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Miss Montana winner hails from Billings
Christie Hageman, of Billings, was crowned Miss Montana 2006 at the pageant finals Saturday night.

Christie Hageman of Billings was crowned Miss Montana 2006 at the pageant finals Saturday night in Glendive.

Twenty young women from around the state competed in the weeklong contest to crown this year's Montana representative to the Miss America Pageant. More than $105,000 in scholarship money was awarded to the contestants.

Hageman, whose talent was a jazz rendition of the song "Route 66," won $2,000 in scholarship money. She will represent Montana in the Miss America pageant later this year.

Kristine Mantooth, of Lewistown, was chosen first runner-up and won $1,500 in scholarships, followed by second runner-up Jennifer Hepner of Great Falls, who won $1,250; Kari Rude, of Cut Bank, who received $1,000; and Nicole Dowson, of Great Falls, who was given $750.

Contestants were judged based on performance in talent, evening gown, onstage interview and physical fitness and lifestyle (swimsuit) competitions. Each contestant also had a personal interview with the judges.

The field was narrowed to 10 contestants in the 3½-hour contest Saturday night after all 20 competed in evening gowns and swimwear. The 10 finalists, who all competed in the talent portion of the evening, included Hageman, Meredith McCannel and Katrina Valkenburg, all of Billings; Tiffany Kniepkamp, of Circle; Rude; Dowson and Hepner; Emily Marie, of Helena; Mantooth; and Olivia Shjeflo, of Kalispell.

A number of the contestants also received special awards. They included the Miss America Organization Community Service Award to Hageman, for arts in the classroom; and Miss America Academic Award to Kniepkamp. The two women each received $1,000.

Outstanding Achievement in Business and Communication was given to Hepner, and the Four Point Award for service, scholarship, style and success, created in honor of Bette Bohlinger, was awarded to Heidi Haw of Billings.

Jillian Brunsvold of Billings was voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants, while the Spirit & Leadership Award was given to Shjeflo. The Miss Montana Promotion Award went to Vanessa Ready of Billings and Shjeflo, and each received $600. The Most Photogenic award was given to Mantooth.

In a brief telephone interview after the pageant, Hageman said she was "overwhelmed with excitement."

"I'm going to fill big, big shoes and do the absolute best I can to represent Montana," she said.

Hageman, the daughter of Beverly and Richard Hageman, is a student at the University of Texas, seeking a master of music degree. Her platform as Miss Montana is preserving music education in schools. Hageman, who also is classically trained soprano, said she would like to bring the national anthem back into the spotlight.

Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or 657-1281.

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