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By Selena Stevens

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"She was one of the best contestants we've ever had, and she is a wonderful role model for young girls."

-- Betty Clark,
co-coordinator of
the Miss Kentucky Teen
on Kristin Johnson

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Dec. 4, 2000 – (Lexington, Ky.) – University of Kentucky student Kristen Johnson has transformed back into a “normal” person concentrating on school. The UK broadcasting student gave up her crown as Miss Kentucky Teen over Thanksgiving weekend, crowing a new Miss Kentucky Teen.

Although hers was the shortest reign of any Miss Teen Kentucky – changes that allowed the Kentucky pageant contestants to be involved in other events shortened the year – Johnson said the year has been an exciting one. She was named Miss Kentucky Teen in June and was second runner-up in August’s Miss Teen USA. Johnson is only the second Kentucky woman to place in the top five in the national pageant’s 18-year history; Kentucky had a first runner-up in 1989. She also began her first semester at UK in August as a freshman studying electronic journalism.

“It was unbelievable,” she said of winning her runner-up status. “Just to be in the top 10 was incredible. It was a big shock.”

Even more incredible – this was her first try. Besides being in a few hometown pageants and participating in this year’s Kentucky Junior Miss competition, Johnson had never been in a Miss Teen pageant. The Miss Kentucky Teen pageant was her first try.

“I just decided to give it a shot,” she said. “I was planning to go have fun. It ended up I made the top 10, then the top five and then ended up winning. It was a huge shock.”

The possibility had been so remote that Johnson’s family didn’t even have accommodations planned for the pageant’s final days.

“Mom had to go out and buy me clothes for the next days,” she said. “I hadn’t packed for that. I didn’t expect to be there or win.”

Betty Clark, who has coordinated the Kentucky pageant for many years with her daughter Connie Clark Harrison, said they felt Johnson was unique.

“She is a natural beauty. She is a really wonderful person,” Clark said. “She was one of the best contestants we’ve ever had, and she is a wonderful role model for young girls.”

One of Johnson’s most shining qualities is her down-to-earth spirit, Clark said. From the small western Kentucky town of Slaughters in Webster County, Johnson grew up in a rural area, the daughter of Leica, a junior high school teacher, and Frankie, an equipment operator for the local gas pipeline company. On the side, the family raised cattle and tobacco with everyone pitching in with the chores. Johnson said her win shocked and excited her neighbors as much as it did her.

“I didn’t know if they would treat me different,” she said. “They didn’t, and that’s good. I don’t feel like anything’s really happened to me. I’m still the same old Kristen.”

Part of the prize package in the Miss Kentucky Teen contest was a full scholarship to Murray State University. But Johnson had already decided to come to UK.

“UK was the place for me. It has a great journalism program, and I really love the campus, even though it is so far from home,” she said. “It was where I wanted to be.”

Johnson’s career plan is to become a television news anchor in Kentucky, then move on to a bigger market – Chicago, Memphis or Los Angeles, she said. Her performance in the Miss Teen pageants may help get her to L.A. She has garnered attention from modeling companies and television casting companies across the United States since her wins.

“It has been a valuable experience for the future, especially going into broadcasting,” she said. “It has opened so many doors to me.”

Happy with her re-discovered “normal” life, Johnson is taking a step back from pageants, although she said she is considering doing other pageants in the future. But for now she’s enjoying spending time at home fishing and frog-gigging – “part of country life those city girls didn’t get,” she said with a laugh.

And part of what Clark thinks makes Johnson a perennial winner.

"You can’t help but like her,” Clark said. “She is such a real, beautiful person.”

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