Brittany Hite was getting a little testy after trying on seven dresses, but her eyes lit up when her mother walked into the dressing room with a strapless, turquoise-blue number.
"That's my second favorite color," said Brittany, 23, of Mascoutah. (Her first is pink.)
Gail Hite quickly helped her daughter step into the dress, which had a satin bodice with silver sequins and layers of net ruffles on the knee-length skirt.
Brittany admired herself in the mirror, striking a pose with her hands on her hips and head tilted to the side.
"You look like Cinderella," said her friend, Emma Scott, 20, of O'Fallon.
It was a magical day for Brittany, who has Down syndrome, and 50 other contestants in the Illinois Miss Amazing Pageant, which will be held April 21 in Edwardsville.
It's sponsored by a national, non-profit organization founded in Nebraska six years ago to "provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build self-confidence through the skills learned in pageantry."
Contestants ages 5 to 35 perform in a talent show, wear evening gowns or prom-like dresses, introduce themselves to the audience and interview with judges.
"All participants are awarded a trophy and crown, and one person from each age group is selected to represent her peers throughout the year," according to a press release.
This is the first year a Miss Amazing pageant will be held in Illinois. Brittany's mother signed her up.
"She was excited about the crowns and just meeting new people," said Gail, 56, a flight attendant. "She loves making new friends."
"I want to make new friends," Brittany said.
Contestants and their parents or guardians met at Trinity Services in Mascoutah last weekend to prepare for the pageant.
State Director Syndi Sills started by asking the crowd to repeat after her: "I am confident. I am able. I am amazing."
Contestants were paired with buddies for support and friendship. Brittany's buddy, Emma, is a special education major at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
"I heard about it through a club I'm in, and it just sounded like something fun to do," Emma said.
She and Brittany hit it off immediately while snacking on hot dogs, veggies and chips and dip.
"(Emma) likes pink," Brittany said. "And she likes Justin Bieber. I like Justin Bieber, too. And she likes 'Twilight' and Team Jacob."
Brittany graduated from Mascoutah High School last year. She's a student teacher at Adams School of Dance in Belleville, specializing in jazz.
"She dances and competes with kids who don't have a disability, and she's amazing," her mother said. "My sister is a dance teacher, and she brought her in when she was 2, and she's been doing it ever since."
"I'm a good dancer," Brittany said.
Brittany will dance to "New York, New York" at the pageant.
After lunch at Trinity, the contestants tried on prom-like dresses that had been donated. They had hundreds of choices on four racks.
It was a morale booster for Abagail Wiegand, 15, a student at East Alton-Wood River High School. She uses a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy.
"(Abagail has) been going through a rough year," said her mother Kim, 39. "She's homebound right now. She was getting real nervous, and it was causing her to have seizures. She thought everybody was looking at her or that she was invisible.
"We thought (the pageant) would help bring her out of this, that she would realize people see her, too, not just the chair."
Kim was right. Abagail couldn't stop smiling after picking out a long, mint-green dress with a chiffon skirt and strapless satin bodice with silver sequins and beads.
"I thought it looked like a Cinderella dress," Abagail said. "And it's my sister's favorite color."
Abagail's buddy, Kara Combs, suggested they decorate her wheelchair like a royal carriage for the pageant.
"I'll help you," said Kara, 21, of Naperville, a speech pathology major at SIUE.
The Illinois Miss Amazing Pageant is open to the public. It will begin at 6 p.m. April 21 in the theater at Edwardsville High School. Admission is $10.
The production is made possible by a team of volunteers, such as Kelli Stehlik, 51, of Columbia, who got involved in the national organization in 2008 while living in Nebraska.
"I was hooked the first year," she said. "Watching the faces of parents who were able to see their daughters shine on stage ... They were just so happy."
Kelli's 13-year-old daughter, Sara Stehlik, also is a volunteer.
"I myself have participated in pageants," she said. "And I just love knowing that these girls have the same opportunities that I do."
At a glance
What: Illinois Miss Amazing Pageant
Where: Edwardsville High School theater, 6161 Center Grove Road
When: 6 p.m. April 21 (doors open at 5)
Information: Visit www.missamazingpageant.com or call Syndi Sills at 314-486-4195