A change in the age of women missionaries for the LDS Church may be limiting the number of contestants in some area Miss Utah preliminary pageants.
"Pageantry is taking a hit with this one," said Steffani Nielson, director of the Miss Davis County scholarship pageant.
"If a girl is interested in being in a pageant, this is the year to try out," she said, noting fewer expected entries and better chances of success.
But some pageant directors aren't sure the missionary age change is the only reason participation is down.
Nielson said she and some other directors were on the phone with each other immediately after the announcement was made in October by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Mormon women missionaries could now be 19 instead of 21.
She said she and others believed the change would take contestants away but that the numbers would increase again when those who leave for 18 months return.
"I don't blame the girls for choosing their faith and doing something they feel inspired to do," Nielson said. "More power to them."
But there have been other factors that have deterred contestants in recent years too, including the rising costs of competing, one director said.
While many area pageants are just now recruiting contestants, the Miss Farmington pageant, set for early in June, has attracted only three contestants.
Farmington City Council members announced a belief in a recent council meeting that the change in missionary age was to blame.
But the reigning Miss Utah, Kara Arnold, of Bountiful, said she doesn't believe the change in missionary age will affect the popularity of pageants in Utah.
"We have a really, really strong program in Utah. It's one of the biggest in the nation. I don't see it going away, no matter what changes culturally."
Arnold said Utah, and particularly Davis County, is known for raising young women who are prepared to succeed in a pageant setting.
"Davis County is strong. We have good schools. We push our kids to be involved in the community as well as in talents."
And throughout Utah, she said, families focus on service as well as on developing talents in young people and sharing those talents.
Roy Pageant director Janet Van Eerden said she didn't believe the change in missionary age would affect her pageant because her event appeals to a much younger crowd than some of the other area pageants.
"I've wondered if it would. The thing about it is, Roy is a little bit different. We don't have a lot of girls that have been in pageants before. We tend to have a younger age."
The age of availability for a Miss Utah preliminary pageant contestant is 17 to 24.
Van Eerden said she is just now recruiting contestants and spent the day Thursday at Roy High advertising for the contest.
"We actually had a lot of girls sign up for information, as many as we've had in the past," she said. "At this point, it doesn't seem like a set thing. We've had strong participation."
Pat Pose, the director of the Miss Weber County pageant, said he doesn't believe the missionary age change will affect pageant participation.
He said there is a natural ebb and flow to interest in pageants over time based on the costs involved and the talent requirement.
"Not everyone is talented, and they don't all believe they can do it," he said. Plus, "it's more expensive to do a pageant than it was 10 years ago."
And the cost of running the pageant itself also is a factor that is limiting the number of area pageants.
The Weber County Commission has discussed abandoning its Miss Utah preliminary based on the cost.
"They look at Weber County every year to see if they have the budget or not," Pose said. "There is always talk at any level because they have to budget for it."
North Ogden quit having its pageant after officials cited the high cost and shrinking number of contestants.
In 2009, Roy city officials announced plans to stop its pageant, but then reigning Miss Roy, Haleigh Van Eerden Emmerson, took measures to recruit contestants and was able to change their minds.
"She went to city council and fought for it," said Van Eerden, Emmerson's mother. "They said, 'If you can get participation, we'll support it.' The mayor and city council, all the way down the line, has been so supportive."
Van Eerden said her daughter won a pageant with five contestants. The next year, she recruited 11. The next, there were 16, and the next, there were 13.
Because of the cost of a pageant for just three contestants, Farmington this year is discussing holding an alternative type of pageant, saving money without having to rent a stage and create a production.
Farmington officials said this year's winner would be chosen in a more low-key way involving the writing of an essay and other elements that won't involve the traditional bright lights.