North Stonington - As the Ferris wheel started spinning, the animals began arriving and smoke from the tractor pull spewed into the evening sky, a group of young ladies put on makeup and their evening gowns.
After all, at this town tradition, someone has to be the fairest of them all.
Samantha Storey said the naming of the Fair Queen is a part of the North Stonington Agricultural Fair, just like the fried dough, carnival rides and animal showings by 4-H club members are.
Storey, the 1983 fair queen herself, said the winners of the queen, princess and junior princess categories get to participate in parades, among other perks. The winners in the princess, ages 11 to 15, and junior princess, ages 7 to 10, categories will be named tonight.
"When I won, we didn't get to ride in parades, they made me kiss the farmers and hand out awards," Storey said, laughing.
Thursday is usually the busiest night of the fair because children can get an unlimited pass to carnival rides for a set price, but the 8 p.m. fair queen event drew a large crowd itself. Tucked away in a corner of the town fairgrounds, the contest had all the trappings of a full-blown beauty pageant, but one run on the outside steps of the North Stonington Grange No. 138.
Last year's winner, now-20-year-old Alexandra Conklin, stood in a dress, queen sash and rhinestone tiara, waiting to crown this year's winner.
"It's really bittersweet because now I'm done and I've come to the fair my whole life," the lifelong North Stonington resident said. "I'm sad, but every good thing has to come to an end."
The four contestants in the 16- to 19-year-old queen category gathered in their dresses before a crowd of friends, family and five judges. Wheeler Middle School math teacher and crowd favorite Tom Dinoto served as the scorekeeper.
"Have fun, be yourself and the judges will see that," Conklin advised the contestants.
With strains of country music in the background and the smells of the fair wafting through the air, each contestant came out and introduced themselves, with two from North Stonington, one from Ledyard and another from Stonington. Their interests were varied, from horses to sports, fundraising and community service, and each received several rounds of applause from the supportive crowd.
A previous night's 10-minute interview with the judges counted for 40 percent of the scoring, Storey said, while 20 percent went to introductions, 30 percent to responses to two questions and 10 percent to general stage presence.
Storey, who is in her third year organizing the annual event, said the skills learned, from public speaking in front of a crowd to interviewing with five people at a time, are useful in other facets of life, she said.
In the end, 19-year-old Emily Turner of Stonington was named the winner after she told the judges, among other things, about her hopes to travel to Poland, of the five different jobs she'll work this summer and of how she wanted to go try and dunk the guy into the dunk tank.
"It's so much fun and always nerve-wracking," said Turner, who had competed the previous two years but never won. "Even when you don't win, you get to walk around at the fair and look pretty."