The next Miss Minnesota?
A self-described tomboy growing up, Leslie McConn now has her sights set on becoming Miss Universe. First step though is earning the Miss Minnesota USA title this weekend.
McConn, who grew up in Washington, D.C., but spent all of her summers in Detroit Lakes before permanently moving here after college graduation, actually got her start in pageants at the Becker County Fair.
"I did the Miss Junior Becker County Fair in 1999. I had no self-confidence. I had no friends up there because I only spent the summers up there outside of my immediate family and cousins, so I did it as a way to meet people in the area," she said.
Since then, she said she's done a 180, opened up, found her self-confidence and has met some new people along the way.
Then in 2003, one of the co-directors of the Miss Becker County Fair, Joan McCaslin, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That's when McConn, 23, got more interested in pageants and started her platform, the Pink Ribbon Club, which raises money for breast cancer awareness.
"That gave me the push to keep competing in her name because she's the one that got me into pageants. After she died, I was like, 'I am going to become Miss Universe someday, in her memory.' That's where it all started, where my spark came from."
She added that she's sure McCaslin never knew what an influence she had on her life, teaching her to be comfortable in her own skin and to be proud of herself.
In 2004, McConn became Miss Maryland Teen, and competed on Miss Teen America, where she took sixth place. Her first Miss pageant was Miss Maryland America. Then she took a three-year break to work on her platform, raise money for breast cancer awareness and "grow up and get out of the pageant thing."
Then last year, she competed in the Miss Minnesota, where she also got sixth place.
"I think six is my lucky number," she said laughing. "It's like come on, give my fifth or seventh or something. My parents actually call me Miss Sixth Street. Thanks guys, they always keep me humble."
Since learning what she needed to work on from last year's pageant, McConn has been training for the last eight months to prep for this weekend's pageant. She said her trainer, Grace Fontecha, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for coaching two Miss Universe winners from the same country.
Fontecha lived with McConn in Detroit Lakes for a portion of time and now McConn has been living with Fontecha in Puerto Rico for the last several months. There, she's working on her smile, her walk and her dress.
"A smile is a smile, I don't care. But, if you mouth is open a certain way...
"Her whole thing is it's a gradual process. Just like a golf swing or basketball player, you can't learn overnight, it has to become a habit. My walk, it becomes a habit, I'll walk this way the rest of my life, like I'm on the stage. I'll smile a certain way.
"Supposedly I have a fake smile," she said laughing. "A smile is a smile, people. But I guess she's taught me differently now."
McConn is also exercising, working out in the gym twice a day, and designing her gown.
"I have no life right now."
McConn is sponsored in this event by M International Inc; United Community Bank; the Johnson Family; Carlos Alberto Haute Couture, Linda Anderson Pilates; Tom and Terry Jo Hanson, Zorbaz Pizza; KC Barb Hemelstrand; Dakota Air Parts, www.Partslogistics.com; Landry Construction and family friends.
After this weekend's competition, unless she gets that crown and continues on, she is quitting the pageant business. She's moving on, filming an untitled reality TV show about politics and up-and-comer socialites.
"I'm really dedicated. I've never been more confident in my life about winning now and in myself. So, no matter what the outcome, I'm going to be really happy."
So, what's she doing after this weekend's competition?
"Going to McDonalds," she said with a laugh. "I've had to give it up for two months and every time we drive by I'm like, 'come on!'"
Donald Trump, who also sponsors the Miss Minnesota USA competition, is having a fashion show McConn will be participating in, so she said she may have to hold off on those fries and burger for a another couple weeks.
"It's been my dream since I was a little girl. I've always wanted to be Miss USA. I told my parents, I don't want to just be Miss Minnesota, I want to be Miss USA and compete at Miss Universe. It's really just been such a big dream of mine."
"I want to be a good role model-- that's the big thing. I've led my life in a good way. As a moral person, I really think karma, in the end, hopefully, will go my way."