageant awards $1.5 million in cash, scholarships and other prizes, including a Ford Mustang convertible.
The top five from the state competition are eligible to compete in the national pageant.
Although Thurman came close to the top five last year, she’s not stressing about where she finishes this year.
“I want to have fun,” she said. “I don’t want to put restrictions on myself as to where I have to place. If I place higher than I did last year, I’ll be happy.”
She hopes the pageant helps prepare her for a modeling career, perhaps even winning a modeling scholarship.
“I just want to be a model,” she said. “Being in front of the camera, that’s what my passion is for.”
Regardless of the outcome, however, she’s happy with her life.
“I’ve been an apprentice for two years in a gem-cutting and jewelry-design business. I’m living on my own. I’m exactly were I want to be at 19.”