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Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, Published September 05 2013

Grand Forks woman calm for Miss America bid

For Laura Harmon, the final week before leaving Grand Forks for the Miss America pageant was the equivalent of cramming for finals.

Preparations for representing North Dakota included:

• Visiting a seamstress for an alteration, as her sequined, fire-truck red gown for the pageant’s talent competition was drooping at the shoulders.

• Hunting stores for matching red earrings to complete the look. “Red is a statement; it’s the color of passion,” Harmon noted.

• Taking a voice lesson for “O Sole Mio,” the Italian love song that she will perform.

• Recruiting people to conduct mock interviews for practice.

• Immersing herself in the news. “The interview questions are almost always about current events,” she said. “The interview is the first time you meet the judges, so it’s your chance to make a good first impression.”

• And, packing. The two weeks, starting this week, in Atlantic City requires 28 outfits and four gowns, to say nothing of accessories.

Despite that schedule, the daughter of Mark and Linda Harmon of Grand Forks also has had time to fret. For openers, there’s the opening production number. “I’m a terrible dancer,” she said recently as she prepared for trip.

And, there is the anxiety over walking a 50-yard runway “in 4-inch heels.”

However, the 24-year-old Harmon vows to stay calm because a relaxed approach proved to be a winning strategy at the June state competition in Williston. Her fourth attempt at becoming Miss North Dakota proved to be the charm.

“You’re no longer eligible for Miss America once you turn 25, so I knew this was my last pageant,” she said. “So, I decided to just have fun rather than be in panic mode. That helped me relax and do well.

“I’m taking that same attitude to Atlantic City.”

‘Cherry on the top’

Harmon and the other 52 contestants arrive Monday for the 93rd Miss America pageant on Monday. This first week is about appearances, with the competitions happening during the second week. The pageant will be televised at 8 p.m. Sept. 15 on ABC (Channel 8).

Although nervous, the 2007 Red River graduate said there’s little pressure because Miss North Dakota has never won the crown and hasn’t been a top-10 finalist since 1997.

“My goal has always been to be Miss North Dakota,” she said. “Winning Miss America would just be the cherry on the top.”

Her one edge is that she has witnessed the competition from close range. In 2011, out of a pool of about 2,500 contestants in state competitions, she was the one who won a drawing for VIP access to the Miss America pageant. That stroke of luck has helped to ease the uncertainty and accompanying anxiety, she said.

“Going to the pageant made it all more real and also showed me that I could do it,” she said.

However, the bright lights then and the bright lights during the two-week run-up to the competition won’t change her, she said. “I want to live in Grand Forks for the rest of my life.”

Her plans beyond her queen duties are to finish the last few classes for a geography degree at UND and pursue a career as a real estate agent.

“Geography is basically the study of spaces and I want to help people find their space to live,” she said.

Before then, she must first face an auditorium crowd of 18,000 and a television audience estimated at 8 million while negotiating a 50-yard runway in “4-inch heels.”