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Dixon toddler winning with a smile on pageant circuit

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:14 p.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Jaden, 21 months old, checks out his "taller than himself" trophy he won when he was crowned "Illinois State King" at a recent pageant in Springfield. His parents, Jay Miller and Amber Stavenger of Dixon, are raising funds to take Jaden to the Sunburst International Finals July 31-Aug. 3 in Atlanta.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
The pageants have multiple categories that the children can be entered in. Jaden advanced to the national level of the Sunburst competition by winning best smile, best personality, top model face, and swimwear.

Jaden isn’t your typical toddler. At 21 months old, he has several trophies under his belt, and on Memorial Day weekend, was crowned “Illinois State King” in a contest put on by Sunburst Beauty Pageant in Springfield.

For the boy with chestnut-colored eyes and curly caramel hair, the journey began at a mall in Rockford when he was about a year old. Jaden’s mom, Amber Stavenger, 26, of Dixon, saw a flier with information about a coming pageant.

“Every time I go to Walmart or the mall, someone stops me and tells me how cute my son is,” Amber said. “Maybe we should put him in a pageant and see how it would go.”

And that’s how it started, Amber said.

Jaden swept the judges in his first pageant in Rockford. He advanced to the state competition in May by winning the best eyes, best smile, best outfit, and top model face categories.

“That one was huge,” Amber said. “It really blew my mind. I had never been to one like that before.”

She hopes Jaden’s continued success will bring him casting calls from talent agencies, and money won can be put into a college fund.

Jaden advanced to the national level of competition by winning best smile, best personality, top model face, and swimwear, Amber said.

Jaden will be at the Sunburst International Finals in Atlanta from July 31 to Aug. 3.

The next competition will be “pricey,” Amber said, so Jaden’s parents have been busy fundraising.

Fees go up as the number of categories increases.

“$110 for what he was in ... but that doesn’t include the hotel,” Amber said. “It was actually $210, because you have to pay $100 up front to do it, and $110 for the activities.”

Popcorn sales have brought in $175, and they’ve sold Yankee Candles. Culver’s in Dixon will donate 10 percent of sales from 5 to 8 p.m. July 15 to the effort.

The family will drive to Atlanta, and Amber estimates the cost of the trip to be about $1,500, which includes the hotel stay, fuel and food.

Amber said that as of Monday $500 had been raised through fundraisers and family donations.

“He could win a $5,000 savings bond,” Amber said.

“It’s competitive. ... I’m competitive,” said Jaden’s dad, Jay Miller, 29.

When the first pageant came up, Jay was anxious and didn’t know what to say. He wanted Jaden to do well, but wanted to avoid the pressure of expectations that comes with competing.

“It was a blessing [that Jaden was selected],” Jay said. “The stage ... it’s different when you have 30 or 40 moms ... and they’re all like, ‘My son’s the best.’ ... How do you pick one?

“The key is to make him feel like a kid, ... to make him feel like that as much as possible,” Jay said. “His personality shows.”

Amber and Jay made it a point to separate what people might see on TV from reality. Jaden’s competitions are different, Amber said.

“It’s not like that at all,” Amber said. “He’s cute and loves being on stage, and smiling at everyone. As long as he likes doing it, we’ll do it.

“If he says one day, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ we’ll stop. Until then, he can get money for being cute, and pay for college.”

“I would support whatever he did,” Jay said about encouraging his son’s hobbies.

“It doesn’t mean he can’t be tough,” Jay said, referring to the family’s strong football history. Jay, a graduate of Batavia High School, said he and his dad had played.

“He could be a good-looking linebacker,” Jay said. “There’s tons of good-looking football players. Maybe someday down the road he can be one.”

Jay emphasized, though, his support for Jaden. “If he wants to be a band player, ... a baseball player, ... academics, ... I will support that.”

Amber and Jay shy from pushing Jaden too hard.

“First, you let him choose to do it,” Jay said. “If he’s having a good time, just let him do it. Let him be natural.”

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