The Miss Daviess County pageant, hosted by the Daviess County Lions Club, crowned its first African-American queen, El’Agance Shemwell, in 2017. This year, the pageant crowned its first Vietnamese-American queen, Celine Le. The increasing diversity of the Miss Daviess County Pageant reflects the changing societal values of the area by encouraging all young ladies to participate.
Shemwell has competed in pageants since she was 8 years old. In July 2013, Shemwell won Miss Owensboro Black Expo; however, she was disappointed the next evening when she didn’t even place in the Miss Teen Daviess County Pageant. “When people would say that I couldn’t win, it would fire me up to try even harder!” Shemwell stated. “I wanted to prove that I could win.”
After three years of competing in the Miss Teen Daviess County competition and two more years in the Miss Daviess County Pageant, El’Agance became Miss Daviess County at age 19. Following her crowning in 2017, at least two biracial girls contacted her to ask if she would help them compete the next year. “I don’t like to think of it as a race thing, but I think my win has brought the community together in a different way,” she said.
Shemwell, now a 20-year old college junior majoring in broadcasting at Western Kentucky University, says, “The community really supported me and helped me get involved.” Returning to the Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club had an impact on Shemwell. “I grew up as a club member,” Shemwell shared. “Now I get to come back and talk to the kids about going after your dreams and just doing what you love.”
For the newly-crowned Miss Daviess County, Celine Le’s pageant experience differed from Shemwell’s in that Le never competed in pageants, despite encouragement from her friends to do so. “My dad is my biggest inspiration,” she said. “He came to the United States from Vietnam when he was 19 and has worked so hard for my family. He is selfless and always takes care of our friends and family, even though he regularly works 12 hours a day.” Le said that her father’s work ethic will be her inspiration as she carries out her Miss Daviess County duties and while completing her senior year at Daviess County High school as a member of the tennis team and captain of the DCHS Pantherettes.
In spite of nerves and lack of experience, Le clearly impressed the judges. Bayli Boling, pageant director, said, “There was just a roar from the audience when she won.”
Boling started in the local pageant circuit in 2008, and participated in both the Teen and Miss Daviess County pageants before being crowned Miss Daviess County in 2011. She has served as the pageant director since 2016, along with Miss Daviess County 2008, Haley (London) Berry. Boling is enthusiastic about the need for more young, diverse role models in our community.
This year was the first time contestants from Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, Ohio and McLean counties were allowed to compete for Miss Daviess County. The pageant directors hope this decision, along with a strong presence on social media and partnerships with local businesses and non-profit organizations, can combine to reach a wider variety of girls interested in Miss Daviess County.
Fifty-five years after her crowning, Miss Daviess County 1963 Carol (Morrison) Hancock still remembers her experience with the pageant as a fun and positive one. “It forced me out of my safe zone and exposed me to new experiences and people,” Hancock recalls. “Young ladies are offered more opportunities now. It’s much
more sophisticated than it was before.” She was particularly encouraged by the growth in diversity among recent Miss Daviess County winners. Hancock said, “It just shows how the pageant is reaching more people…It’s nice that it’s continuing to grow and is including all types of ladies.”