06/27/11 — Best: Winning still not 'sunk in'

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Best: Winning still not 'sunk in'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 27, 2011 1:46 PM

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Hailey Best

For perhaps the first time in history, Wayne County will have a contestant in the Miss America Pageant.

Hailey Best of Goldsboro was crowned Miss North Carolina in Raleigh Saturday night.

The 20-year-old former Eastern Wayne High School student beat out 33 other contestants from across the state.

She did it as Miss Durham, one of a handful of preliminary pageants open to women from across the state who may have previously competed in other local contests. In March, she had participated in the Miss Goldsboro pageant, winning the interview portion of the competition and the community service award but losing the title to Chelsea Guild, an ECU student.

A vocal performance major at Meredith College, Miss Best sang "Art is Calling for Me," winning the talent portion of the lead-in rounds on Wednesday night.

It still hasn't quite sunk in that she won, she said this morning.

"It didn't even seem real the whole week," she said. "It was like being at camp the whole week and then competing at night."

She called it a "wonderful, fun experience" and said she'd made some lifelong friends from among the contestants.

"We just had the best time, staying up until 3 a.m. having Papa John's pizza," she said.

The restaurant was one of the pageant sponsors, she pointed out, supplying the fare most nights. And despite typical rumors of girls starving themselves in the months leading up to the pageant, she admitted that after the arduous days of competition, "We were ready to eat."

The formerly televised annual contest may have gotten a boost from Miss Best's answer to the judge's question when she was named to top five.

"They asked me about raising awareness (for the state pageant) and what would I do to create more public interest (in it)," she said. "I talked about getting the pageant back on television. It's just so important for the public to participate."

Everything beyond that, though, she said, has been a bit of a blur.

"It all happened so fast," she said. "It was just incredible, I'm so excited."

This is the fourth straight year a representative from one of the Triangle cities has taken the state crown.

Others in the top five included Miss Garner Zelle Brown, second; Miss Gastonia Maddison Sheppard, third; Miss Fayetteville Katie Mills, fourth; and Mary Catherine Tucker, Miss Coastal Carolina, fifth.

The daughter of Michael and Kim Best, she chose as her platform "Live On Foundation," which works with children from group and foster homes and homeless shelter. She said she had first worked with children's homes as a young child and developed a passion for the cause

In addition to spending the upcoming year promoting the Miss North Carolina organization, she will also be able to represent the Live On Foundation.

"My goal is to continue fundraising because it's only a little over a year old," she said. "I will be going into the homes and meeting the children, making sure I understand their goals, their dreams, their talents."

She will go on to compete in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas in January.

The months leading up to that promise to be busy, filled with interviews and appearances around the state.

It's already been a "whirlwind" in the short time since Miss Best was crowned, her mother said Sunday afternoon -- running on little sleep, the bulk of the previous night had been spent signing contracts and receiving instructions from pageant officials, she said.

This week, the state pageant will be moving Miss Best into an apartment in Raleigh. She will also receive a new car, Mrs. Best said.

Other prizes include more than $15,000 in scholarships, a wardrobe and a year with a personal trainer.

"This is my full-time job now, I'm Miss North Carolina now for a year," Hailey said. "I'm working hard, living the life, I'm taking the year off from school."

She said she had already planned to transfer back to the University of N.C. School of the Arts, where she graduated from high school. Now that will be postponed until after her reign.

And while her previous title may have been "Miss Durham," in every interview she is quick to point out that she is a product of Goldsboro.

"I'm sure everybody knows that Goldsboro, Wayne County, has been my home since birth," she said. "There's absolutely no place like it.

"I have grown up performing at the Paramount Theater, Stage Struck ... It's been my stage my whole life. I have some of the best supporters, not only in Goldsboro but in Mount Olive, Fremont and Pikeville. It's meant so much even though I wasn't Miss Goldsboro, I feel like I was everybody's Miss Goldsboro."

Hopefully, she said, she'll continue to receive hometown support.

"I invite everybody to get tickets for (Miss America)," she said. "We'll have a big Miss North Carolina cheering section."

Meanwhile, in addition to the state title, she has acquired a new phrase -- business manager -- she said with a laugh.

"Anybody that wants me to be at an event, call her," she said.

North Carolina has only had one state winner go on to become crowned Miss America. Maria Beale Fletcher, Miss North Carolina 1961, attended this year's state pageant, marking the 50th anniversary of her win.