The Phoenix Hill Tavern holds an extremely special place in my heart. It is uncommonly known, but many of the women who made a splash in the world of pageantry got their start on the Deck Bar at Phoenix Hill Tavern. I am one of those women, and I’m forever grateful to PHT.
At 19, I became more passionate about pursuing modeling. I had signed with an agency, but wanted national exposure. On the Internet looking for model searches, I came across a model search for Venus swimwear. There were preliminaries every Friday night that month and finals, if selected, were the last weekend of the month. The winner would represent Louisville at the international competition and would get a nice prize package including cash! I immediately sent an email to the director, Miss Denise Mattingly, to get registered.
The areas of competition were simple: cocktail dress and swimsuit. I had a great feeling on my way to the venue, but little did I know this night would change my life forever. I arrived and was escorted to the house where the contestants would dress. I selected a dressing area and got in my competition zone. Although this wasn’t basketball, I was there to compete and win! I got my red cocktail dress on and put the finishing touches on my makeup. I stood in the mirror and practiced a few poses and right as I fell into “the one” for the night, Miss Denise called for us to gather for the contestant meeting. I was enamored as she talked about the run of the show and was beyond excited to hear that four of us would advance to the finals!
We lined up and with a security escort, walked over to the Deck Bar. I was excited but also started to feel anxiety creeping up inside of me. I had never done this before, but I had thrown myself in. I was here, and it was show time! I channeled my inner Tyra Banks and hit the runway. When my name was announced, I hesitated in the pit — I loved building suspense. I stepped around the corner and waltzed to the stage, taking a deep breath. I hit the center of the stage and whipped around, huge smile on my face and beaming with confidence. I walked down the runway glancing side to side smiling at those looking on. When I got to the stage in front of the judges, it became second nature. I stood there, posing and smiled at each of them. I made it back down the runway and turned around to give them one final look. I made it! I didn’t trip or anything! When I walked back into the pit with the other contestants, many of them told me that I had done a good job and that they thought I would definitely make the cut. I sure hoped they were right!
The next phase of competition was the swimsuit competition. I had selected to compete in my gold Jennifer Lopez swimsuit. I thought it fit my body perfectly and was flattering but not overly revealing. I got dressed, and then it hit me. Although escorted by security, we would be walking down Bardstown Road in swimsuits! My only thought was … my mom is going to kill me! As we started the walk over, I tried walking on the inside of the group and was mortified every time a car full of men honked their horns and whistled at us.
Once back at the Deck Bar, we lined up in the pit awaiting our turn. This was it, my final walk down the runway. So, I took off when my name was called, sauntering slowly but confidently. It was over so quickly. The score tabulations seemed to take forever. As a fierce competitor, I hated to lose, so I couldn’t imagine not coming back for a second go around. I surely hoped that I made the cut.
Finally, Miss Denise announced that the judges had made their decision. I took a deep breath. They called the first contest ant. It was not me. My heart began beating harder. The finalist walked to the stage and took a package from Miss Denise. I took another deep breath as the next name was called. It wasn’t me. And then, I heard it, “Please welcome our third finalist this evening, Ashley!” I could barely contain myself. It felt so good! I had made it to the finals!
Over the years, I competed in Venus, Miss Hawaiian Tropics, Miss St. Patrick’s Day and Miss Chili Cookoff. From PHT came new family members, great relationships and a successful career in pageantry. I am forever grateful for the opportunities!