(David Jenkins ~ Standard Democrat)
"I've always wanted to do a big pageant like this my whole life," the 14-year-old said. "I thought even if I don't win, it's a good experience. It builds good character."
Thrower, daughter of Bob Thrower and Lori Hawkins of Dexter, is a freshman this year at Dexter High School.
In April, Thrower was crowned Miss Missouri Junior Teen, which earned her the right to compete in the weeklong Princess America Pageant, which concluded with her being crowned queen July 21 at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando.
"It was so much fun," she said. "It was the best time of my life. It was a great program, and I was so glad I was able to be part of it."
Her best memory was visiting Give Kids the World, a not-for-profit storybook resort in central Florida where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong, free fantasy vacations.
"Together we [contestants] raised over $10,000," she said. She raised $614 before the competition. "We got to meet some of the children and walk around and see everything."
While in Orlando, Thrower and fellow delegates attended special events, saw local sites, volunteered with a local organization, attended a gala event and participated in a photo shoot with national photographer Deanna Meredith.
Phases of competition were personal expression, in which contestants could wear their outfit of choice on the runway; private interviews with celebrity judges; elegance in evening wear; and physical fitness. Each category was worth 25 percent of the total score.
"Since there is a physical fitness I had to work out and eat and try to stay healthy," Thrower said. "I was really nervous because I hadn't done a pageant like this in my life."
Judges for the interviews included "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor Pad" cast member David Good, Miss Oklahoma 2011 and first runner-up to Miss America 2012 Betty Thompson, professional international model Nick Davis, Miss USA 2002 Shauntay Hinton and "Survivor: One World" cast member Jay Byars.
However, when it came to the interview portion, Thrower said she wasn't nervous.
"It's really just a conversation, and they're trying to get to know you," she said. "You fill out information about yourself and tell about your achievements and they asked me questions off of my bio."
Going into the competition, Thrower felt good about the week, she said. She recalled her actions after hearing her name announced as the 2012 National Junior Teen.
"At first I just stood there and didn't do anything," she said. "I just thought I'd imagined it and worked so hard, and the moment actually came and it was so crazy. I'm looking at the audience. The crowd was cheering me on, and the National Junior Teen from last year put a crown on my head. I just started bawling my eyes out and it wouldn't stop."
Lori Hawkins said she's proud of her daughter.
"She's a very special kid," Hawkins said. "She's not just a beauty queen."
Thrower is an honor student, earning outstanding academic excellence status and honor roll throughout her middle school career. Her goal is to someday pursue a career in sports physical therapy.
As the Junior Teen winner, Lauren received $1,000. Thrower also won the Miss Photogenic award, which included a prize of $100. She said she will put her winnings toward her college education.
She will also receive travel allowances, paid appearances, gifts, modeling opportunities, online exposure, professional representation, custom-designed crown, banner and the national title. This week she is in Orlando to make an appearance at the Outstanding Teen Pageant.
Hawkins said there are many potential projects ahead for her daughter.
"Because of her confidence and her ability to be at home on stage, they are now directing us in putting her in the next Outstanding Missouri Teen pageant, which is in the Miss America system," Hawkins said.
Thrower said she intends to keep competing in pageants.
"I'm going to do as many pageants as I can and while I can," she said.
Competing in pageants is about so much more than winning, she said.
"Pageants take a lot of courage to get up there in front of people. I have built my self-esteem so much by doing this pageant. I didn't think I would ever be able to get up in front of so many people without the experience."
The teen said she wished many other girls would consider being in pageants.
"It builds their self-esteem. It's such an important factor, especially in their teens."
Hawkins said she has seen Thrower's confidence increase through competing in pageants.
"She gets nervous -- don't get me wrong. However, with the experience she's had with Princess America where she has had to work outside of the comfort zone," Hawkins said.
Thrower also offered some advice for teens, whether they're competing in pageants or everyday life.
"Be yourself," she said. "In a lot of pageants, they say you need to act sophisticated and older, and really, you've got to be yourself -- and they'll love if you are yourself."