BYU students shine through Miss America competitions

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Contestants at the 2023 Miss Provo Competition. Pictured: Glory Thomas (center, white dress) Miss Provo 2022, to her left Sarah Sun, Miss Utah 2023, and to her left Molli Eaton, Miss Provo 2023. (Photo courtesy of Glory Thomas).

The Miss America Opportunity provides participating Provo women with confidence, scholarships and community connections to guide them toward success. 

Consisting of scholarship competitions for women ranging from local to national levels, Miss America contestants enter for the chance to be crowned the representative of a city, state or the esteemed “Miss America” title.

The Miss America Opportunity is a separate organization from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants that involve countries all over the world and emphasizes the beauty pageant aspect.

Utah is well represented in nationwide pageants, such as Miss USA where Utahn Noelia Voigt claimed the Miss USA 2023 title. At a local level, 21-year-old BYU freshman Molli Eaton was crowned Miss Provo 2023 in September.

At age 15, Eaton ran for Miss Lehi’s Outstanding Teen. Although it was her first time competing, she was no stranger to the Miss America organization. Eaton’s mother was crowned Miss Riverton 1999 and had been bringing her along to competitions she judged since she was young.

“Every summer we would usually go to a couple of local competitions and I just kind of fell in love with it,” Eaton said. “I was empowered by the girls that I saw go up on stage.”

Each contestant who competes for the Miss America title prepares for three things: answering an interview question, performing a talent and promoting a community service initiative, Eaton explained.

Eaton competed in numerous pageants before receiving the title of Miss Provo earlier this year. She enjoyed the experience but considered taking a break from competing, possibly for good, after placing as first attendant in the Eagle Mountain pageant last year. 

She said she used to joke about the curse of the first attendant — or first runner-up — and how she would keep getting second and never come in first. 

But, with encouragement from current Miss Utah Sarah Sun, she decided to reconsider and continue competing, this time for Miss Provo. 

After attending the necessary workshops and preparing the best she could, Eaton won the title of Miss Provo in September and immediately began serving in the community. 

“I’ve just been loving it,” Eaton said. “I’ve been getting so many opportunities to work with Mayor Kaufusi, to work with her city council and to serve the immigrant community.”

Eaton said she is very grateful for the experience she has gained through the Miss America organization as it is focused on service, scholarship and giving one’s best self back to their community.

Eligible contestants for Miss America scholarship competitions are single, female U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 27.

Miss Salem 2021 Emily Taylor stands with her crown and sash. When a contestant is crowned, they hold their title for a year until the next competition. (Photo courtesy of Katie Redhouse)

Emily Taylor, a pre-business junior at BYU, also participated in Miss America competitions before recently getting married. Taylor was crowned Miss Salem in 2021 by her older sister, who had been Miss Salem before her. 

Watching her sister blossom from a shy girl into a confident and self-assured woman throughout her Miss America journey inspired Taylor to prepare for her own competitions, Taylor said. 

“I saw those changes in her and I wanted it for myself, and so it is absolutely worth it just for how you as a person develop and change through the process,” Taylor said. “You learn to have an opinion and communicate it respectfully, and you learn to be confident in that opinion, and you learn to share it publicly and you learn to perform.”

Miss America titleholders sign a contract agreeing to attend certain community events for the next year. These events include city council meetings, grand openings, parades and school assemblies or fairs, Taylor said.

The responsibilities of school, work and Miss America duties add up and keep titleholders busy. Taylor and Eaton attested to the importance of carefully planning out their schedules each day.

A typical weekday schedule for Miss Provo 2023, Molli Eaton. Taking time each night to plan the next day helps to keep Eaton organized. (Kylie Swann)

Glory Thomas, Miss Provo 2022, placed second runner-up in the Miss Utah competition in June 2023. Thomas said she practiced every day leading up to the competition. 

“I remember it was like 10 hours a week that I was doing prep, especially in like the last six months leading up to it,” Thomas said. “So things like interview prep and self development and mental game strengthening and then your talent.” 

As an opera singer, Thomas practices singing every day, using vocal exercises and figuring out how to put emotion into her performance in order to connect to the audience. 

“Then there’s also walking. You are modeling fitness wear. You’re being judged. They say technically not on what you look like, but your energy and your confidence,” Thomas said.

Glory Thomas, Miss Provo 2022, crowns Molli Eaton as Miss Provo 2023. The previous titleholder typically crowns the new winner. (Photo courtesy of Molli Eaton)

Despite the work it requires to prepare for the competitions and carry out the responsibilities of the role, Thomas, Taylor and Eaton agree the work is worth it.

“It’s so awesome, so definitely I would recommend it but just be prepared. It’s definitely a lifestyle that you kind of have to commit to. But it’s basically a lifestyle in becoming your best self,” Thomas said.

Thomas recommends others participate in Miss America competitions for the connections, individual personal development and scholarship opportunities.

“I will be graduating debt free because of the scholarship money,” Thomas said. “It’s like a full-time job, so it’s really, really nice if you want to further your education.”

Thomas is on track to graduate this April with a bachelor’s degree in experience design and management with a ballroom minor and global and community impact minor. She hopes to continue competing in Miss America competitions and pursue a master’s degree in public administration as well as a juris doctorate.

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