Former Mrs. Oregon International winner Lesley Nardini now runs the show for two states' pageants

There they come

Walking down the street

Get admiring looks from

Everyone they meet

No, it certainly wasn't the Monkees.

Instead, they were the contestants from the Mrs. Oregon International and Mrs. Washington International pageants, which was held in Lake Oswego on Saturday night.

But first they did a little sojourn down A Avenue on Friday, wearing the satin sashes with their hometowns listed in front. It was a wonderful sight, especially if you weren't expecting it.

For this, everyone has to thank Lesley Nardini of Lake Oswego, executive director of both pageants.

'We wanted to give all of our contestants as good an experience as possible,' Nardini said. 'Friday was fun. We came to Scratch for lunch and met with some of our sponsors. Everyone stacked up on crowns and rhinestones at Lucky Me.'

Nardini was glowing after the pageant on Saturday night, which people were telling her 'was the best ever.'

Yet Nardini's girls (actually, women) want to have more than just fun. They want to widen their horizons, gain self-confidence and generally gain the big boost in self-confidence that being a successful pageant contestant - whatever the age - gives a person of the female persuasion.

'When I was young and competing in pageants it was, 'Oh, look at me!'' Nardini said. 'But as I matured as a person I wanted to take what talents I had and use them to help other wives. That's my motive now.'

Once a California girl, Nardini entered her first pageant as a high school senior 'on a whim' in 1978.

'I was really drawn to the stage,' Nardini said. 'I really caught the performing bug. I liked the public eye. I was a dancer, and being able to get on stage to use that talent was a great experience.'

Nardini liked her first beauty pageant so much that she just kept right on competing in them until one momentous day: 'I got married. Then I thought, 'I can't do this anymore.''

Wrong. Happily, Nardini soon found out that being a Mrs. wouldn't stop her from competing in pageants, and she was soon back on stage performing and having fun.

Still, she didn't do as well in pageants as she wanted to. Nardini was a competitor as well as a performer. But in 1997 that changed when she won the title of Mrs. Oregon International.

'It took me a couple times, but I worked harder in 1997 and got it right,' Nardini said.

She found the right combination of all the skills that make a pageant winner, especially getting into tip-top shape.

'Fitness was a big part for me,' Nardini said. 'I had not been fit growing up, so I really dedicated myself this time. I hired a trainer and in six months I was in the best shape of my life.

'Being in such good shape physically was something that really helped me mentally as well. I had the attitude that 'It doesn't matter who else shows up.' I knew I was going to win. It was like I had already won. I had conquered a lot of fears, and I showed up in a zone.'

After winning the crown, Nardini remained involved in the Mrs. Oregon International and Mrs. Washington International pageants as an assistant, and five years ago she stepped into the top job as executive director.

'Married women do it all,' Nardini said. 'Family, work, charity. Our pageants have a teeny, tiny shoestring budget. But Facebook is a huge help and we have good sponsors. I give workshops throughout the year on being confident and presenting yourself well.

'I always go to the Rose City Bridal Show. I find lots of potential married women there.'

Nardini is superbly qualified to help wife contestants get ready for the interview portion of the pageant, which accounts for 50 percent of the scoring, since she is a long-time accomplished Toastmaster and gives many seminars on public speaking.

She is also a former model, and that helps too.

'I tell our contestants, 'Carry yourself like royalty,'' Nardini said.

That quality really helps on a beauty pageant stage. Or else just on a walk down A Avenue in Lake Oswego.

Competing in, and winning, beauty pageants is something that runs in Nardini's family. Her daughter, Cara, won the 2010 Miss Oregon USA Teen Pageant.

'She had a good coach,' Nardini said. 'Me.'

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