By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The whole Miss America experience is starting to sink in for Megan Ervin.
Preliminary competition begins Tuesday night in Las Vegas for Ervin, the Rushville resident crowned Miss Quincy in March and Miss Illinois in June.
"Once I hit the stage Tuesday night, the first night on stage, is when it will actually set in and feel real," she said.
Reality actually may hit a little sooner with interviews set for Monday morning with pageant judges, part of a whirlwind week-plus of activities and appearances leading up to the Saturday, Jan. 12, competition airing live on ABC from the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
Ervin hopes for at least a Top 15 finish among the contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for the 86th title, but being crowned Miss America would be even better.
"Not only would it fulfill what I would think would be a lifelong dream of many young women across Illinois and the nation, it would be special to represent myself and my dreams, but the communities of central Illinois and the state in general," Ervin said. "We have had five Miss Americas come from Illinois, but not from where I'm from. That would make not only (me) proud but everyone from that area."
Whatever happens, Ervin knows she's already achieved a long-time goal.
As a little girl, Ervin watched the Miss America pageant wanting to be on that stage someday.
"In my eyes, I've filled my lifelong dream already," she said. "Really, the dream come true is even getting there."
By Saturday night, she'll be getting the opportunity to be Miss America or continue serving as Miss Illinois.
"It's a win-win," she said. "I'll still walk away with the amazing opportunity to come back to the state of Illinois and work as the state title holder."
The Miss America pageant appearance is the "topping to the cake" of the last five years for Ervin, the daughter of Cindy and Jeff Ervin of Rushville.
She played five sports, danced, performed in drama and was a member of the National Honor Society as a student in Rushville before heading to Western Illinois University, where she graduated in May. She also competed in pageants, winning titles like Miss Schuyler County Fair and Miss Macomb. As Miss Macomb, she was first runner-up in the 2011 Miss Illinois pageant, then decided to give the state pageant another try by competing in the Miss Quincy Scholarship Pageant. She won that title, then topped 24 other contestants from across the state to take the Miss Illinois crown.
Preparations for Miss America began almost immediately.
"What a lot of people don't realize is I started sending in paperwork, making decisions, meeting with choreographers and designers three weeks after being crowned Miss Illinois," Ervin said. "The preparation has been an ongoing thing over the last five months while I continued to work as Miss Illinois. The last two months, I've pulled back on appearances to focus on preparation and meetings to make sure everything's put together."
It's a balancing act between the demands as Miss Illinois, the Miss America preparations and the desire to make time for family, friends and the holidays.
"Lately I've tried to make sure I stop and smell the roses, not get too caught up in Miss America," Ervin said. "I want to look back and make sure I didn't take my family, the holidays, the reason for the season for granted. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed those things before the week-and-a-half long journey."
Ervin arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday for the pageant's opening ceremony.
"They have us busy pretty much the whole weekend with all-day rehearsals," she said in a Wednesday night phone interview. "It is a live telecast on Saturday. ABC is very particular about the presentation of the show. The production staff have us working hard."
Contestants will rehearse the pageant's production number, tape promotional materials to be shown during commercial breaks, make appearances in Las Vegas and hone their personal performances for the preliminary competitions.
"Tuesday night I'll do my onstage question. Wednesday will be swimsuit and evening gown. Thursday will be my talent," Ervin said.
Ervin performed a jazz version of the Ike and Tina Turner classic "Proud Mary" during the Miss Illinois competition, but wanted a different genre for the Miss America pageant.
"I am dancing to a piece by Journey, a contemporary lyrical piece," she said. "I am very happy with it. It's different, out of the box for me."
She'll wear a "pretty streamlined" and "very couture" gown designed by Chicago native Mac Duggal on Wednesday night along with a two-piece swimsuit, and she's continuing her preparations for the interview and challenging on-stage question.
"You never know what they're going to ask," Ervin said. "You do the best you can to make sure you know your personal beliefs and are convicted in those to say what you believe in without stepping on the toes of the person on the other side of the fence. On controversial issues, you make sure to have an opinion and that you can show you're knowledgeable of what's going on not only at the state and local level with government, but the national level and the worldwide basis as well with big issues."
The pageant's seven judges already have resumes of the contestants to review including information on their personal platforms like Ervin's "Heptathalon of Healthy Habits" -- fitness, nutrition, staying away from distracted driving, recycling, community service, spirituality and education -- and her goals of earning a master's degree in exercise physiology and to own and operate a dance and fitness studio.
"You see different questions come from different judges," Ervin said. "There's an Olympic medalist in there which is pretty cool, also a ‘Dancing With The Stars' finalist. ‘Dancing With The Stars' is one of my favorite shows. It will be fun to get to meet those people."
Family, friends and the Miss Illinois Scholarship Association board help Ervin keep up to date on current events. "I watch less television now as Miss Illinois than ever before," she said.
She'll also have plenty of support in Las Vegas with at least 75 well-wishers planning to be in pageant audience. Immediate family members arrive Sunday, with others arriving Monday and Tuesday.
"We have the largest showing coming from Illinois. That's a testament to he small communities in central Illinois -- Quincy, Rushville and the surrounding area," Ervin said. "It will definitely be exciting just to be able to know that many people are there. That's been at the forefront of what drives me on stage, hearing my family, how loud and obnoxious my sister is, and it will be awesome to depend on that when I'm on stage for Miss America."
Off-stage, she'll spend plenty of time with the other contestants she met during an orientation week in August in Florida.
"We watched our teens compete for the outstanding teen title, had meetings, orientation with the Miss America Staff," she said. "There's a lot of really great young women that I'm excited to spend more time with."
Miss America Pageant Facts
º The 2013 Miss America competition airs live at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, on ABC from Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
º Preliminary competitions take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Contestant scores are based on lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit (15 percent), evening wear (20 percent), talent (35 percent), private interview (25 percent) and on-stage question (5 percent).
º Scoring for the finals competition is weighted according to composite (30 percent) for the top 15 contestants, lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit (20 percent) for the top 15, evening wear (20 percent) for the top 10, talent (30 percent) for the top eight and on-stage question for the top eight. On the final ballot, each judge ranks the top five contestants in the order he or she believes the contestants should finish. The outcome of the pageant is based solely on the point totals resulting from the final ballot.
º The judging system uses a form of Olympic scoring where each contestant competes against only herself.
º Judges for the 2013 competition are Bradley Bayou, a designer and a member of Oprah's "Glam Squad;" Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer on "Dancing With The Stars;" Sam Champion, weather anchor of "Good Morning America;" Mary Hart, best known for hosting "Entertainment Tonight" for nearly 30 years; Daymond John, star of "Shark Tank;" McKayla Maroney, the 2011 World Vault Champion and a member of the 2012 USA Olympic Women's Gymnastic Team; and Katie Stam Irk, Miss America 2009.
º Miss Americas have been crowned since 1921.
º Five Miss Americas have come from Illinois -- Lois Delander of Joliet (1927), Judith Ford of Belvidere (1969), Marjorie Vincent of Oak Park (1991), Kate Shindle of Evanston (1998) and Erika Harold of Urbana (2003).
º To become Miss America, a contestant must first win a local competition and then compete to represent her state. More than 12,000 women participate each year in the local and state events, culminating in the selection of national finalists who compete for the Miss America title.
º The Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading achievement programs and the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance.
º The Miss America competition was broadcast live for the first time in 1954. That broadcast broke viewership records of the day with 39 percent of the television audience, or 27 million viewers, watching.
º The pageant is the fourth longest-running live event in television history. It has been broadcast live at one time or another by all three of the country's major television networks.
º Megan Ervin of Rushville is the third representative of the Quincy area to wear the Miss Illinois crown. Quincy native Viola Hutmacher Palumbo was crowned Miss Illinois in 1948. Mary Inzerello Noonan of Chicago, then a Quincy College sophomore, was crowned Miss Illinois in 1966. Inzerello Nooan and Hutmacher Palumbo both took part in Miss America pageants, with neither finishing in the top 10. Both also became involved in directing beauty pageants.
Sources: missamerica.org and Quincy Herald-Whig files