MEDFORD — Though she never considered herself a pageant kind of girl, North Medford High senior Kiana Benion said she warmed up quickly to her title as 2012 Miss Oregon Teen USA.
Wearing the prestigious crown for the past year gave her a chance to meet people around the state, earn a scholarship, wear beautiful dresses and promote important causes, she says.
Equally as important in the life of a teen girl, she says the crown made for some fun times at her own high school.
Benion soon will pass the crown to her successor and says she's grateful for her time as pageant royalty.
Named Miss Oregon Teen last November, Benion garnered a $45,000 college scholarship, a slew of fun prizes, which she says were "all really good stuff for being a girl," and a trip to the Bahamas to compete nationally.
Over the past 12 months, she made appearances at charity events and parades around the state and made videos to send to soldiers stationed overseas.
She also got to spread the word about Operation Homefront, the primary platform for Miss Teen USA, which provides emergency financial and other assistance to military veterans and their families.
"It was really awesome because I got to do a lot of amazing stuff and to promote some important things," she said. "I really had a lot of opportunities this year. I just remember waking up in the morning and my life was completely different."
The teen credits her mom with nudging her to compete in the pageant.
"My mom really got me involved in doing pageants. She knows the former Miss Teen USA, Tami Farrell, and she really encouraged me," Benion said.
"I decided to just give it a try. I thought it would be fun, so I competed for a local one here in Medford and won, and then I competed for state, and I won that, too."
Benion's mother, Wendy Mesloh, said the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her daughter, who hopes to study theater arts, political science and astronomy after high school.
"She won some fun prizes and got to do a lot of events and parades and charity stuff," Mesloh said. "It's been a really amazing, fun experience for her."
Among her most memorable moments, Benion said, was being noticed by fashion designer Mac Duggal, who created her competition look for the national Miss Teen competition, and a trip to Las Vegas for the Miss USA competition.
"It was really great to be there, and we got to do a tour of Las Vegas. It was nighttime, and the city was all lit up, and they were blasting cool music," said the 17-year-old.
A gift that will keep on giving long past her days as the reigning "Miss" came when she got to try on a slew of Duggal's dresses and was given her favorite to wear.
"I got to try on like all his dresses and got some really cool pictures," she said.
"I actually get to keep it, and I'm planning to wear it for prom, which is really exciting."
Back in the land of regular teenagers, where Benion is a swim club member and participant in her school's anti-bullying club, she said her classmates have been supportive of her role as Miss Teen Oregon. They even nominated her for an honor she didn't see herself holding before.
"My friends nominated me for homecoming court this school year and last year for prom court," she said.
"Honestly it was kind of a surprise. I didn't think I was one of the popular girls in school. I'm just kind of right in the middle. But after I won Miss Oregon, people at my school were really supportive, and I found out that a lot of my peers actually see me as a role model."