Kelly Davis was never a pageant girl. When she left Wichita for Los Angeles at 18, her goal was to make a career as a model and an actress.
But who could resist being named Queen of the Universe?
Davis, a 21-year-old Wichita native, will participate Sunday in a pageant called Queen of the Universe, a competition founded and run by “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Joyce Giraud.
Giraud, a native of Puerto Rico, is a two-time Miss Puerto Rico and was the second runner-up in the 1998 Miss Universe pageant. Last year was the first year for the new pageant, and Giraud’s involvement in it was featured in her storyline on her popular Bravo reality show.
Davis is in the pageant representing Kenya, where her mother grew up and where Davis has visited.
“There’s so much poverty there,” she said. “But it’s so much fun because my family is there and all we do is eat and drink and dance. When I’m there, I love it. I don’t ever want to go home. It just really makes you want to help. You want to do something.”
The second pageant happens Sunday night in the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills and will feature 58 international contestants. The pageant is charity focused, and the winner will spend the year traveling the world in style and promoting her pet charity. She’ll also win $100,000 in cash and prizes.
Davis, a 2011 graduate of Kapaun Mount Carmel High School, got started in modeling during her high school years, when she worked with local agency Models and Images. The director took her to a convention in Florida focused on acting, modeling and dancing, Davis said, and there, she was offered an acting scholarship to the New York Film Academy. She accepted and attended the school’s Los Angeles campus.
While living in Los Angeles, Davis began auditioning for acting and modeling jobs and has landed several over the years. She’s had a few small television roles and has appeared in two plays. Recently, she was a hair model on Queen Latifah’s talk show, and she also has modeled for E! Style.
One day last year, she received an e-mail soliciting contestants for Giraud’s pageant. Davis said she submitted an application and then received an invitation to audition at Giraud’s house. The star wanted to choose each contestant personally.
Davis said she and the other contestants have been rehearsing since January. The event will include all the beauty pageant trademark events, from evening gown to swimsuit competitions, Davis said. Each girl also was required to develop a charity organization that she could promote should she win. For Davis, the choice was easy.
While visiting Kenya, Davis became familiar with the issue of female genital mutilation, and it affected her deeply. She chose to focus her charitable work on raising awareness about the practice and working to stop it.
Her mother, Cecilia Wambugu-Davis, said she was proud when Kelly told her about her plans to highlight the plight.
Wambugu-Davis said she grew up poor in Kenya. She was a member of a Catholic family, and when she was a teenager, some Irish Catholic priests visited her country and were impressed by her work ethic. They brought her to Ireland to attend college.
After earning her degree, Wambugu-Davis ended up in Wichita, attracted by the city’s healthy Kenyan community. She became a nurse, got married and had children. Eventually, she started her own successful home health care business.
Three years ago, Wambugu-Davis and some friends started the Wichita African Union, an organization that helps connect Wichitans who hail from countries such as Kenya and Nigeria.
Taking her three children – Kelly plus a 23-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son – to Africa throughout their childhood was important to Wambugu-Davis, she said. The last time the family went was in 2006, and her children were all old enough to recognize the troubles facing their mother’s native country. (The family also has a trip to Kenya booked for June.)
“Having come from Kenya, I didn’t want them not to have their roots,” she said. “I wanted them to know who they are. And they’ve seen what people in poorer countries go through, yet they are very happy people. That had an impact on them, and I feel like they are going to be better people for it.”
Wambugu-Davis has been in Los Angeles all week, helping her daughter prepare for the pageant – finalizing her gown selections, searching for hairdressers. She’ll also be in the audience on Sunday.
The Los Angeles lifestyle is exciting, Wambugu-Davis said, but she’s confident her daughter’s life experiences will keep her grounded through the process.
“It’s going to help her keep perspective,” she said. “She knows that there are girls who are not enjoying the liberties we enjoy here.”
For more information on the pageant, visit www.queenuniversepageant.com.