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story.lead_photo.caption Emily Bilyeu, 2017 Miss Moniteau County, waves to the crowd during the Independence Day parade. Photo by Allen Fennewald / California Democrat.

Emily Bilyeu, 17, California, has enjoyed watching pageants over the years with her mother, and just knew it was something she always wanted to do.

The reigning Miss Moniteau County 2017 looked back fondly at her one-year reign, after being named the winner of the pageant last year.

"Being Miss Moniteau County has been a great experience for me and I really hope that the next Miss Moniteau enjoys it as much as I did," Bilyeu said. "Being the 2017 Miss Moniteau County was one of the best experiences I could have asked for."

Bilyeu said when she first prepared for the contest last summer, she was quite nervous and did not know exactly what to expect. But her endless preparation paid off handsomely.

She won the talent and evening gown portions of the competition. For the talent portion of the pageant, she sang the song "Burn," from the massively popular musical "Hamilton."

That song was "a piece that I really worked hard on during the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, which was also last summer. The only real challenge was me getting a little nervous. I love performing and had so much fun with it."

Bilyeu added one of the favorite things she has gotten to do during her reign has been participating in the Red Ribbon Week Program for the youngsters at Tipton Elementary School.

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"I prepared a little speech to talk about the importance of staying drug-free," she said.

She even lent her singing talents to the program, singing "Gold" by Britt Nicole. Bilyeu said that song has a very good message about staying true to one's self. Bilyeu emphasized being a positive role model in the community is essential.

"I love kids," she said. "I work at a daycare and I've been babysitting since middle school and I've built strong relationships that are very important to me with kids in the community and I want them to look up to me.

"One of my goals in my life is to be a good role model, and being Miss Moniteau has helped me to achieve that goal."

Another activity Bilyeu has enjoyed during her reign was talking to the sorority Delta Kappa Gamma about the early literacy program at California's library.

"Literacy is very important to me," she added. "I love reading and I think that in the world we live in today, less and less kids are reading and if I can do something to spark a child's interest in literature, it's a very special thing."

Bilyeu also got to enjoy participating in several parades.

"I love parades," she said. "Because, when I am going through town (with my) sash and see all these little girls waving and saying to their moms 'Look there's a princess,' that makes me smile so big."

Once her high school career is over, Bilyeu plans to attend Ozark Technical College for the first two years and then transfer to Missouri State University, Springfield.

"I'm not exactly sure what I will major in," Bilyeu said. "But I'm leaning toward history or English education."

Bilyeu stressed the best advice she can give future pageant competitors is to not stress too hard about it.

"Be there to have fun and have a good experience," she said. "That's the best thing to do. Just be there to have a good time.

"My main takeaway from this was that you should do things for the experience and to just have fun.

I had so much fun being Miss Moniteau County and I wish the best of luck for the next Miss Moniteau."

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