LYNN — Pamela Kiriaji twirled her way to Las Vegas as a contestant in the 2018 Ms. Senior USA pageant last week.
The Lynn resident and retired Lynn Public Schools teacher represented Massachusetts last week as one of 26 pageant contestants. With baton twirling as her talent, she may not have won the pageant, but she won over the hearts of the judges and contestants who voted her the 2018 Spirit Award winner.
“I made lifetime friends while I was there, which is I guess why they gave me the Spirit Award,” she said. “I loved every minute of it, from the hours of practicing to doing the real thing, it was one of the best weeks ever.”
Kiriaji spent last week at the Planet Hollywood Hotel completing hours of practice runs and three days of the pageant. The Lynn English High School alumna endured the 104-degree heat wave in Vegas to prepare for the show. Last week’s pageant wasn’t her first though. The 67-year-old competed in the Senior America Pageant in 2011.
“I didn’t care if I won or lost, I just loved being there twirling the baton,” she said. “I’ve been a stage person all my life.”
Kiriaji’s interest in beauty pageants began after she met a woman named Fran Owens, now a close friend of hers for more than 12 years. Owens was a big pageant contestant who won the Senior America Pageant in 2007, with opera singing as her talent.
“I was on a casino cruise and heard someone singing so I went up to her and we started talking,” said Kiriaji. “She told me about the pageant and I suddenly had an interest in it.”
But she didn’t go through the pageant alone. She had help from Ruth Harcovitz, who coached and prepared her for the big show. Aside from her twirling talents, Kiriaji’s biggest hit was her pilgrim costume. Every contestant had to wear a costume that represented the state they were from.
“I mean the contestant from Kentucky was all decked out in derby attire,” said Kiriaji. “It was just the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
Kiriaji, also a member of the Peabody Senior Center drill team, completed an interview and a “philosophy of life” 30-second speech. She twirled her way through the talent part of the pageant and stunned her audience through the evening gown showcase. She didn’t win a crown but she won a lifetime group of friends and one of the best weeks of her life.
“I loved it, I never felt it was something just for old people or anything, I just had such a great time,” she said. “Ever since I was little, the baton twirling I did at all the parades in Lynn really is something I enjoyed and that helped me to always feel comfortable being on stage.”