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UP first-grader wins state pageant title

// Next stop: Virginia to compete for international win

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Royalty has come to University Place. Six-year-old Bella Baker-Barnhart recently won the state title in the International Junior Miss (IJM) Pageant as part of the Jr. Princess Division, for girls aged 4 to 6. A first grader at Evergreen Primary, Bella only started competing in pageants last July. But as her mother Nichole Baker said, “She’s a natural at it.” At that first pageant she walked away with the first runner up title, and a conviction to keep competing.

The March 6 IJM Pageant, where Bella won the state title, was judged in three main categories: formal wear, fun fashion, and interview. Each of these components constituted a third of her score. For Bella, the interview portion was the most difficult. “Sometimes I do baby-talk,” she explained, “and it’s just me, so you have to remember your answers and be really serious, and sometimes I’m not really serious. You just have to think about it.” Despite this difficulty, Bella says that she loves competing, “The thing that I really love to do is meet new friends and wear outfits that are pretty that I don’t normally wear, and wearing high heels and putting makeup on.”

Clearly, the pageant loved her, too. On top of winning the state title, Bella also won awards for talent, academic achievement, photogenic, spirit and the people's choice, not only in her own division but across all ages. The Facebook poll community members had to vote on had over 1,600 votes, far more than any other competitor. Additionally Bella was crowned first runner up in casual wear modeling, and second runner up in commercial modeling.

As IJM is a natural pageant, the contestants aren’t allowed to wear makeup. “There’s a wipe-test,” Baker explains, “girls are disqualified for wearing make-up. It’s nothing like on television.” These pageants also provide scholarship funds for the title-winners which, for Bella, is an important draw, as she knows she’s going to need money for school to pursue her dreams.

“For my pageants I want to be Miss America,” she says, “but for my job I want to be an accountant.” Her love of math and reading is part of what led her to win the academic achievement award, and is another source of pride for her mother.

“She’s really good at math. Her teacher calls her Math Girl and writes it on all her tests,” Baker says.

When she’s not competing with her Fircrest-based dance troupe, Image Performing Company, Bella spends her free time involved in community service. Over the course of the last year she’s collected school supplies for underprivileged children, pajamas for foster children, toys for Pierce County’s Toys for Tots, as well as visiting Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and handing out crowns and toys to the children there. Bella, it seems, is much more than a pretty face.

Bella got into pageants after a fellow dancer in her performance troupe encouraged her to get involved. Dancing is something she loves doing, with hip-hop and jazz being her favorite because, as she says, “They can be sassy, and I don’t have to dance so slow. I like dancing fast.” She includes dancing as the talent portion of her pageants.

Because she won the state title, Bella will be able to go to Virginia Beach in July to compete for the international title, where she’ll be up against 70 other girls. “I’m nervous-excited,” she says. In the meantime, she plans on continuing to work hard at school and spend time volunteering. Community members who are interested in following Bella as she continues on as the 2016 IJM Miss Washington Junior Princess can find her own her Facebook page. She is also putting together sponsor packets for any community sponsors who would be interested in helping her on her journey to Virginia Beach. These packets include a handwritten letter from her and a photo, as well as promise by her that she will participate in monthly community service and make two appearances for each sponsor as the state title-holder. Additionally, each of her sponsors will be featured on her ad page in the IJM International Pageant Book. This year’s pageant will be televised nationwide and can be streamed online. In May, a modeling competition will be held for all state title-holders, whose winner will be decided through a combination of social media votes and state directors. And if she doesn’t win? “I’ll just keep being me,” Bella says. “I’m pretty proud of her,” Baker adds, “and no matter what, I’m absolutely impressed.”

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