The pageant industry has significantly evolved since the first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City, NJ, more than a century ago to draw tourists to the boardwalk. Today’s top pageants place emphasis on community and philanthropy rather than beauty and provide a platform for women to elevate their passions on a larger scale.
There are multiple pageant systems for women of all ages, including Mrs. International, which highlights married women (ages 21 to 56) with a focus on family as an integral part of the reign. Omaha resident Shannon Bingham was appointed 2023 Mrs. Nebraska International, which opened doors to spread her message about adoption in ways she never imagined.
The 45-year-old wife, mother of three, and co-owner of Seven Salon had never participated in pageantry, but a couple of close mentors suggested she consider it. Bingham spoke to a pageant coach who encouraged she apply. Nebraska doesn’t have a state-level pageant, so Bingham relied on her interview with the pageant’s CEO. “I didn’t think I’d be appointed, based on others I knew locally who had possibly been interviewed,” she said.
In January 2023, Bingham was named Mrs. Nebraska International, and she hit the ground running. “I was shocked and honored to be trusted with the crown,” she said. “The minute the crown found me, I had to put aside my vulnerabilities. I don’t like attention, but I like drawing attention to my passions. I quickly realized wearing the crown enabled me to foster connections further as a title holder.”
The Mrs. International pageant encourages delegates to make a community appearance once a month during their reign but recognize that busy wives, mothers, and career women already live full lives. Bingham surpassed the monthly prerequisite, serving as an ambassador, emcee, mentor, advocate, and volunteer for numerous organizations throughout the state.
Bingham’s chosen pageant platform—adoption—was a natural fit after her own adoption journey with her oldest son 16 years ago. “Adoption as an Option” served as her tagline, and she devoted much of her time to the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, which was the organization she worked with to adopt her son. She is a parent family mentor through the organization’s Families Forever program, she speaks to elementary schools about adoption, and she works as an adoption advocate.
The work Bingham does at the local and state level has fueled her passion to make an impact, but it wasn’t until she participated in the global pageant that she realized how much further she could excel. The 2023 Mrs. International pageant was held in late July in Kingsport, TN, where 46 women from around the world competed. “As a stylist, I’ve been in and around hair shows my whole career and love production,” she said. “This was such a well-done production with a fantastic team.” Bingham elected to do her own hair and makeup during competition week, which included a full schedule of daily events that included axe throwing, a Kingsport Axmen baseball game, a tour of the local YMCA, and collecting items to donate to Girls, Inc.
Pageant rehearsals and judge interviews started on Wednesday, with the pageant held on Friday and Saturday nights. Bingham worked with local pageant coach Kristi Wischnack who also owns Glamour Girl Prom & Pageant. Bingham said Wischnack taught her how to walk, interview, and helped choose her evening gown for the competition.
Delegates were scored in three categories: interview (50%), evening gown (25%), and fitness (25%). The top and bottom scores from each judge were discarded. Bingham interviewed with five judges, five minutes per judge, in round robin fashion. “I felt I was prepared for not being familiar with the competition, and I did well on my interview.”
Bingham was one of the first delegates to walk on the stage—while her husband and children cheered her on from the audience—to start the program the first night of the pageant. Later in the pageant, Bingham’s husband escorted her across the stage as she was scored for the evening gown portion. “Each time I walked across the stage, I felt the weight of my state and my passion push me,” she said. “I wanted to make everyone at home so proud. It was so much fun, and I had a blast.” The top 15 contestants were announced the first night, and although Bingham was disappointed not to be among the group, she felt elated for the women surrounding her. “These were incredible, dynamic women. I was surrounded by doctors, soldiers, and teachers who also didn’t make the top 15. I was with incredible company.”
Bingham walked away from her first pageant with a drive to accomplish even more. “The women in this pageant had global platforms,” she explained. “My story of my son’s adoption changes lives, and I want to make an impact globally. After being exposed to these internationally charged women, I know I have the ability do more and work with adoptive families around the world.”
Showing her authentic self enabled Bingham to highlight her passion. For example, she didn’t cover her tattoos with makeup, and the women supported her fully. “They empowered me to be myself—they didn’t tear me down or make me feel less than,” she said. “Pageants have a common misconception that women are shallow, but these women had such depth, passion, and drive. There was no drama, and now I have a lifelong sisterhood with people I never would have met otherwise.”
Bingham was recently appointed Mrs. Midwest International 2024 and looks forward to what that journey will bring. In the meantime, she’s continuing to build a life of service and encourage others to follow their passion. “Make time to volunteer, and teach your kids to be involved too,” she said. “Don’t underestimate what you can do. I won’t be remembered for the crown, but I will be remembered for the impact I made. Not everybody has to have a crown to do the things they feel passionate about.”
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