Saturday, May 01, 2010
Our Miss Virginia
State title is the crowing achievement for SML native Chinah Helmandollar
Chinah Helmandollar never wanted to be your ideal.
She didn't grow up dreaming of becoming the "she" in "There She is, Miss America, "the beauty/scholarship pageant's signature song. And when she grew up,Helmandollar set her sights on what some might see as a less-lofty goal.
The homegrown beauty from Hardy insists she just wanted to be Miss Virginia. Nothing more.
A veteran competitor and Miss Smith Mountain Lake 2009, Helmandollar said young women are attracted to pageants for different reasons.
"Some want a scholarship, other people want to go on to be Miss America,"she said. "For me, I was always in it for the Miss Virginia job."
The state title, said Helmandollar, offers many of the advantages of pageantland's top job without some of the drawbacks.
"I always thought that preparing for Miss America had to be the most stressful event. Being Miss Virginia is like being Miss America,only in my own state," she said. "You don't have to deal with all that travel. And yes, I have a life."
The petite 23-year-old seems to have embraced her new job with enthusiasm, almost as if she can't believe her good fortune. That's understandable, because she came by the job in a circuitous, almost-unbelievable way.
And Helmandollar, who has competed in nine local pageants, will tell you in earnest that not receiving the crown in the traditional manner does nothing in her eyes to tarnish it. In fact, it couldn't shine any brighter if it had been placed on her head to end the Miss Virginia Pageant a year ago at the Roanoke Civic Center.
Being Miss Virginia is more important than how she got to be Miss Virginia, Helmandollar said.
The tiara that rests atop her head of thick brown hair is not tainted, only treasured.
In January, the theater major and recent graduate of James Madison University, decided to leave the pageant circuit and focus on her career when she received a phone call that would change everything.
"I was thinking that it was the time in my life for me to work. My grandma was sick and I was taking care of her, interning with a film company and working at [local gift shop] The Cottage Gate," recalled Helmandollar. "I had given it my all for two years,and I was ready to move on."
When Caressa Cameron of Fredericksburg won the Miss America title and was unable to fulfill her Miss Virginia duties, pageant officials offered the state crown to the first runner-up. She declined as did the second, third and fourth runners-up. They were all local title holders and, presumably, wanted to continue on to compete for a shot as Miss America.
Finally, the title was offered to the fifth runner-up, who didn't even know she was the fifth runner-up.
Helmandollar made the top 10 but was not named one of the five finalists, even though in her first competition at the state level the year before, she had been fourth runner-up as Miss Greater Franklin County.
"I was disappointed when my name wasn't called for anything," she recalled.
Helmandollar was not disappointed months later when she got a call from her mother while working as an intern for Sara Elizabeth Timmons of Lake Effects, a film company planning to produce a movie at SML. She told her daughter that pageant officials were trying to reach her. When Helmandollar learned she had been fifth runner-up and the title washers for the taking, she made the most of the opportunity.
"I said yes right away; there was never a shadow of a doubt," she said. "And I have never felt cheated."
Since receiving the crown at a ceremony in early March, Helmandollar has criss-crossed the state for appearances. A majority of them have been at schools, including five in one day in Page County. She recently spoke about the dangers of alcohol and drugs at Franklin County High School and Dudley Elementary. Helmandollar attended both schools.
"At Dudley, they had prepared a slideshow with pictures of me I didn't even know existed," she said. "It was so sweet; I was real close to crying."
A self-admitted attention seeker and "chatterbox," Helmandollar said speaking publicly comes naturally to her, even though she has a tendency to "talk off the cuff." She said she feels at home on stage.
"Ever since a young age, we were always making skits and dad was videotaping them in the basement,"she recalled. "I think it was just in me to pretend."
Helmandollar does not pretend to enjoy the constant travel required of Miss Virginia. The traffic in the state's metropolitan areas has helped her develop an appreciation for the laid-back lifestyle of the rural area from which she hails.
"Being from Franklin County, I'm very low-maintenance," she said.
Her background has helped her adjust to the public scrutiny that goes hand-in-hand with a beauty title.
"Living at Smith Mountain Lake, you try to conduct yourself right because you know everybody knows you," said Helmandollar, who lives at home with her mother Jan.
As Miss Virginia, Helmandollar has promoted her platform: Serving Virginians with Disabilities. She recently emceed the Miss Wheelchair Virginia Pageant. She said she's learned that having a title can open doors, but with it comes a responsibility. That responsibility, said Helmandollar, is not limited to staying away from the fast food she loves and adhering to a regimen of nutrition and exercise stipulated in her contract.
Helmandollar's reign ends in June. She wants to continue working as an administrative assistant at Lake Effects.Long-term, she would like to be involved in children's theater or "host something."
There will not be another title in her future - at least not one associated with a beauty pageant.
Helmandollar is in a relationship with Bradley Jewell, who is originally from Elliston. The two began dating last summer after meeting at The Cottage Gate, where they both were working.
"He's been really supportive;he's even helped me pick out my clothes [for appearances]," said Helmandollar.
The young man, she said, is not just another Jewell in her crown. All she will say is they're serious and,"He's a really great guy."
Who treats her like a queen.