Modesto beauty queen Jenna Harvey is more than a pretty face

Don't call Jenna Harvey a beauty queen.

The 22-year-old has competed in nine pageants since she was 17, but the Modesto native says there's more to her than meets the eye.

"People sometimes can't look past the crown and the dress," Harvey said, and added that it's "fun to blow people away" when they learn other things about her.

Things such as how she eventually wants to become a pediatrician who helps disadvantaged children.

Or how she spent last summer doing volunteer work in Costa Rica. Or how she established a program that loans musical instruments to schoolchildren whose parents can't afford to buy them.

Pageants, the Beyer High graduate explained, have helped her pay for college and given her an opportunity to help further causes -- such as music education for children -- that are close to her heart.

Harvey, the 2004 Miss Stanislaus, recently competed for a spot in the 2008 Miss California pageant as Miss Central Valley Coast Regional. That pageant is a preliminary to the Miss America competition.

The Modesto Junior College graduate and classically trained pianist is a student at the University of California at Davis, where she's majoring in communications and minoring in music and neurobiology, physiology and behavior.

Q: What's the biggest misconception people have about pageants and their contestants?

A: I could make a list. Because we have pretty dresses and wear makeup, they think we're not educated and we don't have the same problems and emotions everyone else has. I compete in pageants, but it's not who I am. Some girls (compete) for the crown and the title. I do this for me. I need the (scholarship) money. I pay for school myself. My first pageant paid for my first two years at MJC. But I do have fun with it. It's a fun outlet.

Q: Do you spend a lot of money on makeup and evening gowns?

A: I'm the one who puts myself through pageants. I don't have mom and dad footing the bill for a several thousand dollar dress. I don't put a lot of money in. I borrow jewelry. At one of the last pageants I did, I wore my senior prom dress, a teal halter dress I got from Dillard's for $70. Miss America pageants don't have an entry fee. For this year's (Miss California pageant), I bought a one piece swimsuit from Ross for $17. That was my only expense.

Q: Have you had a "Miss USA moment"? A trip or fall?

A: Luckily, I have not, and that's all I'll say because I don't want to jinx myself. But I have had some terrible pageant-day luck.

Q: Such as?

A: During one of my first pageants, I broke my pinky toe the morning of my interview. At first, I wasn't going to compete. But I put on a happy face and wore my high heels. I was crying after it was over, my foot hurt so badly. In 2004, one of the (other contestants) stepped back and her 3½-inch stiletto went right through on my foot. Another time, I had practiced my (piano piece) so much that I got an infection on my right pinky finger. I was supposed to play "Revolutionary Etude" by Frederic Chopin. It's a versatile song and the notes run up and down the keyboard, so you really need all 10 fingers to play it. I had to relearn to play it using nine fingers.

Q: In 2007, you spent the summer in Samara, Costa Rica. Why did you go?

A: I saw an e-mail that talked about orphanages and children there who were so impoverished and who don't have love in their lives. A man who worked there said some of the children were so deprived of attention that they just wanted someone to touch and to be touched. That consumed me. I had taken four years of Spanish at Beyer and the area was safe, so I decided to do it.

Q: What was your experience like?

A: It was a culture shock. I had served as a missionary in Romania the year before, so I had seen economic disparities, but nothing like what I saw there. One day, a 2-year-old had wandered in from the rain forest. He was by himself with no shoes and his clothes were so dirty. When I asked what to do with him, I was told to let him go. It was not uncommon for a child to wander in like that. That was the hardest thing to do. This was a trip that in the end was a life changing experience. It reminded me why I wanted to be a doctor. Going to Costa Rica was a tangible way to help me realize I can go back and try to help .

Q: You've done philanthropic work regarding music as well.

A: I established a musical instrument loan program in Woodland, a neighboring town of Davis. I've seen how hard budget cuts have been, and with schools, the music and arts programs are the first to go. My program helps families who can't afford to buy instruments for their children. We've bought over 20 instruments. It's something I'm very proud of.

Q: Do pageant participants get a crash course on mastering the hand wave?

A: They don't teach it. I've done it a few times in parades. I must look so ungraceful doing it. And sometimes people try to mock the wave. So I'm all about the natural wave, the wave I'd give someone while walking down the street.