Holly Blanchard received her crown on a stage that she knew well.
Blanchard, 23, was crowned Miss New Hampshire on Saturday night during the pageant at the Stockbridge Theatre. It’s a fitting venue for a woman who went all the way through Derry schools and received her first impetus toward pageants from a Derry teacher.
Blanchard was 13 and in seventh grade at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School when her science teacher read an article about the Miss Outstanding Teen competition, a “feeder” pageant for Miss New Hampshire. “She reached out to me,” Blanchard said. The teacher had a ready audience: Blanchard had been watching Miss New Hampshire and Miss America since her elementary days at Derry Village School.
Blanchard began competing in the teen pageant, and stayed on for five years. While she didn’t win the title, she polished her performing and interview skills. “I fell in love with the program,” she said. “I wanted to be a role model for younger children.”
She was never a “Toddler in a Tiara,” noting that she made her own decision to take part in pageants when she was old enough to decide. “I was never forced to do this,” she said.
She found joy in competing and becoming the best she could be, and her titles mirrored that. She won Miss Souhegan Valley as a high school junior; Miss Granite State, which brought her into the Top 10 for Miss New Hampshire; Miss Lakes Region, which brought her the talent award and another top-10 finish; and last year, as Miss Greater Plaistow, placed in the top five and brought home the overall talent award.
It was a sign to Blanchard that she should compete one more time and try for the title.
“I knew it wasn’t a given,” she said. “I gave it everything I had.”
As Miss Rockingham County, she won the state title Saturday night.
Blanchard said the scholarship funds were a big draw for her. She knew she wanted to go to college out of state and her choice, the University of Connecticut, was “pricey.” Through the scholarships, she knocked down her tuition by about $40,000.
Though there are “tons of pageants” around, Blanchard said she chose to concentrate on competitions that are preliminary events to Miss New Hampshire. She likes the emphasis on scholarship funds and being a well-rounded person, noting, “It’s not just about beauty.”
When people say, “So you do beauty pageants,” she responds, “No, I do scholarship pageants. Beauty is just one component.”
She has not seen the cutthroat desire to win portrayed by legend, lore and Hollywood. “Some of my best friends came out of pageants,” she said, adding that it’s a matter of maturity, according to Blanchard. “Girls compete against one another, women empower one another.”
She graduated from Pinkerton Academy in 2010 and pursued a major in Communications and minor in Sociology at UConn. She now works full time at Make-A-Wish of New Hampshire, as director of youth programs.
It’s a dream job for Blanchard, who has been aware of the need for youth volunteers since her own childhood. At Hood she found it easy to accumulate her community service hours, but worried about her friends who didn’t know what to do.
“My platform is ‘Charity from the Heart: Giving Time to Make A Difference,’” she said. In her work as Miss New Hampshire and her day gig, those ideals dovetail.
Her talent for pageants is a combination of dance and baton twirling. She studied for several years with the Red Star Twirlers in Derry and now is an instructor with AmeriKids in Auburn. “I have been twirling for 19 years,” she said.
She’s also worked at Moo’s Ice Cream in Derry and her hobbies, when she finds the time, are reading and cooking. She’ll be looking for healthy recipes this summer, so she can be her absolute best for Miss America in the fall.
The Miss America pageant is Sept. 13 in Atlantic City.
Blanchard is the daughter of Helen and David Blanchard and has one sister, Breana, 21. Breana is an avid equestrienne, Blanchard said, and does not do pageants. “She told me, ‘I won’t do it unless they let me bring the horse onstage,’” Blanchard said with a chuckle.