Model Tips

What Does A Pageant Judge Look For?

I'm Kate!

I'm an Australian-based creative, Model and Branding Coach with big dreams of helping aspiring Models make their way into the industry and thrive. I'm obsessed with: integrity, authenticity, a tidy home, smashed avocado, and being the person I needed when I was younger.

PSA: I don't take myself too seriously, though I do take my work seriously.

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Hello bombshell. You’re here for one of two reasons… 1. You’re wanting to enter a pageant and you are currently in the research phase (aka stalking, let’s call it for what it is 😉 to see which platform is right for you before you take the plunge. Or 2. You have entered and competed in a pageant and want some insider information on what judges look for to improve your ranking for next time (albeit my personal and professional opinion).

Well, you’ve landed in the right place to get both of these. Read on my loves!

Hero Image: Willow & Co. HMUA: Helen Sotis. Sponsor: Samantha Wills.

Scroll right down to get into the itty gritty…

Or if you’d like to check the how and why I got into judging pageants in the first place, you can find this immediately below.

With Shikye Alyce Smith, Miss Galaxy Australia 2016 and Miss Galaxy 2017, now Director of Australia Galaxy Pageants. Judging the Miss Teen, Miss, Ms and Mrs Galaxy Australia 2022 National Final, Luna Park Sydney, NSW.

My Pageant Experience

Before being invited as a judge for any pageant, platform, organisation or competition, I have 9/10 been a former candidate or competitor. The times I haven’t been a former candidate, I have been invited to judge based on my business and model industry experience. While expertise, performance, connections and accolades typically take centre stage, first and foremost it’s important to understand that TRUST is the no.1 reason I am invited to judge.

I also only choose to participate in competitions that uphold integrity and align with my own personal values. There are some platforms that I have moved away from, or not accepted, as I don’t believe it’s a good brand fit for me (the white elephant in the room: I am aware that *some* competitions are rigged. There, I said it).

Yours truly in a past life. Mrs Australia International 2014. Mrs International 2014 Top 5.

Further Reading: Types of Modelling and Requirements: 10 Model Categories That Anyone Can Work In.

My National & International Titles:

  • Mrs Australia International 2014
  • Mrs International 2014, Top 5 (Florida, USA) – making history as the first Australian to achieve this ranking. News: Perth Now.
  • Mrs International 2014 (Florida, USA) Most Photogenic and Best in Evening Wear
  • International V8 Supermodel, 2010 1st Runner Up
  • Miss Hawaiian Tropic Australia, 2009 Most Photogenic

Further Reading: You can get to know my model (and pageant) background here on my About page.

My Judging Experience:

Since 2014 I have been invited to judge the state and national finals of:

  • Miss Grand Australia: MGA
  • Australia Galaxy Pageants (Miss Teen, Miss, Ms, Mrs): AGP
  • Ms World Universal: (International): MWU, (AUS, NZ, Oceania): MWU Regional
  • International Pageants (Miss Teen Australia, Miss Australia, Mrs Australia)
  • Australia Regency Pageant (Junior Miss, Junior Teen, Teen, Miss, Ms, Mrs, Classic ): NAMP
  • Strut Runway Australia: Strut
  • Miss Universe Australia: MUA
  • Miss World Australia: MWA
  • Miss Earth Australia: MEA

With fellow industry pro and my #rideordie Peter Sereno, Founder of The Pageant Institute . Judging the Miss Grand Australia 2022 National Final at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, NSW. Wearing Nookie by Dress for A Night. Image courtesy: Red Belly Photography.

Introduction to Pageants

When you’re standing up there on the pageant stage, bright lights shining as you walk and smile, there’s usually only one thing going through your mind (outside of “I hope I don’t trip over”) and that is “Am I impressing the judges?” To answer this, you first need to know what the judges are looking for. While each pageant panel I’ve judged looks for different things, you’ll also find that each individual judge will look for specific aspects of your presentation.

With Robbie Canner, Ms World 2018/2019, Ms World Universal Elite 2020/2021 and now National Director Australia, New Zealand and Oceania World Universal. Judging the international finals of World Universal at Novotel Sydney Airport, Sydney NSW. Wearing Nookie by Dress for A Night.

Here are some elements that you can focus on to help you improve your game plan, boost your confidence and may help you place higher in your next pageant:

True Beauty

Beauty standards have changed over time – what was considered ‘desirable’ and ‘suitable’ for candidates in the 1950’s is different to what you see on stages today. Beauty is also seen differently in different countries as there are cultural differences between nations based on the status of economy, tourism, importance of class, religion, entertainment and more. Not being aware of these differences will work against you (might be worth Google’ing ‘beauty standards in different countries‘ to see how much you’re sitting in privilege).

Further Reading: 6 Skin Care Tips To Get Clear and Healthy Skin.

There is no denying that an element of pageant judging focuses on the contestants’ overall physical appearance. You are filling a ‘job role’ (the industry term is ‘Brand Ambassador’) and it’s essential that you present impeccably. Though it’s not solely visual as some may believe. Rather than seeking a specific type of ‘look’, such as a contestant with blonde hair and blue eyes, the judges seek confidence, a team spirited attitude, empathetic and compassionate traits, interpersonal and communication skills, and more.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have personally been a pageant judge for thousands of women to date. Every single one is unique, and the winners (ie. those who place in my top 10 and top 5) don’t get there for their bombshell looks. The ‘drop dead gorgeous’ women absolutely get my attention; though when combined with 1. how they present on stage, 2. their social media content (including how they interact with their followers) AND 3. how they treat the Director, fellow contestants, sponsors and support staff – tells me everything I need to know about her. Women who I have predicted to win, haven’t even placed in the Top 10 for me. Why? For me, if you’re inner beauty doesn’t match the exterior, it’s a no from me. You can teach a title holder how to walk and do her makeup, you cannot teach respect, humility and compassion.

2014 International Pageants Campaign Image: Willow & Co. HMUA: Helen Sotis. Dress: Villoni Boutique. On location: Blue Mountains, NSW.

Of course you also need to take the time to make sure your hair is looking its best, in a style that flatters you and highlights your features. Pick an outfit that meets the criteria of the pageant you’re competing in, as well as accentuates your form and makes you feel unstoppable – that is what the judges will see! The most important part is feeling confident and comfortable showing off YOU!

Communication Skills

For the people down the back, I’m going to say this loudly: “Pageants are won or lost in the pageant interview and the on stage question.”

A large portion of the pageant revolves around the interview portion and the on stage Q&A. Having exceptional communication skills; being aware of verbal and non verbal communication, effectively answering the question and within a suitable time frame, having great posture teamed with a candid and professional answer (not a rehearsed spiel) will go a long way with your judges.

Show both active and passive listening by providing eye contact, indicating you are listening through nodding or otherwise showing emotion, as well as addressing the questions properly. Your body language needs to be relaxed but confident. Be mindful of how you’re standing; your shoulders, hand gestures and mannerisms.

Training: Every winner has had formal coaching or training. If you haven’t had this, or you get nervous easily, think about getting a speaking coach, joining a club like Toastmasters where you can practice your skills, or investing in yourself with a Pageant Coach.

Another thing to keep in mind when answering questions is what might be current or popular topics. Read the room before speaking, and if you’re an advocate for specific social causes, make sure you’re proficient at articulating your purpose and opinion. Keep an eye on the news in the lead-up to your pageant and discuss some topics with your friends and family to help practice communicating in an educated and concise manner. 

2014 International Pageants Campaign Image: Willow & Co. HMUA: Helen Sotis, On location: Blue Mountains, NSW.

Unleash Your Personality

Whenever you are on the stage, remember you can be seen by everyone, and that includes the judges. Showing grace and compassion by paying attention to the other contestants can let the judges see a side of you that you might not be able to display in your photos. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, so use your actions just as much as your words to make the most of your time on the stage.

Further Reading: How to Become a Model.

My Final Suggestions

How each pageant is judged will differ, but there are actions you can take to make yourself stand out from your fellow contestants. Let your confidence shine through; try to present yourself as best as possible and make sure you follow the guidelines. If you’re able to, keep an eye out for information on the scoring process the judges use. 

Last but not least, keep in mind that different portions might be weighted differently and that scoring can affect how the judges will decide who will rank highest. Find out as much information beforehand and use it to prepare accordingly for the pageant.

You know what they say… Failing to plan is planning to fail. ~ Benjamin Franklin.

Where to from here?

Are you still a little uncertain about how to get ready for your first pageant? Maybe you’re wondering how to find a pageant coach? I’ve modelled in and judged numerous pageants, and luckily for you, I’ve created an online course The Model Masterclass, combining my business expertise in marketing, design and social media strategy, with my and first-hand knowledge of the model industry. You can find me online for more information or at @kateheussler on Instagram! 

I hope you found this guide helpful. I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours to break into the Model industry, enter your first pageant, or place higher in your next pageant.

Ps: This is a quality guide and I don’t mind you sharing it. I’d appreciate it if you follow standard professional etiquette and please quote + credit my content appropriately when you do: 

Kate Heussler | Instagram: @kateheussler Thank you!

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The harder you work for something, the greater you’ll feel when you achieve it.

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