South Surrey’s Jessica MacNiel likes to think of herself as a confident and determined young woman.
“I’m definitely a glass-half-full person,” the voluble teen said.
That confidence and determination, fostered over years in competitive dance and acting training, has served the Semiahmoo Secondary student – going into Grade 10 in the fall – in good stead.
MacNiel, 14, was crowned Miss Teenage Lower Mainland earlier this month, in the B.C. preliminary contest for the Miss Teenage Canada pageant created by Michelle Weswaldi (Miss World Canada 1996).
And that qualifies her to compete as a local delegate in the national contest in Toronto this August – with the winner eligible to compete in Miss Teen Universe.
It’s the latter contest that first interested her in the idea of becoming involved in pageant life, she said.
“I’d started watching Miss Teen Universe events and researching the pageant,” she said. “I was in awe of the contestants – they’re incredibly beautiful, not just in the way they look, but who they are as people. I said, ‘I have to be involved in that.’”
First step, she discovered, was competing in the Vancouver contest, which, while delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, was finally held as a socially-distanced event July 5 in Vancouver.
MacNiel noted her parents, Gordon and Kerrie, were initially skeptical of her idea, but she eventually won them over.
“They were like ‘a pageant – seriously?’ But after they looked into it they realized that it’s a positive event that has a lot of advantages for pursuing dance and acting,” she said (MacNiel, formerly with White Rock School of Music and Dance’s Reach company, has now moved to the Ignite Dance Centre studio, and also takes classes with the Vancouver Young Actors’ School).
“My parents are very proud of me and very supportive,” she said – an opinion also shared by her big brother Logan, 17.
While COVID-19 has made it difficult to conduct pageants in traditional ways, MacNiel said the Vancouver event was accomplished with social distancing, progressive judging throughout the day, and an evening final that was held minus the usual audience of some 300 people.
It was also – MacNiel observed – minus any of the stereotypes of petty jealousy and sniping that some like to associate with pageants.
“Everyone is really supportive of all the other contestants,” she said.
Even with this year’s health restrictions, the field of some 20 competitors also got a chance to meet and get to know each other during the event, MacNiel said, and she and Kassidy Stewart, from Comox – chosen Miss Teen British Columbia – quickly bonded.
“It will make it even more fun going to Toronto with her,” she said.
The national event will begin on Aug. 24, with preliminaries on Aug. 27 and a final show on Aug. 29, MacNiel said.
It’ll be an intense, heavily-chaperoned week of training, she added.
“It’s a little scary – you’re not allowed to see your parents or friends or family for a week. There are very strict rules – you have to really be focused.”
Fortunately, she has been to Toronto before, she said (she has cousins who live just east of the city), and, depending on how the contest goes, her mom may fly out to be there for the finals.
In the meantime, she is busy fundraising for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Canada – the official charity of Miss Teenage Canada – although the pandemic is definitely an obstacle to holding the kind of fundraising events she’d like to do.
For all of her performing talents, MacNiel said her favourite subjects in school are actually math and science – precisely because they offer a challenge.
“I like it when, after not understanding something for a while, you suddenly realize that you get it,” she said.
And while acting is one career path she has in mind, she said she’d also be interested in studying to be a lawyer – with a particular interest in becoming a female rights activist.
That shouldn’t be any surprise to the judges of the Vancouver contest who heard her speak on her researched platform – sexual assault awareness.
“I’ve always been interested in (women’s rights),” MacNiel said.
“There’s a lot of stigma about being a feminist, nowadays, a lot of negative comments, but I’m very much in favour of it.”