By ABRAM CORDELL
The bright colors, shiny dresses, extravagant songs and toothy waves associated with pageants were all foreign to Crickett Willardsen, which makes the fact that she was BYU’s last homecoming queen all the more ironic.
Willardsen (then Crickett Goodsell) was crowned homecoming queen in 1988, ending a tradition that began before World War II.
Willardsen’s path to Cougar immortality is one that, to this day, she cannot explain.
“I have no idea, that’s why it was so bizarre,” Willardsen said. “It was so out of character.”
Willardsen was raised in Georgia and Oklahoma, both of which are very large pageant states, but was never involved in pageants. Instead, she ran track in high school.
The BYU pageant finalists competed by performing a talent, giving a speech, participating in an interview and modeling an evening gown.
Because of Willardsen’s lack of experience with pageants she was able to take a different position on the way she would be involved.
Willardsen’s evening gown was homemade, the pattern of a wedding dress and made with black material.
The contest got interesting when Willardsen and another contestant performed the same song for the talent portion of the contest.
Both Willardsen and the other contestant sang “Memory,” a song from the musical “Cats.”
The difference came in the manner in which the song was performed.
Willardsen wore a white skirt and blouse while the other contestant wore a shiny bright green and turquoise dress, and her accompaniment came via piano, while the other contestant sang to a karaoke version of the song.
Willardsen’s nontraditional approach to the competition won over the judges and she was crowned the last in a long line of BYU’s homecoming queens.
Many of Willardsen’s competitors were seasoned pageant veterans and were shocked when Willardsen was announced the winner. Willardsen was equally stunned.
“One of the first thoughts was ‘What have I done?'” Willardsen said, recalling the event.
Willardsen’s participation in the pageant was such a well-kept secret that even her father didn’t know she was in the contest until she won.
The thing that Willardsen enjoyed the most about being the homecoming queen was being able to give firesides with young women.
Over the course of nine months she gave one fireside a week, traveling all over the state of Utah to speak.
Showing young women the value of inner beauty was what Willardsen said made her enjoy the time spent in the firesides.
“[To] have the lights come on in the eyes in the young women was very rewarding,” Willardsen said.
Willardsen went on to get both her bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees in English at BYU. While at graduate school, Willardsen met her husband, who she has been married to for 17 years. They are the parents of two girls.
Currently a Franklin Covey employee, Willardsen also teaches business writing at BYU, returning to the university that made her royalty.
Willardsen’s children try on her evening gown and she has brought them to look at her picture in the Wilkinson Student Center, but she said she still feels the same sort of dismay that she felt when the won the competition in 1987.
“Anything can happen,” Willardsen said when asked what she learned from her winning the competition. “Everyone has a skeleton in their closet. Some people consider that [winning the pageant] a huge skeleton.”