Kaitlyn Riley, raised on a Mt. Zion dairy farm, is the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs.
Riley was selected from among 41 contestants at the statewide Fairest of the Fair competition held in the Wisconsin Dells last week. She served as the 2013 Crawford County Fair’s Fairest of the Fair.
Winning the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair crown has been an overwhelming event in the life of the 21-year-old UW-Madison journalism major. Riley said on Monday that being selected the state’s Fairest of the Fair was “still hitting her.” She also described feeling numb initially after the announcement was made last Wednesday night at the Chula Vista Resort. The 2013 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs Steffani Koch crowned Riley following the announcement of her selection.
Immediately after being crowned, Riley said she felt the oft-described “speechless” feeling. Moments later she was rushing into a hallway for photographs with Koch.
The new Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair was more than gracious in assessing her competition.
“Honestly everyone was so talented and skilled and so well rehearsed,” Riley said of her fellow contestants for the crown. “We were all there for the same reason—we all share a passion for the fair.”
When it got down to winning the competition, Riley explained that there was plenty of talent among the contestants and a lot of it came down to luck. Contestants were asked random questions and that’s where the luck really took hold,” according to Riley.
“They’d ask a question that would’ve stumped me or they’d ask another question that I wished I would’ve been asked.” Riley recalled. “Going into Wednesday night, I knew I was nervous, but then I’d tell myself why be nervous, I’m just lucky to here. When people asked how I was doing (in the competition), I told them I was hoping to finish in the top 40.”
Well she wound up doing quite a bit better than placing in the top 40. In the final hours of the contest on Wednesday, she found out she was selected to be in the top ten. After another round of questions, she was selected to be in the top five.
Then, the moment arrived and the winners started to be announced beginning with the fourth runner up. Then, it came down to just two remaining candidates Riley and the Lodi Ag Fair’s Fairest of the Fair. When the announcer called the other contestant’s name as the runner up, Riley suddenly began to realize that it meant she had been selected the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair.
Fair Coordinator Amanda Nagel was thrilled to see Riley chosen to be the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair.
“It’s definitely an honor for us,” Nagel said. “Kaitlyn is our first ‘Fairest’ to win the state competition since the program was started six years ago.”
Nagel noted that it is often the case the smaller rural fairs and their Fairest of the Fair contestants are at a bit of a disadvantage to larger fairs, which can go so far as offering the use of cars to the contest winners among other things.
“This will give our fair recognition and also give other small fairs encouragement that their Fairest of the Fair can win just like Kaitlyn,” Nagel said.
A key to Riley’s victory may have been her voice. She explained that a lot of feedback she received was that she had “a really great voice” that could capture the attention of the crowd and hold it. She credited her Boscobel High School forensics coach Jean Salzgeber for helping to develop her voice and speaking style.
For her part, Salzgeber said she was not surprised by Riley’s selection to become the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair.
“Kaitlyn is such a likable person,” Salzgeber said of Riley. “She has a strong will and is very goal oriented. She’s a well-rounded individual who will go far in this life.”
Salzgeber explained Riley learned a lot in the Boscobel forensics program because she was willing to do a lot of one-on-one practice and was “very coachable.”
Riley also acknowledged the internship with Prairie du Chien Radio stations, WQPC and WPRE, with helping to develop her voice.
Well, every story has its ironies and so does this one. Although Riley will now attend over 50 fairs across the state, including the Wisconsin State Fair, she won’t get a chance to show the family’s jersey dairy cattle at her own beloved Crawford County Fair as she had been planning to do. Instead, she will be attending the entire Wisconsin State Fair during the time of the Crawford County Fair. In the past, Riley showed the cattle at the state fair during the opening weekend and first few days and then returned to the Crawford County Fair later in the week and the next weekend to show the Riley Jerseys.
However, being the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair will require her to spend the entire nine days at the state fair. She’s definitely going to miss showing the jerseys, but the family is working on a plan to have her older brother show the cattle, if he can fit it into his work schedule.
While Riley really has some regrets about missing the Crawford County Fair, she admits to being excited about seeing the rest of the state fair that she has typically missed in the past.
Immediately, Riley will face a busy couple of weeks contacting the media. Then, things should get “pretty quiet” until May. On the day of her UW graduation in May, she will have to race off to the Alice in Dairyland Finals and it just gets busier after that. First it's June Dairy Days celebrations and then it’s on to the county fairs and the state fair.
Kaitlyn Riley is hoping for a quiet final semester at UW-Madison before she takes off running for the summer as the 2014 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair. For a girl with county fair blood in her veins, this could be the summer of dreams.