Mackenzie Basalla spent a recent week in distinguished company.
Basalla, a Bald Eagle Area High School senior from near Julian, thoroughly enjoyed the 2014 Distinguished Young Women Pennsylvania Program from July 27 to Aug. 2 at Greater Johnstown High School.
“It was awesome,” she said.
She joined 16 other talented students from around the state who had advanced from local preliminary auditions. Their time together, sitting around and talking about their hometowns and activities, ranks as one of her favorite memories.
“We all just meshed really well together,” Basalla said. “There really wasn’t one person who didn’t fit in, because we were all alike.”
But only one contestant could move on to Mobile, Ala., and the National Finals competition June 25-27, 2015, to vie for scholarships.
The program wasted no time preparing for the selection.
“Basically, when our parents left, we started rehearsing,” Basalla said.
During morning and afternoon sessions, the young women practiced for the culminating Saturday show. In addition to being judged on their academic accomplishments, they received scores on talent, self-expression and an interview. The program included a fitness component, during which the contestants did a group routine before judges, breaking out for brief solo exercises.
In the interviews, contestants were asked about their interests and goals — for 10 minutes that could have seemed an eternity.
“In the waiting room, it felt like that,” Basalla said. “But when you were in the interview, it was fine.”
The self-expression portion consisted of a query contestants had a night to mull. Judges asked them what they were passionate about and why.
Basalla said she loves helping others — a natural response from a Special Olympics volunteer and Sylvan Hills Camp counselor. She also draws, runs cross-country and track, makes pottery and sings in the BEA choir and chamber choir.
For her talent performance, she sang “Alto’s Lament,” a comic number about a singer longing for a chance to sing melody rather than harmony.
Overall, the week hit all the right notes for Basalla.
She went to Idlewild Park during one break, and to a nursing home to entertain residents during another. She loved getting to know her hosts, Michelle Miller and her two children, and staying in their home.
And she made 16 new friends. As the current Miss BEA, crowned in May, she has a busy final year ahead — acting in drama club, working as the varsity wrestling manager, participating in the broadcasting club — but she hopes to stay in touch with as many of her fellow contestants as she can.
“We all had stuff in common,” she said.
Which is why she wasn’t too disappointed when the state title went to Catherine Zhang, of North Allegheny Senior High School. She came out ahead anyway, maintaining her perspective — just the kind of balance you would expect from someone interested in studying psychology in college.
“I was happy I made it,” she said. “Because I got to experience what I did.”