The first time local actress and singer Haely Jardas entered the Miss D.C. pageant, she saw it as just another audition. As a freshman at American University majoring in theater and broadcasting, Jardas was auditioning for everything she could. No bathing suit or evening gown was necessary, so she gave it a shot.
She was interviewed, and she demonstrated her talent, singing “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It,” from “The Producers.”
When Jardas got the news that she had been accepted, she was doing a most un-beauty-queen-like thing: “I still remember,” she recalled. “I was dragging my bike down the escalator at Union Station.”
Jardas didn’t place that year, but she had a good experience and decided to compete as a sophomore and junior, and then again this year — her last year of eligibility, at 24. The competition was held in June at Arena Stage, and Jardas ending up taking home the crown, which wasn’t a surprise to Sonya Gavankar, Miss D.C. 1997.
“Ever since we first met Haely, we knew she’d eventually be Miss D.C.,” Gavankar said last week at Jardas’s official Miss America send-off party at a private rooftop patio overlooking Gallery Place. It was a swanky event, with about a dozen past and present beauty queens mingling with philanthropists and a cluster of Jardas’s underdressed friends hanging out in a corner.
“These are the theater people. They are the talented people,” Gavankar said as she introduced Jardas’s boss, Paul Strauss, a D.C. shadow senator, to Jardas’s colleagues from her gig moonlighting as managing director of LaTiDo, a collective of show-tune enthusiasts and poets that curates cabarets every Monday night in Washington and once a month in New York.
“I’ve heard Haely sing,” Strauss told them. “She’s phenomenal.”
For the upcoming Miss America pageant — and for her send-off party — Jardas decided to forgo show tunes in favor of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” reimagined as a sexy cabaret come-on, a la Sally Bowles. LaTiDo members also performed, dedicating their songs to Haely. Selections included “Astonishing,” the Sutton Foster showstopper from “Little Women,” and “Haely,” sung by LaTiDo co-founder Don Michael Mendoza, to the tune of the title track from “Gigi.”
At AU, Jardas landed lead roles in such shows as “Nine” and “Guys and Dolls.” Off campus, she appeared in Capital Fringe Festival productions and traveled with Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue to represent Washington in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. She also has worked at Adventure Theatre MTC.
On Sunday, Jardas packed all of her cocktail dresses and evening gowns — including many supplied by D.C. boutiques — and headed to Atlantic City. The pageant isn’t until Sept. 13, but contestants must make a slew of public appearances and chronicle their adventures on Twitter and Facebook. For the first time, the semifinalists will be chosen based on hashtag popularity. (To vote for Haely, post a Tweet or status update that includes “Miss District of Columbia” and “#MissAmericaVote.”)
Given the District’s small population, it will be tough for Jardas to compete with, say, Miss Texas. But the theater community has rallied around her on social media, often adding the hashtag #CrowntheRedhead.
Should she win, Jardas figures acting has prepared her for life on the road as Miss America, especially her experience touring as Mama Monkey with Adventure Theatre’s “Five Little Monkeys.”
“A lot of what I was doing on tour is a lot of what I would be doing as Miss America — meeting all sorts of people, getting to the right place on time and giving hugs to kids,” she said. “The only difference is I’ll be wearing a crown instead of a monkey costume.”
A younger member of Washington’s musical theater community, 17-year-old Shannon Conners of Leesburg, had her own dream come true Friday night at Wolf Trap when Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth invited her onstage to sing a duet.
Connors, a senior at Loudoun County High School, knew that during her concerts, the Tony winner often invites an audience member onstage to sing “For Good,” the duet she originally performed with Idina Menzel in “Wicked.” So while the rest of Shannon’s family sat in the cheap seats, there she was in the second row, holding a sign that read, “Pick Me!”
How could Chenoweth refuse? Shannon took the stage aghast, hand held over her mouth as she stared out at the nearly sold-out house. But by the time Chenoweth gestured for her to come in with the lines “It well may be, that we will never meet again,” Shannon was totally composed. “Who can say I have been changed for the better?” they belted, with Chenoweth quickly quipping, “Holy crap! Harmony!” between lines.
When the duet was over, the entire audience was on its feet. “People, this doesn’t happen every day,” Chenoweth exclaimed.
After the concert, Shannon was invited backstage for a photo op and to meet the local performers who had been hired to sing backup that evening — Bayla Whitten, Chris Sizemore, Ines Nassara, Priscilla Cuellar, Kara-Tameika Watkins, John Patrick Loughney, Aaron Reeder and Jonathan Atkinson. Sizemore even became a minor Internet sensation. As recorded in a Vine video, when one of Chenoweth’s sparkly Louboutins got caught in her dress, Sizemore ran forward to help and got a high-five in return.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.