Once upon a pageant…

As bright lights glared and a nationwide television audience watched her every move, Jenna Shultz stood on stage at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. The finalists for the Miss USA pageant had been selected four days earlier, and Shultz, a sophomore in the College of Communication and the representative from Wisconsin, awaited her fate.

The winner of Miss USA would receive several hundred thousand dollars worth of prizes and gifts. If Shultz did not make the final 15, she would leave with only gifts from sponsors of the pageant.

After winning the Miss Wisconsin USA competition in September 2003, qualifying for the April 12 Miss USA pageant, Shultz, 20, had had nearly seven months to prepare herself to be under the shine of the national spotlight.

To train for a pageant

However, it's impossible to just enter the pageant and hope to have a good chance of winning.

Jenna said she has competed in pageants since the age of 17, including Miss Teen Wisconsin USA pageants, to prepare for her attempts to win Miss USA.

"It was more her idea," said Lorene Shultz, Jenna's mother. "It was a positive outlet for her to get involved with."

September 2003 brought the Miss Wisconsin USA pageant. It was Jenna's first time in the pageant, and she hoped to do well.

"I was surprised to have won," she said. She defeated 70 other contestants to take the prize.

Her winning set up a busy schedule: She embarked on a strict diet and exercise regiment; received a "pageant coach" to help her prepare for the national pageant; and practiced answering questions from judges. While doing this, she squeezed in classes and public appearances for causes such as breast and ovarian cancer awareness.

"Generally, unless I had a prior engagement, if they asked me to be somewhere, I had to be there," Jenna said.

All this preparation meant she then had to take a semester off at Marquette. She has only been at Marquette for one semester, having transferred from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Her friends at Marquette wished her well.

"I was thrilled for her and proud of her," said Meghan Coffey, a sophomore in the College of Engineering who has participated in some pageants herself.

The starting gate

Two weeks before the pageant, Jenna flew to Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for the pageant. In the first week, she endured four-hour daily rehearsals and numerous guest appearances.

For example, she appeared on Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" and was briefly interviewed by the hosts. She also sat in the audience for NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno." She visited Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base, and went sightseeing in Malibu and Santa Monica.

Jenna's parents and 20 other supporters joined her in Los Angeles for the second week of preparation. Although she often had eight hours of rehearsal a day, she was able to do some sightseeing with her parents. On April 8 she had to be present for the preliminary competition, in which judges would pick the 15 finalists to be announced at the main pageant.

Part of the preliminary competition was an interview segment.

"They didn't ask a lot of questions," Jenna said. "I didn't feel that it was long enough." She said that at the state level, she was asked more thought-provoking questions.

"To see your daughter up there — I was pretty proud and amazed," said Gary Shultz, Jenna's father.

The contest and ever after

The pageant was four days later, April 12. No one except the judges knew which contestants were in the final 15.

Jenna came out with the other contestants, smiling and dressed in evening wear.

"I was not nervous," she said. "It felt like another dress rehearsal, and everything went pretty smooth."

Her mother was not as calm.

"I was extremely nervous," Lorene Shultz said. Jenna's parents sat with other parents of contestants. "Sometimes I get more nervous than she does." Lorene Shultz said she couldn't believe how well her daughter handled the pressure.

Jenna wasn't in the final 15, and her parents worried that she would be discouraged.

"She smiled and winked, and I knew she was fine," Lorene Shultz said. "All we could ask her to do was her best."

Jenna said she didn't mind not being a finalist.

"They wanted a tall, blonde girl, and I'm not" tall, said Jenna, who stands at 5-foot-6.

Coffey said she was "really surprised (Jenna) didn't make the final 15. I don't know how they could have been more prepared."

Although Jenna was eliminated, she still appeared in another evening gown segment and the bathing suit segment.

Now Jenna plans to relax for a while and return to Marquette in the fall as a broadcast journalism major. She still has appearances to make as Miss Wisconsin USA until she gives up her crown later this year.